We made it to Beijing during the National Day holiday, and we even got to the Great Wall.
Noelle and I left the Dalian airport on the 5th for the capital of China. The flight is only about an hour long, and less than that if you’ve got the wind on your side. We made it into Beijing International at around 4 pm. It was later than we had anticipated, but the plane showed up late to Dalian in the first place.
The Hostel one of our Chinese staff members helped us book told us we could get a ride to pick us up from the airport, but when I called them I realized that we must have missed the cut off time because the girl on the other end told me to just take a cab. Cabs are all well ‘n good if you can speak Chinese, even if you can just motion in the direction you want to go, but if you don’t know where you’re going, know Chinese, or even have the address of your destination written in Chinese characters you’re pretty much up that proverbial creek, my friend. UNLESS, you have a phone. We jumped in the cab and I got a hold of the girl from the hostel. She gave the cabbie her coordinates and we were off.
It wasn’t the first time we’d been in a cab here in China, but when you’re going more than a few blocks the experience is always an endurance test for your nerves. Technically, there are traffic laws. In practice, they’re more like suggestions. The white lines indicating the lanes are just nice road decorations and red lights are the equivalent of saying, “I double-dog dare ya,” to the driver. They never back down. We take turns at break-neck speeds and swerve in and out of the pedestrian hordes that constantly flock the streets of Beijing. On more than one occasion we were close enough to on-coming buses that I could, if I wanted to, flick the rusty metal shell of the public transportation vehicle.
BUT, we arrive at the hostel. The Red Lantern Hostel.
Since we arrived late in the day that first night we just wandered around. We walked a mile or so down and up some streets until we found a pond. The sun was setting so we just enjoyed walking around it for a while. In China, just about every public area you go to has the max capacity of human bodies. Eventually the pond/park place became a bit crowded. Noelle and I ditched it for some grub. We found a nice restaurant that served some Western style food. The Little Yard.
The food hit the spot, and for a moment, it felt like we were eating back home. We ate and then walked around for a bit longer, stopping at one of the hundreds of “convenience” stores they have littered around every block in China. After almost an hour of trying to find our hostel, two failed attempts by strangers to help us, and one confusing phone call with the receptionist we had to admit that we were lost. In the back streets of Beijing. Even finding one of the main roads was a chore. Once we did, we utilized the survival skill every 21st century person has developed for times just like these and called for help. As we did with the first cab ride, the girl at the hostel gave directions and we held on for dear life as the driver executed what I’m sure he felt was standard operating procedure for driving a fare to their destination. We didn’t recognize the street he dropped us off at. Our only source of comfort came in the form of the Dairy Queen on the corner. We stopped in, had a blizzard, and then began walking down the dark alley the cabbie had pointed down. Luckily, the girl at the front desk had rightly doubted our navigational skills and came sauntering out of the shadows of the alley at that exact moment. Apparently she’d been looking for us. She laughed at us until we made it to the front door of the hostel.
That evening, in the hostel, a handful of the travelers hung out around the few large tables in the center of the main room. We talked with people from Sweden, France, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, and even an elderly couple from Akron, Ohio. I kid you not. As we were making plans for our Great Wall trip a man asks Noelle if her hoodie is a picture of Zippy (Akron’s mascot). It sure is, we said. They were from Akron, born and raised. It goes without saying, but, seriously, “What a small world.” Ok, maybe it needed said.
The coincidences didn’t stop there. The Canadian couple we talked to, Andrew and Kristin, they’re teachers right here in Kaifa Qu, too. Basically, we’re almost neighbors. The live about a ten minute’s walk down the street and teach at another private school in the area.
The conversations that night were great. I can’t express how amazing it is to just meet so many new people and talk for hours about everything. For me, the two best parts of our trip were the people we met and standing on the Great Wall early enough in the day that I didn’t have to dodge toddlers and the gaggle of tourists that come everyday.
But morning came quickly at 6:00 am.
We got up, got dressed, got some grub and then got on the rickety VW van with two Irish guys named Olin and Liam, and Olin’s Chinese girlfriend, Sandy. We were heading for the Great Wall of China.