Tiananmen reflections part two

People watching is one of the best ways to learn about another culture. And hands down one of the best places to people watch in Beijing is in Tiananmen square and you will no doubt see mostly Chinese tourists. If you want to check out another post about my Tiananmen reflections, check here. 

Many of these Chinese people are visiting in hoards of groups, with a majority of them being middle-aged or elderly. They usually are wearing a ball cap of some sort perhaps a yellow hat or red one. Their leader is carrying a Chinese flag and continually reminding them to follow accordingly. Most of the Chinese men are thin and wearing dark clothing that is ten sizes too big for them. Their skin is dark and they enjoy taking breaks to have some sunflower seeds and their wives are unpacking the food they cooked themselves perhaps brought all the way from home wherever that may be. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is how wide-eyed they are looking around like children in a candy shop which is the best way to look around.

I wondered how far these Chinese tourists had traveled to see Tiananmen square. Was this their first time in Beijing? Was this the first time they had left their home town? Did they like Beijing cuisine?  What is their home town like? Did they my shorts were inappropriate? These are the things I think about, y’all.

Right next to Tiananmen square is The National Museum which is fabulous to see. It’s exterior represents Stalinist Russia’s influence on 1950’s China. Its interior has some fabulous exhibitions, especially ancient China’s exhibition. But perhaps the most  striking thing was reading the captions of some of the exhibitions because they clearly had a flair of propaganda infused throughout. For example, This quote comes directly from the entrance to an exhibition:

” The current exhibition is presented in memory of the past and to warn future generations. Let us stand closely around the CPC central leadership with Xi Jinping as the general secretary of CPC and take efforts to build socialism with Chinese characteristics. We should stick to peaceful development and world peace. Let us continue our endeavor to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects, to build a strong democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious socialist country and to fulfill the Chinese dream of great renewal of Chinese nation! Let us continue our peace and development for all of human kind. ”

There were many other quotes similar to this and as I was reading it to myself in the museum, another foreigner walked up to me and said ” Don’t you find this all a little strange?” And while I did, after living in China for a year, I felt that I understood it.

I showed this quote to all of my Chinese colleagues and they  too thought  it sounded very propoganda-laden  and over the top but to a different generation, these words still ring so true.  As I was taking a photo of this quote, several elderly Chinese men and women walked up and proudly posed in front of the quote in Chinese and I could see them all smiling and nodding their heads. These were the same people I had seen so wide-eyed outside of Tiananmen.

The amount of change that this generation has experienced, still boggles my mind. Some of them have been alive to see  a country go from one of no centralized government to one of the most powerful nations in the world. They have seen their families quality of life improve more   in the span of one generation than six or seven generations prior. I’m sure some of them have suffered in different ways due to drastic changes in the country, but they still stand so very proud of their country.

And that’s pretty cool to see.

 

How to Camp on The Great Wall of China

If I had to pick my top five experiences in China, this would be one of them. Seeing the pink sunset behind the Ming dynasty towers and watching the sunrise bring them back into focus, makes everything seem right with the world.

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The sunrise at Jinshanling

A couple of months ago I hiked from Jiankou to Mutianyu section of the wall which you can read about here.  This past weekend I hiked the Jinshanling section of The Great Wall which is 125 km Northeast of downtown Beijing in Luanping county. It connects with the Simatai section of the Great Wall in the West although at this time you are unable to hike from Jinshanling to Simatai due to renovations at Simatai. It is not clear when the Simatai section will re-open. To the East of Jinshanling is the Gubeikou section of The Great Wall.

So from East – West = Gubeikou- Jinshanling- Simatai

Jinshanling is a 10km wonderfully picturesque hike. It isn’t too difficult, with only a couple really steep parts when you get close to Simatai. There is a mixture of restored and unrestored section of the wall  but most of the hike is restored. Because it’s also farther from Beijing, it’s much less crowded than Mutianyu. Do not go to Badaling, it’s simply too commercialized.

So, below is my step by step how to get to and camp on Jinshanling.

1. Take Bus 980 from Dongzhimen long distance bus station. You can take the subway to Dongzhimen on line 2 and then you will see signs for the long distance bus station. This bus leaves at an interval of every twenty minutes from 6:30 a.m- 6:00 p.m.

