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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Snowy Beijing

CHINA | Sunday, 22 November 2015 | Views [659]

Chinese characters

Chinese characters

The DPRK was such a fantastic experience! And I never expected the vibe of a college field trip. Yesterday morning we all returned to Beijing aboard Air Koryo 151 and at the baggage carousel we said our goodbyes. Some people caught connecting flights whilst others were hanging around Beijing for a few days. Nick and I were two of many of us staying in town for a bit. I had a chance to hug Laura and Margo goodbye and they left me with a big smile. Going through customs was a tedious (Chinese) process; the official didn't seem to understand that my flight to Hong Kong is an international flight and I was stuck there for more than 20 minutes. Nick and I wanted to find a place to stay but first I had to pick up some gear from the Koryo Tours office. Rich didn't answer the gate when we rang the bell so we got something to eat first but he was there when we returned. It was snowing in Beijing! Nick knew of a hostel where we could stay but they were full, so I quickly got online and started searching for CS hosts. Having some difficulty I was sort of resigned to the fact we'd have to find a hostel. This girl across from me looked interesting and I could tell she was from Africa somewhere, but where? She said "South Africa" when I asked but in chatting a bit more she was like "nobody knows where it is, but I'm actually from Lesotho." Immediately I cried out "ah yes, land of Moshoeshoe." She was shocked, her jaw dropping toward the floor. My poem, The Sky Kingdom is all about Lesotho and she was dully impressed with my knowledge of her country. Lesotho and Burundi are the only countries in which their official language rhymes with the name of the country itself: Sesotho and Kurundi, respectively. After getting a response from a new CS member who admitted he was gay and sounded somewhat dodgy I began looking for other members. A British bloke named Danny would respond and he'd be like "sure, c'mon over." Navigating Beijing's public transport isn't really for the faint of heart and Nick & I were nearly hit twice as we crossed the road, and in addition Nick left my tent on the bus; I had to bang on the door so I could get it back. My tent has been with me on so many journeys and I wasn't ready to lose it. With the ground icky and being cold as Hell (Michigan) we had some trouble finding Danny's place amongst the hútò​​ng. What are hútò​​ng you might wonder? Hútò​​ng are narrow alleyways where homes have large courtyards.

This definitely isn't the best photo of a hútò​​ng. A stroll around a hútò​​ng is as fantastic as it is romantic, and near Danny's place there are some very colourful homes and buildings. Danny lives with several other foreigners on the sixth floor of a modern apartment. Many hútò​​ng have been destroyed to make way for modern apartments and homes, though a handful of Beijing's hútò​​ng have been preserved as historic sites. We were starving and we wanted Chinese food, so Danny recommended a great restaurant a short walk away. We got kung pao chicken, braised eggplant, and fried fungi (mushrooms).

kung pao

With 1.3 billion Chinese citizens and many millions of Chinese living abroad it's no surprise that Chinese cuisine is famous the world over. You can be in a small town in the middle of Great Plains, the Australian Outback, or the Peruvian Andes that's too small for even a McDonald's yet there's a Chinese restaurant. Food tonight was divine! A perfect first Chinese meal. According to my conversations with various travellers, China seems to be a place you either love or hate with no middle ground whatsoever. My friend Sarah has been here more than 20 times yet my friend and fellow travel blogger Krista said she wouldn't want to come here again. The visa situation didn't give me the best first impression but it happens; I can't complain too hard when food is tasty. 

This morning Nick and I would go out for our exploration of Beijing. As one of the world's most polluted cities you can definitely feel it when you breathe. Nick wanted to visit the Great Wall and I wanted to visit Mao's mausoleum so I thought "why not do both." Beijing's metro is easy to use but the buses are more complicated so we jumped in a taxi, which only set us back about 20 renminbi (RMB). The tourist police were having fun building snowmen holding a Chinese flag.

Though Tiananmen has been the heart of China for many centuries, many of the buildings have only been constructed since Mao rose to power. Mao's mausoleum was built on the former site of the Gate of China (demolished in 1954).

Entry to the mausoleum is free but there's a charge to store your camera and bag. Lines to the mausoleum are long but, as with Kim Il-sung people are ushered through quickly. Two soldiers stand guard behind a glass wall protecting the Great Helmsman. Two out of four! The only leaders I have left to view now are Lenin and Ho Chi Minh. By early morning I was all out of cash and unlike Bali, there isn't any place quick and convenient where you can change money. Even in Tiananmen Square there are no currency exchange kiosks, and surprisingly few places save Starbucks accept credit cards. The Great Wall on a snowy day sounds really romantic and I wanted to see it! Leaving Tiananmen behind we took the metro to Xizhimen Station. The line for the train to Badaling was horrifically long and the next train wasn't due to depart for another three hours. Another thing that's annoying is that your bags are X-rayed at every metro or train station; even being in the outdoor section of Tiananmen Square I had to put my bags in the scanner. With the train idea scratched for now we found out there's a bus to Badaling. Taking the train one stop to Jishuitan we were confused and lost, and the snow was a half-metre deep. A helpful local would show us where the buses leave from but they're cancelled for the day! Nick missed out on his only opportunity to see the Great Wall because he has an early flight tomorrow. Even after what I've heard from other travellers and with the heartache of getting a Chinese visa, I'll admit that I started softening up a bit to Beijing earlier. Tonight I'd be frustrated because we both wanted an opportunity to see the Great Wall covered in snow. Danny and his mates have been the highlight of our stay in China, even though Nick says he doesn't feel overly comfortable CouchSurfing. Tonight we'd go to a tiny Japanese restaurant deep in the middle of the hútò​​ng. Grilled leeks, mushrooms, tomatoes, and the like on skewers are what I'd feast on.

Trudging through the snow on the way back to Danny's place, I feel like Beijing has grown on us a bit. Nick is leaving back to England early tomorrow but I may have another opportunity to visit the Great Wall, and I aspire to make that happen! 


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