Last day in Beijing

Today is our last day in Beijing.  We’ve been here just for three days so far, but it seems like a whirlwind of stuff to see!  It was great seeing all the tourist things like the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.  But it was also great to check out local stuff like all the markets and restaurants.

I have to admit that I was a bit surprised about Beijing as a city.  Although I knew it was a huge city of over 10 million people, I didn’t think it was as modern of a city as it really is.  It’s full of large buildings – skyscrapers, office complexes, and high-rise apartments.  The streets are arranged in a grid pattern, with “Ring Roads” running as beltways around the city.  Aside from the smog, the city is very orderly and clean.  When I told one of my friends about this, she was shocked; everyone else seems to think it’s a dirty city.  Perhaps they are trying to change their image for the Olympics. (check out the new Olympic stadium).   I didn’t even see as much public spitting as I thought I would see (though it still happens).  One advantage about being a communist state is that you can choose to build anything or to clean anything up, and the people will comply…

Taxis are really cheap in Beijing.  You can go all over for just a few bucks.  This is amazing, considering the exorbitant fares I pay in Chicago.  One downside, however, is that traffic can be pretty bad (well, I guess it’s bad in all big cities).  What’s even worse is that the taxi drivers don’t speak English.  Public service people speak English, so do market vendors, so do the local farmers who hang out with you at the Great Wall.  But not the taxi drivers.  You have to hand them printed names of where to go (or get the hotel concierge guys to talk to them).  We thought we were fine, but then apparently lots of taxi drivers either can’t read or have such poor eyesight that they couldn’t read our pieces of paper.  We’ve had to get out of at least five taxis because of this.  What a nightmare!

I’m proud of my non-Asian travel companions Mo and Ryan.  Not only did they eat funky foods, they were able to haggle successfully at the Chinese markets.  If you can haggle in China, you should be set for life!

Yesterday we went to the Great Wall.  What an amazing place!  The Great Wall is actually multiple walls, constructed at different times by different dynasties, and located in different places.  Most people go to the wall at Balaling, where it is fully restored and is very tourist friendly.  We were sick of the crowds and wanted a more natural view.  So we did a 10km (6mi) hike between the Great Walls at Simatai and Jinshangling.  It wasn’t a long hike, but man was it tiring!  Up and down, up and down, along the countours of mountains.  It was the most strenuous hike I have ever done.  It was well worth it though.  The scenery was spectacular!

Now it’s time to close out our visit to Beijing.  Tonight we fly to Xi’an and visit the Terracotta Army.

Photos available online here.

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