2. Get off at a bus stop in Miyun County. You can show the bus driver these characters or you will simply know when you start seeing cab drivers boarding to bus and asking for people to go to Jinshanling.

3. Negotiate a price of no more than 200 RMB for a driver to take you and your group to Jinshanling. The drive from Miyun to Jinshanling takes about 1-1.5  hours.

4. You will be dropped off at the entrance to Jinshanling

5. Once you reach the beginning of your hike( there is only one entrance and it’s easy to follow) you will walk East. You will go through many beautiful restored towers and then when you get closer to Simatai you will start encountering a few unrestored sections.

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Towards the beginning of the hike!

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What a view!

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More unrestored sections on Jinshanling

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The second tower in the distance is the start of Simatai. This is around where we turned back.

6. Currently, you can hike all the way to the beginning of Simatai but the hikes don’t connect because of construction. However, you can hike sections of Simatai separately .

7. My recommendation would be to set up your tent in one of the towers closest to Simatai because your views of all the towers you hiked will be amazing at sunset and sunrise!

IMG_0703 Our tent on Jinshanling!

8. Crack open a beer or a bottle of wine and enjoy!

9.  Hike back to the entrance of Jinshanling where you can negotiate a cab back to Beijing.

Top Tips

* Check out: http://greatwallforum.com/ for the best and most detailed tips about hiking and camping on different sections of the wall. I think it’s the most informative resource out there!

* If you are looking to buy some camping gear, check out any of the Decathlon store in Beijing. Everything you need will be at that store and the prices are great! The tent you see pictured was only 150 RMB!

* Make sure you bring lots of water because it’s more expensive on the wall

* In the beginning of this post there is a link to my other information about another hike from Mutianyu to Jiankou. I hiked from Jiankou to Mutianyu and there are plenty of camping opportunities there as well. So if that hike looks more interesting,  head there if you want ! There are many possibilities when it comes to camping near or on The Great Wall!

* You can always book a camping experience with hostels or other companies, but this experience ensures that you get to travel on your own time and camp where you want!

Have any questions? Drop me a line! I’d love to help you with your hiking adventures!

Happy hiking my friends!

 

My one year anniversary with China

It’s hard to believe I’ve been in Beijing for 365 days. Well, if we want to get technical, I haven’t been in China for exactly that long, as with a few trips here and there, but I’ve spent 350 days in this country. So, how to bottle up all those experiences into some sort of reflective essay? Well it’s damn near impossible, but it’s worth a shot. I know this is a milestone in my life, so below I’ve tried my best to make sense of all my experiences.

Before i came to China, I thought “Ok, a year in China will be enough for me to understand the language and culture on a deep level.” While I wholeheartedly agree that I’ve peeled back layers of this culture to better understand it, I believe that there isn’t  such a thing as setting a time limit on how well you understand something. You can check out another one of my blog posts about China’s cultural layers here. Just as a I tell my students that learning a language will always be a process, so will understanding different cultures. I think as humans, we like to set benchmarks for ourselves as to better  organize the thousands of thoughts that go through our head. Benchmarks are good. They are great in fact. But, it shouldn’t deter us from continuing the process of understanding something, even if we feel it’s been understood. That’s why even though I’m heading back to the states in a few months, I’m going to continue to find ways to be immersed in Chinese culture, whether that’s through taking more classes at a university or joining in a Chinese cooking class on the weekends. I never want to stop learning more about this culture.

As many expats living in China will tell you, it can be a love hate relationship at times. While most of my experiences in China have been ones of love, I would be lying if I said it was all peaches and cream. The pollution was truly terrible at times, and I’m pretty sure in february I felt like China was  a post apocalyptic world. The traffic and ever-present horn-honking drove me mad at times. Our never-ending saga with the apartment drama nearly drove me to curse at my Chinese landlord. People spitting near my feet made me clinch my fists. The meaning of quality and service in China is something completely different from the West. When you are living in a country of 1 billion people, quality just isn’t as important. At times I felt publicly embarrassed, like the time we were traveling on a crowded bus and were short one kuai. The bus attendant publicly called us out and insulted us in front of all the other Chinese passengers. And the worse feeling of all is the feeling of defeat. As my good expat friend said, “When you are frustrated and can’t communicate that in another language, you can’t let go of that stress. It stays with you and makes you even more frustrated.” Sometimes that feeling of defeat would creep up on me when I just couldn’t find the Chinese words to express my emotions. But all of these so-called “negatives” really are positives because do you really want to live abroad and have NO challenges. Of course not, that would be boring! And your stories definitely wouldn’t be as good. No but to be honest, the challenges of living in China is the good stuff. The challenges are what make your soul and self more resilient.

