Rules are merely a suggestion…

“I told Jack that I will have to be back by 2 pm latest to catch my train. He said it will be okay.”

“Jack tells lies to get customers. He is a bad man. You should not have listened to him.”

“Yeah but he works for your company!!!”

That was part of the conversation while I was being hustled by the tour guide on my way to the Great Wall.

Fun fact: The Great Wall is actually not visible from the moon. It is not even visible from outer atmosphere.

Jack was the guy with whom I had signed up for half day trip to the Wall in a private car for 300 RMB one day earlier. The plan was for the guide to pick me up at 7 am, and drive to the wall, and drop me off at the Beijing West train station at 1 pm so I could catch my train at 4 pm.

However, five minutes into the ride, the tour guide told me that we will be going to some government factories and tea shops and would be back at the train station, earliest by 4 pm. And if I wanted to skip the factories, I would have to pay them 800 RMB.

Well, it IS the great wall, so I tried negotiating, and seemed I had a deal struck at 450 RMB, but then suddenly, the tour guide said, “No. We want more money. 500 RMB?”. I wasn’t sure anymore if I trust them to take me in the middle of no-where with my luggage, so I told them to just drop me off and let me spend the day exploring more of Beijing. The name of the company is China International Travel Service.

And how did I come to be in Beijing? As I will explain to you in my upcoming post, I spent 21 days in China in July 2012 for an academic trip. The location of this wonderful trip was Wuhan. Anna Oja on the other hand, who is a really good friend, lived in Beijing. As it happens, there are about 18 trains running from Wuhan to Beijing every day. So I HAD to go to Beijing to visit her. 🙂

And despite the fact that there are so many trains running between the two cities, it was impossible to get any seats for the next day. Something to do with too many people living in China.  They did have some “standing tickets” left, though if you have this ticket, you should really expect to stand A LOT. The distance between Beijing and Wuhan is about 1200 km, and the high-speed trains take about 10 hours to cover this. That is a lot of standing. I, unfortunately, did not get to ride the high-speed train (train name starting with D or Z) but was lucky enough to get a seat on the intermediate train (starting with T with duration of about 12 hours) by buying it two days in advance. Bring your passport with you to buy the tickets and check this website for schedules. The trains are air-conditioned, and for brief periods when they were not very crowed, it got cold enough for me to wear a shirt over my t-shirt. The bathrooms were pretty shitty, so I tried not to eat or drink much though water is good to have. However, they do sell food, drinks, and hot water at reasonable prices in the train as well. Just make sure you do not get a standing ticket.

After arriving in Beijing, I experienced the heaviest rain-fall in the city in last 60 years. It was quite interesting experience, starting with utter failure to get a cab for 30 mins or so outside the Beijing central train station. Finally I gave up standing in the taxi queue, walked 10 mins to a fancy looking hotel, pretended to have just come out of it, and got a taxi. 🙂

Although, now if I go back, I will be sure to use the subway. I love the subway there. Its cheap (2 RMB per journey) and everything is labelled in English/Pinyin. However, the last trains go around 11 pm. Anna and I barely managed to catch the last train after we struggled for ages to get a taxi (despite Anna and her cute Chinese language skills), just because there were no taxis to be found in the rain.

The first day we went to Sanlitun Village for dinner and a movie. Later we went to First Floor for drinks and refuge from the rain. 🙂 Anna loves this place and I see why. Chilled bar with huge screen to watch sports and they had awesome vegetable tempura. 🙂

The second day was spent doing touristy stuff, starting with breakfast at Starbucks, buying return train ticket and of course, the forbidden city.

Fun fact: The forbidden city is now apparently called “The Palace Museum”.

The first challenge was getting inside. The area is huge, and they have only opened the South gate, so if you planning on going in through the North gate, as we were, then don’t! Maybe it was the hot hot weather after the previous night’s rain or my limited knowledge of Chinese history, but I soon got a little bored of the place. Its awesome, as you can see in the following panorama, but its huge. Properly exploring it would take you an entire day, and it might be worth hiring an English-speaking guide. The rulers have lived there for 500 years so there is a lot to see… The next stop was the Tiananmen square. There are number of grand buildings around it which are worth seeing, but nothing extra-ordinary.

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City

And the third-day was the day of the supposed great wall trip, which didn’t happen. 🙂 Instead I was left on the side of the road in some random place in China with my luggage. Luckily, I found a taxi quickly, and was on my way to Olympic stadium.

I usually find stadiums boring, but Bird’s nest was a different story. I must have sat in there for an hour, watching the highlights of the Beijing Olympics and just watching people go round the track in Segway. When I was done with the videos, I went about exploring the stadium, a lot of which was open to the public. And the best part of the morning was that I got 50% off the ticket price of 50 RMB with my German student card. 🙂

The Bird's Nest

The Bird’s Nest

Later, I took the subway and went to Guomao stop to visit the Chinese World Trade Center (aka China World). I had gone there to go to their observation deck as mentioned on the Wikipedia page, but either the receptionist did not understand what I was saying, or they do not know the concept of an observation deck. Or maybe the place isn’t open to the public yet. Regardless, my idea of getting a panorama of the city on the clear clean day did not work out. Instead, I went out exploring other buildings in the surrounding areas, including the CCTV headquarters (named the underpants building).

It was around 1 pm  that I finally found myself a taxi and went to the Beijing West Train station. Did I mention Beijing is HUGE? Even though I was more towards the center of the city, still it took me about 45 mins to get to the train station, despite the fact that the taxi driver was a total maniac and broke at least tens of rules. I managed to enter the waiting room for my train around 2 pm, and found about a 100 people in line in front of me. So make sure you come to the train station early enough especially if the train is starting from your station. Two hours later I was on my way to Wuhan after an interesting trip to Beijing, and after having an awesome time with Anna and her dogs… 🙂

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