I learnt so much about Shanghai from my Chinese friends but in Beijing I stayed with an English family and met lots of ex-pats from all over the world. This gave me a different perspective on Chinese life. Several women described the unreliable taxi drivers in Beijing who will often refuse to pick up or collect you if they don’t understand you.
For that reason I decided to book my own driver for my last 3 days in Beijing and it was such a good decision because I met Tom Dong, originally from Harpin. What an amazing guy full of stories of his life and family and great suggestions of places to visit.
Tom took me to the Great Wall of China, we left Beijing early at 7.30 am, for a 90 minute drive to Mutianyu. As we were approaching the wall it started to rain and visibility was poor. It didn’t matter because walking the wall for one hour one way and another hour back was an experience I’ll always remember despite the limited views, in fact the mist created its own surreal atmosphere
Tom, the perfect guide, bought my tickets, took me up in the cable car, photographed me ( the following day he presented me with a mirror frame copy of us both on the wall) one of my favourite pictures on my 60 day trip.
Just like my life now, I was on my own to walk the wall. It was harder than I’d expected so many steps to the towers and the walls themselves are not straight so you have to compensate for the slopes. Such a very humid, misty, rainy hot day but fortunately not too many people. I met a Chinese family who wanted to photograph me with their 2 children. From basic English I learnt that the dad owns a phone case manufacturing company and that business is not too good right now.
I love making contact with people and surprisingly there was also interesting fauna on the wall, an unusual millipede and a beautiful black and pink moth too.
I was so glad I’d experienced the Great Wall of China, so big that if you stretched it out you join New York to Los Angeles. As I came off the wall I read a sign which said “ One who fails to reach the Great Wall is no hero” and later I saw an old photograph of David Cameron holding that same sign. So I join a growing band of world heros.
I had so many strange experiences in Beijing, a old musician played his oboe to me while I sang Auld Lang Syne in a park next to the Forbidden City, I forged friendships with 2 girls from South Africa who are insisting that I pay them a visit next year, I haggled in the Pearl Market and bought a pair of colourful “silk” pyjamas for £40 instead of £120 which turned out to be polyester. I do love them and will where them on the Trans-Siberian. I went to the Beijing night food market and saw fried, scorpions, spiders, snakes, octopus, baby birds and lots more things unidentifiable. I played it safe and bought some deep fried cheese and nut brittle to take on the train to Russia.
But I guess the most incredible experience was the bicycle tour around the Hutongs with Clemance. In 4 hours we cycled down narrow alleys full of scooters, people and bikes, not being a very good cyclist, I wobbled a lot. We went inside a hutong too, incredible small buildings with no toilets or showers, people have to visit the Public Toilets when the calling comes. Basic but people live most of the time in the streets playing majong, eating and chatting together. Loneliness like people experience in the Western world just doesn’t exist.
Imagine crossing a motorway with 14 lanes of traffic and turning left into the road that runs parallel with Tienanmen Square, well that’s what our group of 8 cyclists did. I’ll never forget that feeling of exhilaration and down right panic as Clemance said stick closely to me. We all survived but one of our group was knocked off her bike by a scooter driving too close. She was OK and more worried that the Peking Duck she’d just bought from a street vendor that was now spread over the road.
I enjoyed the ex pat experience of Beijing but more than that I enjoyed spending time with Tom Dong especially as he introduced me to Beijing’s one and only Second Hand Charity organisation called Roundabout. Subscribe to Preloved Chica and be the first to see my video from this amazing organisation. http://bit.ly/YouTubeChicaSubscribe