Speaking of challenges, living in China has made me understand the strains of population and environment. It still boggles my mind how many people are in China. That’s right, after 350 days, I still feel like there are a lot of people. The population is directly or indirectly related to every course of action in day-to-day life. Because of China’s population, the competition in education is fierce. There really isn’t a chance for every student to receive education. There especially isn’t enough room for everyone to receive higher education. Remember when George Bush famously said, “no child left behind” ? Well, in China tons of children are left behind in terms of their academic pursuits. My students have stressed to me how utterly stressful high school was.   This quote comes from one of my students. ” You know foreigners are always joking that Chinese teenagers have no free time and are always studying but what they don’t understand is that we have to. If we want to go to university, we must have the best scores in China.” This quote really it me hard because education is taken for granted in so many parts of the world. In the states, if you do relatively well in school, you will get into college. Heck if you  even do just ok you will get into university. I know if  If you want to read more about education in China, check out my blog post here. 

Living in China has not quenched my thirst for exploration, but i don’t think that thirst will ever be quenched. I know it’s ironic but, I don’t think you have to travel far to explore something new. Each city has endless possibilities of exploration! I hope that this idea of city exploration translates when I head back to the states.

The balance of tradition and modernization is always an important concept in this world and these two concepts are really fighting for space in China. There is still a huge population of elderly people in China that are trying to keep ancient traditions alive with the upbringing of their grandchildren. Beijing’s cherished hutongs are being destroyed left and right. Just the other day, I saw a very elderly man sitting on his stool playing with his grandchild, as a hutong was being torn apart with a jack hammer behind him. This country has one of the oldest history’s on the planet and there needs to be efforts to preserve the essence that is China and it’s “Chineseness.”

But, above all, being a teacher this past year has been the best experience. It really has been one of the greatest joys of my life thus far. Most of my students are from China, Libya and Saudi Arabia so I’ve seen and heard perspectives of China through different cultural lenses. My students are so eager to learn and  wanting to better themselves, better their lives and families through the study of English. Feeling like you have imparted knowledge,lasting knowledge on someone, that feeling just can’t be matched. But more importantly, my students don’t realize what they have taught me. They have taught me the true meaning of dedication and hard work. They have taught me to analyze why things are the way they are in China. They’ve encouraged me in my Chinese study and made me realize how learning a language is truly connected in how you understand the culture behind it. But I think the best feeling of all is they’ve shown me a kind of love that is unique to teachers. Tissues anyone? I know I’m pulling them out right now…  So for any of you who are  thinking about teaching or teaching in China, you should 100% do it.

I hope that my rambling has translated into some meaning and expresses what living and teaching in China has been like for the past year. If you have any comments or questions, please leave them! I’m always delighted to read and answer your thoughts about China. For those of you that read consistently, thank you for your love and support this past year and thank you for helping this little blog grow!

For those of you that live or have lived in China, what do you love most?

 

 

 

 

 

Hiking Huangshan Mountain

Imagine standing above the clouds and watching them roll over mountains like a waterfall. Imagine granite peaks, unlike anything in the U.S., shooting up from the depths of the abyss below you. Imagine a perfect setting in which you realize that your view is the inspiration for so many famous Chinese paintings. This is Huangshan.

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Prior to coming to China, hiking this mountain was at the top of my list. It is said that James Cameron found much of his inspiration for the scenery in Avatar from this location.

About Huangshan

Huangshan is considered one of the top three most famous places to hike in China. Located in China’s Anhui province in south-eastern China, this mountain range is not to be missed for any avid outdoor enthusiasts coming to China.

Hiking Huangshan

There are MANY routes throughout Huangshan. Over a 100 to be exact. However the two most popular routes are as follows. Walk up the Eastern steps and down the Western steps or, you guessed it, walk up the Western steps and down the Eastern steps. Walking up the eastern steps is MUCH easier than walking up the Western steps. I hiked up the eastern steps and walked down the western steps and was more than satisfied with the experience.

