Country #17!

Burrrr, it’s cold here!  Beautiful, sunny, clear blue skies, but dang cold!  First item on the agenda: buy a jacket, gloves, hats, earmuffs, scarves and anything else warm!  That’s truly the first thing that we did.  We found a street market just a few blocks from our hostel and we loaded up on all the accessories.  We considered also buying jackets there, but decided that it was too cold to go fake ~ we needed the real deal, so we went to a real mall and bought real jackets and paid real American prices.  And it was worth every penny!  We’ve been in Beijing for 6 days and no where that we’ve been has had heat inside, even our bedroom at the hostel doesn’t have a heater, so we have literally lived in our jackets, gloves & hats:

Jane doing a little market shopping.

Eric sleeping in all his winter clothes.

Since it’s just as cold in our room as it is outside, we figure we might as well be out seeing all the sights, and Beijing has a whole lot to see!  We have spent everyday from morning till late at night walking around and exploring the city, and we’ve really enjoyed it!  I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect, and I had heard from other travelers that China in general is a tough place to travel to.  Granted, so far we’ve only been to 1 city, but so far, so good! 

Beijing is super easy to travel around.  Their subway system is fantastic!  It’s cheap, it’s fast, it’s easy to figure out, and it has gotten us everywhere we’ve wanted to go.  Using it makes me quite upset that Seattle is so far behind the times and hasn’t managed to get a good transportation system going ~ it’s totally life changing!  Beijing is a city of 20 million people that doesn’t have nearly the resources that Seattle has!!  If they can figure out an efficient metro system, so can we!

Transportation aside, just about everything else has been just as easy.  Food: not a problem, we just point to pictures on the menu.  Unless of course the menu doesn’t have pictures, then we look at what other people in the restaurant are eating and point to it if it looks good.  And if nothing looks good, we order soup by acting it out.  We’ve eaten at some pretty sketchy places, but we’ve only had 1 or 2 meals that we didn’t care for, and not because the food was bad but because we didn’t like the spices.  We’re on day 7 in China and we haven’t gotten sick, so we must be doing something right!  A couple of restaurants that we’ve been to have had English menus.  After reading them, I almost think it’s better not to have one.  I’d rather not know that they serve delicacies such as pig intestine, ox tongue, dog and blood soup.  I’d prefer to just stick to pointing to pictures of noodles and vegetables. 

The best thing about China though is that it’s cheap!  I had expected it to be only a little bit cheaper than the U.S., but it’s significally cheaper here.  Most of our meals have been between $4-10 total.  That includes 2 entrees, 2 bottled waters and usually a large beer.  Finally, we’re in a place we can afford!!  We did decide to splurge last night and went out for a traditional Chinese hotpot where you cook the meat and veggies in a large bowl of broth.  Feeling like my body has been in desperate need of protein and knowing that I would be cooking it myself, I decided to order shrimp.  What I wasn’t prepared for was that the shrimp would be looking at me.  Yep, they arrived artfully arranged on a plate, shells, eyeballs and all.  This was an expensive dinner out for us, and after quite a while of staring back at my shrimp wondering what to do I decided I couldn’t let our expensive meal go to waste, so I had to buck up and peel the eyeballs right off.  Not the most pleasant thing, but I did it, and I’m quite certain that I’ve probably done much worse things.  Grand total for our big night out: $30.  Awesome!

Tienamin Square.

The Forbidden City.

We’ve visited Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City and spent a day exploring around the beautiful Summer Palaces, but the highlight so far has definitely been the Great Wall. At nearly 6,000 miles long it is truly an engineering wonder and I don’t even try to understand how they managed to built it.  It is a pretty amazing structure to look at in pictures, but to see it in person is mind-boggling. We spent several hours walking along it — actually a better word is hike.  It’s very steep and just in the small section that we were on there were thousands of stairs. This was the one time that we took our jackets and long-sleeves off because it was such a workout to walk along the wall. Two days later, our legs are still sore!  If you like to travel, you must make sure to put the Great Wall on your list!

The wall stretches on for nearly 6000 miles.

Parts of the Great Wall are really steep.

We’ve enjoyed a couple of traditional Chinese shows.  We went to the Lao She Tea House one night for a variety show of acrobatics and comedy (which we didn’t understand because it was all in Chinese, but was still fun!).  We also went and saw The Legend of Kung Fu, which was awesome!  Man alive, I have never seen anything like it!  I was holding my breath and had tears in my eyes watching those men break concrete over their heads and lay on saws and beds of nails.  And small boys who couldn’t have been any older than about 8 doing flips off their heads and kung fu-ing each other. It was intense! I’m glad I saw it, but I’m not sure I need to see any more Kung Fu.  I’ll stick to shopping at the fake markets!

Other than not having any heat (which, I had asked on our first day at the hostel about turning on some heat and was told it didn’t work, magically a heater did arrive in our room on day 3), having to pee in holes in the ground, and people spitting everywhere, I don’t really have any complaints about Beijing.  We’ve felt very safe here and the people have been helpful, even if they don’t speak a lick of English, they try to help us out!  There’s been a whole lot of hand gesturing and grunting and other odd noises that have gone on this week, but we’ve managed well.  Being a Communist country, I guess I expected China to feel closed off and unfriendly, but hasn’t been like that at all.  It’s a place full of happiness and laughter that somehow manages to bring just enough order to what should be an incredibly chaotic environment (considering theres 1 billion people!).

Next stop: Xi’an and the Terra Cotta Soldiers!