It’s now been a week since my return from my trip to Mainland China and sadly the work is piling up, with assignments and presentation deadlines just around the corner. I finally have the time to sit down and write something!
Although having only spent just over one week in China, I managed to see a lot so I will do write about my trip in two parts, the first being about my time in Beijing and the second on Shanghai. In addition, I will try to keep this brief!
In an attempt to keep costs down, I travelled from Hong Kong Island to the Hong Kong-China border. I took the metro station, then the train to reach Lo Wu where I would have to go through Chinese immigration in order to cross the border in to Shenzhen. Here I would catch a 24-hour long train to Beijing.
Despite having researched and timed my journey before setting out, the timings could have not have been any more inaccurate. Travelling to the border took forever and once at the border, the three immigration checks comprised of what felt like numerous slow-moving, never-ending queues. It took so long that I only had 20 minutes left to catch my train!
Finally, I was able to get through to Shenzhen, China. My first thoughts: Is absolutely anything in English? There were dozens of Chinese signs, no English-speaking people and definitely no Westerners. I was definitely no longer in Hong Kong, I felt like I was on my own.
Conscious of the fact that I was yet to collect my train tickets and board the train in 20 minutes, I ran around frantically seeking some sort of train symbol. Eventually I saw a train sign that ended up taking me in circles but my frustration was not my priority. Having brought the Chinese version of my train ticket receipt, I showed this to staff who directed me to the station which was about 100 meters away, so off I ran to the ticket office with all my luggage. Here I faced yet another hurdle: all the signs at the queues were in Chinese and all had different characters leaving me no clue as to where to line up. Showing my Chinese receipt to a few people, I was eventually directed to the right queue where I quickly collected my ticket and ran to the station. By this point, there was only 10 minutes left to get on the train. I stopped to get a loaf of bread unaware of whether I would be fed on the train. Long story short, I was lucky to make my train at the last call.
That segment of my trip was a bit of a disaster. After mistakenly settling in to someone else’s bed, I was kindly directed to the right bed by Mainlanders who thought my cluelessness was hilarious. I too would have laughed had I not been the one in the situation. Trains run throughout all of China, with passengers able to select a seat or a bed. Given that this journey would be 24 hours, I chose the hard sleeper bed. With this option you are assigned a column of three beds on a basis of first come, first served. Reaching the train so late, I was left with the third and top bunk. Scared of heights, I slowly climbed to my bed for the next 24 hours to realise that there was not enough space for my head meaning that I would be unable to sit up straight for the entirety of the journey.
With only two (occupied) seats to each set of 6 beds and a very tiny corridor, I had no choice but to stay laid flat on my bed, facing everyone’s luggage that was stacked on a shelf parallel to my bed.
With an essay due the day after, I attempted to complete the essay but kept falling asleep accidentally. Strangely, salesmen would come by with a trolley of food to sell shouting very loudly in Chinese, which would often wake me up. However, what surprised me the most was that the lack of space in the pathway did not stop people from coming by and shoving every person out of their way en route.
Despite the ordeal, the sights from the window were beautiful. I got to see beautiful hills, houses, lakes and bridges, etc.
Beyond belief, I found an English speaking Chinese girl who was slightly younger than me. She let me work in her bottom bunk bed and I tried to work at night once the lights were out. With my laptop battery dying and no sockets on the train, I had to face facts and give up on the essay.
Luckily, the girl offered to get me to my hostel once we were off the train and she did exactly that! We met her boyfriend at the station, who also spoke English.
They looked after me, buying me train tickets, giving me advice and Chinese translations of the hostel I was to be staying at. If it was not for them, I have no clue about what I would have done!
Once I reached the hostel, I met up with four friends at the hostel restaurant and had a jumbo breakfast. I was incredibly hungry given that I had eaten half of a small loaf of bread on the 24-hour long train.
The others went to sightsee whilst I went to finish my essay. With the deadline clashing with my tour to the Great Wall, I was left with no choice but to pull an all-nighter in my hostel room shared with 7 other people.
I miraculously finished the essay as the tour was about to leave but this did mean that I missed breakfast.
Our hostel organised for my friends and I as well as a few other to take a mini-bus around an hour and a half from our hostel to the less busier Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall of China.
Seeing as ‘pictures speak a thousand words,’ I’ll let the photos do the talking…
The Wall was so steep at times, that we saw people crawling up the stairs on hands and knees!
The section that we visited also had the original, unrestored part of the wall which hiked up and down on. Although this was a little dangerous, it was thrilling and a whole different experience to walking up and down the reconstructed sections.
The Great Wall of China runs throughout China but the Beijing sections are the most popular because they are the clearest, safest and best looking parts of the entire wall. Even within Beijing, there are different sections that you can visit. The wall that runs through Beijing is almost 600km and that is just Beijing!
Once we were back, we went to visit the Temple of Heaven.
Following this we went to see the Olympic Stadium Bird’s Nest
Next, we visited Tiananmen Square where the flag raising could be watched.
Opposite to this was the Forbidden City, with a picture of Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China and Chinese Communist revolutionary and governor/’Chairman.’
Communism was evident in China, the Communist flags were absolutely everywhere with Communist soldiers surrounding us as well as similar looking buildings.
Following this, we visited Lama Temple. Here members of the public came to worship Gods lighting incense sticks for the good health and fortune of loved ones. This was a very peaceful place.
Next, we visited the HuTong Alleys. As the name states, this was a long alley with quaint little shops, restaurants and bars selling all sorts of things. Here I bought lots of very cheap Chinese souvenirs, such as a necklace with the double happiness sign for 10Yuan (£1).
The nightlife in Beijing was fantastic! We visited two clubs that we had been recommended by friends and had a great night.
The next day we ventured out to the Summer Palace on the outskirts of Beijing. It was very beautiful.
Later that evening, we visited the night markets.
After seeing such horrific things, we went to try the famous Peking duck!
The chef brought a whole duck to our tables and chopped it in front of us. We then wrapped the duck in pancakes and were given various other condiments and food items to use in our duck pancakes. It was delicious and worth every penny.
Overall, Beijing was not as polluted as some people had forewarned. It was a beautiful city and I would happily visit again.
Look out for my blog on Shanghai!