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walking down the western steps

Getting There

From Shanghai you can take a regional flight to Huangshan airport, about 40 miles from the mountain range. If you want a cheaper option, there are many buses that run daily from Shanghai South Bus Station. The ride is about 5 hours.

Average Costs

Hostels: $25-30 USD  for two person room. $10 for a bunk bed in a communal room.

Meals: $5-$10

Huangshan entrance ticket: $40 USD

Do’s

  •  Bring lots of snacks
  • Try to go from September December when the crowds are less and the weather is cool.
  •  Spend the night on the mountain. You must do this. Seeing the clouds roll over the mountains at 6:00 was one of the coolest things i have ever done. There are lots of hotels on the mountain. If you are going in summer, MAKE A RESERVATION. There are several hotels, i believe six, that are on the mountain itself.
  • Make sure your hotel has a restaurant. You will be hungry. Our first hotel didn’t have a restaurant so we checked out and went somewhere else.

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  • Hydrate
  • Sunscreen. Seriously though, in a lot of parts there isn’t much coverage and you will fry without sunscreen.
  •  Relax after a long day of hiking, have a mountain beer and enjoy the most incredible sunset.

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Don’ts

  • Carry a lot of luggage. There are some very steep steps and your legs are going to already be sore as it is the next day.
  • Hire a guide. You will be ripped off. There are lots of maps around the park.
  • Rely on cable cars. In the summer you might have to wait for two hours just to get in line.
  • Be this girl.

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Suck it up and hike the whole thing. It is SO worth it!

 

 

Chuandixia Village

Although I visited this village back in November, it’s 100% worth writing about right now because it’s only a couple of hours away from the city and it is a must see for anyone visiting or living in Beijing for an extended period of time.

This is a Ming Dynasty village constructed of courtyard homes with a true historic feel. What’s even more wonderful,is that these houses are tucked away against the mountain so when you crane your head upwards you can see layers of homes. While this village make for a great day trip, I highly recommend staying the night in a local person’s home so you can wake up early and enjoy the village in its stillness. If you dare, enjoy some Baiju in the evening with some of the local men.

My biggest advice is to truly explore every nook and cranny of this village because much of the architecture is still very much preserved and there are some excellent opportunities for photos.

Note: If you have time, there are a couple much smaller and villages with fewer people only 30 minutes away on foot. Ask anyone in the village and they will point you in the right direction.

Getting there and away: Bus 892 leaves from a stop right outside of Pingguoyuan subway station.  Take exit D. Get out at Zhaitang (two hours) and then take a taxi for the last few kilometers. The entrance fee to the village is around 30 RMB.

 

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Hiking from Jiankou to Mutianyu section of The Great Wall

This past weekend, we hiked an incredible part of The Great Wall. This hike entailed a trail that leads from an older more unrestored section of the wall called Jiankou, to a much more developed area called Mutianyu.  Hiking from Jiankou to Mutianyu allows you to experience a contrast between old and new and provides  insight to the two different sides of the Great Wall of China that are world’s apart.

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unrestored Zhengbeilou tower on Jiankou section

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restored section of Mutianyu

Our journey began by taking bus 916 from Dongzhimen’s long distance bus station.We then got off in Huirou county and got a ride from one of the many people offering to take us to sections of the wall. Negotiating a price is a must for the trip from Huirou to any section of the wall you wish to access.

We started our journey at the Zhongbeilou tower of the Jiankou section and walked east towards Mutianyu. This is one of several sections of where to start hiking along Jiankou, however, it is said that starting from this point because the views are incredibly stunning and said to be some of the best on any portion of the wall.

There are four basic ways to reach Zhengbeilou: via the Great Wall from the east (Mutianyu), via the Great Wall from the west (Jiankou), via trail from the south (Shun Tong trout farm at Zhenzhuquan near Wofo shan zhuang), and via trail from the north (Xizhazi).

We accessed the trail from the south at the base of the trout farm and it was a tough two-hour hike before we even reached the wall. However, the trout farm was really cool because there is a local restaurant where you can catch a trout and they will cook it up for you for lunch.  So if you like a challenge, definitly go this way to reach Zhongbeilou. However, many sites recommend accessing Zhengbeilou form the north(Xizhazi) because it’s much easier.

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more unrestored sections of Jiankou

Also, it is highly recommended to hike from Jiankou to Mutianyu and not the other way around because it is much more strenuous and dangerous.

