My Week In Beijing
I had a week to kill at the beginning of May between the end of the Spring semester and the start of my final Semester at Auburn University. While most of my friends were at the beach, visiting family at home or just recovering from final exams, I decided to hop on a 14 hour flight across the Pacific Ocean. My destination this time: Beijing, China. China is somewhere that I've been wanting to go to for a really long time and the Chinese government just started issuing 10-year visas, so I decided to bite the bullet and send my passport in for a few weeks to get my visa. Being "stuck" in the US for a few weeks was definitely worth being able to visit such a unique country. Overall, Beijing was a really cool place, but I'm not a huge fan of big cities with 10 million+ people. Next time I go to China, I'll definitely try to get out into the countryside. After 3 domestic flights and a 14-hour flight to Beijing from Chicago O'Hare, I was pretty tired. I decided to spend the first day catching up on sleep and trying to adjust to the 12 hour time difference. I woke up at about noon and hopped on the subway and started to explore the city center. The second I stepped out of the Tiananmen West subway station, it was blatantly obvious that I was in the capital of a Communist nation.I decided to save the Forbidden City for another day, since I didn't want to be rushed and it is HUGE. Instead, I walked around the city walls and over to Wangfujing, Beijing's main shopping street. I wasn't so interested in the 20-story shopping malls, so I went straight to the huge alley of food stalls. I have never seen people eating such bizarre things in my life. I had no idea what most of the stuff was that people were eating, which was probably a good thing. A few things I did recognize were the skewers of live scorpions, starfish, sea-horses, cockroaches, and octopus. I decided to stick to the fried mango and jackfruit, both of which were delicious. I then called it a day and headed back to the hotel. On my second full day in China, I decided to head to the Great Wall. This was the main reason I wanted to visit China and it definitely didn't disappoint. There are many different sections of the Great Wall that are accessible from Beijing. I chose to visit the Badaling section. Although it is supposed to be the busiest area, it is really easy to get to with a direct train from the Beijing North Railway Station. After about 2 hours on the train, we arrived in Badaling. I wasn't really sure where I was going, but I just followed the herd of people and ended up at the entrance to the wall. The wall itself and the views from it are amazing. I just couldn't believe how steep and tall it was. It was a very tough climb and I don't recommend visiting this section if you aren't in decent shape. As far as Badaling being extremely crowded, I found that for some reason everyone seemed to be walking one way up the wall (to the right once you enter the wall). I simply went left instead and there was barely anybody. I spent the next day exploring the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the rest of Central Beijing. The Forbidden City is a huge network of palaces surrounded by massive walls and a moat, right in the center of Beijing. The city served as the Imperial Palace & home for several dynasties. It is MASSIVE (about 200 acres) and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in Beijing. After spending a few hours in the Forbidden City, I walked around the city walls and moat to the south and headed for the Tiananmen Square. Famous for the protests & massacre in the 1980's, Tiananmen is one of the largest squares in the world and is a perfect example of Communist architecture. To be explored are the Tiananmen Gate at the northern end (with a huge portrait of Mao Zedong for the entire country to worship), the mausoleum that holds the body of Mao Zedong himself, the "Monument to the People's Heroes", and the Qianmen Gate to the south. The square is eerily huge and empty, apart from the hundreds of Chinese taking in the [dark] history. Thousands of civilians were murdered here by the Chinese government during the protests of 1989. Nevertheless, it is a must visit if you go to Beijing. Next up, I exited the square through the Qianmen gate and walked along Qianmen Street. This is one of Beijing's main shopping streets. You'll find everything from high end foreign retailers, flea markets, fine-dining restaurants, American chains, and amazing street food. This is definitely the place to sample Peking Duck, Beijing's most famous dish. As with every other city I go to, I quickly found a Starbucks and got a much needed dose of caffeine (I never really got over the jet lag on this trip). For my final full day in Beijing, I explored the massive Summer Palace. This could be described as Beijing's Central Park and consists of about 1 square mile of gardens, lakes, palaces and temples. The main features are Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill, which is dotted with dozens of temples & palaces. This is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of China's largest city and to enjoy the "greener" side of Beijing. There are miles of trails for hiking as well as plenty of places to sit, relax and "people watch". Like the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That same evening I headed to the North side of the city to check out the Olympic Green, home of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. The area now serves as a huge park and open space for both tourists and locals alike. Apart from walking along the miles of paths, you can check out the inside of the world-famous "Bird's Nest" stadium if you'd like. The aquatics center, better known as the "Water Cube" (for obvious reasons) is now home to an indoor water park that is open to the public. I got there in the late evening, so I decided to just walk around and check out the various sporting venues. After exploring the Olympic Park, I headed back to the hotel to get ready for my early morning departure back to the United States. Beijing is definitely somewhere I'd recommend visiting, as long as you don't get annoyed by large crowds or a language barrier. Next time I go to China, I'll definitely be heading straight for the countryside and smaller cities, but Beijing was a great place to experience the Chinese culture. What is your favorite thing to do in Beijing?