From Zhengbeilou to Mutianyu it took us around three hours with breaks for water and snacks. All in all, our trip from the trout farm to Mutainyu took us five hours. Once you reach Mutainyu there are several ways to descend. There is a cable car, a slide and a walking path down to the base of the mountain. There will be noticable signs around for those options. Due note that the  cable car and slide close at 5pm.

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once you reach this guy selling some goods at one of the towers, you will know you are almost to the restored section of the wall

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view of some of the towers on restored section of Mutianyu

We stayed the night in a local person’s home and it was a great experience. There are a good number of options where you can stay in the Mutainyu village. The beds are modest but cheap and the owners will cook you up a great meal after a long day of hiking. This affords you the opportunity of waking up early in the morning to see the wall in a different light.

If you are traveling with some visitors or really want to splurge on an awesome location, stay at The School House at Mutianyu. This is a series of courtyard homes that have been turned into a pretty cool boutique hotel. It’s also environmentally friendly and they offer a range of activities for children and adults and they even have a spa. Oh, and each room has a view of the wall.

If you want to head back to Beijing reach the bus stop before 4pm and you can catch the 876 bus all the way back to Beijing. After 4pm you can catch the 916 bus to Hauirou than another bus back to Beijing.

Overall, this experience was one of the best I’ve had in China. You truly see some amazing scenery and the contrast between the different sections of the wall is something that you just can’t see anywhere else in the world.

The Schooler’s surprise visit to Zhongguo

To say that I was surprised when I saw my parents in China is an understatement. As I’m writing this, I still can’t believe they managed to pull such a surprise off! I will try to quickly recount everything leading up the surprise.

About a month before my birthday, my parents informed me that they had graciously planned a weekend getaway celebration for us. Billy and my parents were aware of the destination but I was not. I was so anxious as to where we were going! About a week before my birthday, Billy told me that a couple of nights before my birthday we were going to briefly have drinks with  one of his extended family members who was traveling through China. His name was “Randy” and he was an elderly man with a long white beard.

Two days before we were supposed to leave for our trip, we headed to the hotel where we were to meet this “Randy.” Billy informed me that his flight was running late so we were going to have to wait a few minutes. After an hour of waiting I started to get sleepy and after two hours told Billy that it was getting late and we had work tomorrow. My chair was facing the front entrance of the hotel and Billy told me to switch seats with him so Randy wouldn’t see me looking so sleepy. Just when I  was about to throw in the towel and go home, Billy said “oh Randy is here!” so I stood up, brushed myself off and turned around to face the front lobby.

There before me was my mother, brother and father all beaming and laughing. I truly couldn’t process what was happening. I hugged them in disbelief and couldn’t take my hand away from my mouth. They laughed hysterically as I continued to remain speechless. After a couple of minutes I finally embraced them and told them how shocked and surprised I was!

I don’t want this post to be a novel so I will cut to the chase and tell you that my parents planned for us to travel to Shanghai and Hangzhou for four days!

The day after next, we hopped on the fast train to Shanghai. Apparently, this train is one of the fastest in the world and it only took us five hours to get there! Also, traveling by train will always be my favorite form of transportation because there is so much to see out of the window! Please check out Sam relaxing on the train.

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One of the most eye-opening aspects of the train ride was  seeing just how much new construction is happening in China. Although this phenomenon is visible in Beijing, never had I experienced it on this level.  My dad was astonished to see crane after crane as we chugged down to the South of China. We were later informed that more than half of the world’s cranes are in China. Woah.

Upon arrival in Shanghai, we went antiquing. Which, if you know my family, is customary for any Schooler vacation. It was so much fun to explore the markets with my family! My mom found some stellar items such as this one below:

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When we checked into the hotel, there was a lovely cheesecake waiting for me and a personalized birthday card! It was so wonderful. We all had the cheesecake for breakfast the next morning!

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Everyone should have cake for breakfast on their birthday

We had drinks in our hotel and the view was spectacular. I think one of the most incredible aspects of Shanghai is the incredible view you get from both side of the water. We also went to an incredible restaurant called T8 and had a one of the most spectacular dinners I’ve ever had!  Being treated to Fois Gras and Good Wine in China is pure happiness.

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The next day we explored the Bund and went to the old part of Shanghai where we enjoyed traditional southern Chinese architecture and walked around some gardens.

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We then hopped on the train again and headed to Hangzhou. Hangzhou is a city about an hour from Shanghai and it is famed for it’s incredible West Lake. Our hotel was a ways from the city center and built-in traditional Southern Chinese architecture which is characterized by white walls and clay roofs. The rooms were elegant and had a Chinese flair to them. I immediately felt relaxed after walking in.  It was such a nice contrast to the pace of Shanghai and Beijing! I spent my birthday evening lounging and reading in my robe and i couldn’t have asked for a more delightful way to spend it!

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Obviously Sam found his robe

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The next day we took a tour of some ancient medicine shops in the old part of Hangzhou and then visited some of the traditional buildings as well. In the afternoon a guide took us to see some more contemporary architecture at one of the most famous art university’s in China. The whole University was a piece of art in itself! Our guide was an expert on Chinese architecture and it was really interesting to hear how there is a huge push to move away from the uniform, replica like, mega structures around China and more towards a unique Chinese modernity.

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We were starving by lunch time and feasted on a traditional Chinese meal by a tea field and afterwards we spent a few minutes meandering through the tea fields.

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That evening we were planning to go to the night market but we were all so tired that we decided lounging by the indoor pool was better! We rounded out the evening with a traditional Chinese dinner which included Peking duck and a few other traditional Chinese dishes.

The next morning we headed back to Beijing and it was wonderful recounting all the wonderful things we experienced that last few days.My parents spent a few more days in Beijing and I was lucky enough to spend every waking minute that I wans’t working, with them.

Their visit was really special particularly because I wasn’t expecting my parents being able to see my life in China. I had hoped and prayed that they would be able to get a taste of what I’ve been experiencing the past six months!  Parents truly are the most wonderful people in the world!

Skiing next to the Great Wall

Skiing is something I hadn’t predicted doing in China.

As winter came upon us and after doing some research, it seemed clear that skiing was becoming a popular winter activity in northern China. There are actually several ski options within a 2 hours distance from Beijing. Now don’t be thinking anything like Vail, Park City or Aspen, but at the end of the day, skiing is skiing. And Skiing is super fun.

We chose a ski resort only an hour from Beijing because the price was amazing and there was a key selling point we could see  Ming-era towers of the Great Wall from the slopes. Beijing Huaibei International Ski Resort (北京怀北国际滑雪场) is the only ski resort surrounded by the Great Wall on three sides. It is one a ski resort that primarily caters to beginners and more advanced skiers and this resort is especially popular for snowboarders .

We went with a few of our friends from work and  took a long-distance bus from Beijing and arrived at the resort around 9:00 am. As we pulled into the resort, there was a huge tower of the Great Wall in the background and the morning sun was making it look especially spectacular. We had to put down a 300 RMB deposit (that’s about 50 USD) and then we paid another 300 RMB for the bus transfer and gear rental. All in all, our whole day of skiing cost us less than 50 dollars. To say it was a steal is an understatement.

However, to say that it is a resort is an overstatement. There were six or seven villas where people could stay overnight and one restaurant. I will say that it was impressive to see how popular this resort was after only being opened for ten years. We went on a Tuesday and there were a considerable amount of people there.Well it is China so there are a considerable amount of people everywhere, but in my mind I was thinking, “Hey, way to go China!” I always encourage physical recreation in any capacity.

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Great Wall of China in the background

In our group were three Americans, one Canadian, one Brit and one South African so you can imagine the range of experience we had. The Brit and South African had never been skiing before so the Canadian greatly assisted them in learning how to ski. It was great fun going down the beginner slopes with a sample of people from English-speaking nationalities. We stood out like a sore thumb against the Chinese people , especially when we were whooping and hollering at each other out of excitement. We Westerners are so expressive.

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After a couple of runs on the beginner slopes a few of us moved onto the more challenging ones. Taking the chair lift up the mountain was possibly one of the most exciting aspects of the day because we had a 360 view of the Great Wall of China in the distance. Another wonderful aspect about ski lifts is the silence. Have you ever noticed how wonderfully quiet going ski lifts are? I could only hear the rustle of the wind against the plants and the sound of the skis making their marks in the snow. So while I looked forward to skiing down the mountain, I looked forward to the ride up the mountain as well.

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five Great Wall towers seen on the ski lift

Towards the end of the day we went up the lift and there was a spectacular view of the wall so instead of going ahead and skiing down the mountain, I took off my skis and walked over to the edge of the mountain in order to take it all in.  I had one of those awe-inspiring moments and pinched myself  because what was in front of me was so spectacular. The sun was setting behind the Great Wall of China and a melting pot of international skiers were going down the slopes. China is constantly a contrast between the old and the new and this moment was just another example of this ongoing phenomenon.

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Leave only footprints

I had long been anticipating hiking the wall this fall.  We had debated going back in September, but were told by some co-workers to wait until the leaves start changing.

We  wanted to stray away from visiting  the more touristy section of the Great Wall which is called Badaling. Badaling can be accessed by a simple hour train ride outside of the city but that was simply too easy for us.  One of Billy’s co-workers recommended we head to the Jiankou section of the wall. This section is  a bit more remote, a little more challenging, and less populated by people so it was exactly what we were looking for.  After doing some research, we hopped on  the subway,  took one bus, then another bus and then one more bus to reach our destination. In total, we traveled two hours from our apartment.  At the end of this post are the exact directions of how to get there.

Our good friend Will joined us along the journey. We accessed the Jiankou wall through a village called xizhazi. This village is a perfect jumping off point for anyone wanting to access the wall through the south side. When we were on the last bus, a Chinese man asked if we were planning on hiking around the area and I told him we were. Then he pulled out his phone and stared speaking very quickly in Chinese, too quickly for me to understand anything except “three foreigners are coming”.

When we got off the bus it was freezing and  a little woman was standing  outside of the bus and she was motioning us to come with her.  I went with my gut and assumed it was the woman who the man on the bus had called. We followed her for a while, making small conversation in Chinese. We told her that we were there to climb Changcheng which is the Great Wall in Chinese.  We followed her for another ten or fifteen minutes and then she pointed to the right. There was a big red arrow painted along a wall. This was the way to the wall, or so we thought. Billy, Will and I hiked for about forty minutes until we reached the peak of this little mountain. We were sure that there would be a path that would lead us to the wall, but we were out of luck. We retraced our steps and went down the way we came.  We decided to head back into the village and see if we could find someone who could lead us in the right direction.

We were walking through a corn field and there smack dab in the middle of the field was a sight I didn’t expect. Two Chinese men, very professionally dressed, were standing there talking, holding leather bags and wearing shiny shoes.  And coming towards them were three Waigouren. We asked them if they knew of anyone in the village who could drive us to the correct base of the great wall. One man whipped out his phone and made a quick call. Once again, he was speaking too quickly to understand and all i heard was “car” and “ three people”. We followed him back into the village and lo and behold there was an open van with a man standing outside smoking a cigarette. We agreed on a price for the man to take us to the base of the Jiankou wall. We graciously thanked the man who had helped us and I’m still curious as  to what he was doing in that field…

Once we reached the base of the wall, it was clear we were in the right place because there was a sign that said ” leave only footprints”.  Before long we were climbing the stones which have existed for over six hundred years. The part of the wall we hiked hadn’t been restored very much, but that made the experience that much more authentic. Parts of this section are very steep and at times we were literally using our hands and feet to summit some towers. There was wild grass growing on some parts of the wall and the views were stunning. Below are a few pictures.

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It started to rain quite heavily so we decided to descend the wall. Soaked to the bone, we negotiated a price for the van driver to take us back to the suburbs of Beijing. In a span of one hour, our driver smoked no less than seven cigarettes. All in all, it was a great day!

Directions to the Jiankou Section of the Wall

Chinese name: 箭扣长城 (Jiankou Changcheng).
Location: lying in Badaohe Township in the north and Bohai Town in the south, Huairou County, Beijing City.
Ticket: CNY20.
Opening time: 07:00-17:00.
Best time for visit: June to October.
How to get there: take bus No.916 at Dongzhimen Coach Station (东直门长途汽车站) in Beijing and get off at Yangjiayuan (杨家园) of Huairou County (怀柔), then go to the Yujiayuan Coach Station (于家园车站) and take a bus to Xizhazi Village (西栅子村), which is the base of board and lodging for most travelers to Jiankou Great Wall. Please note that the buses from Huairou to Xizhazi leave at 11:30 and 16:30, and the buses from Xizhazi to Huairou leave at 06:30 and 13:00.