Travelling through China reminds me a lot of travelling through India. It’s all fair and good to have a plan – as long as you don’t expect things to go according to plan. But no worries – somehow things always magically work out in the end. Maybe. Kind of. Most likely. Well – just enjoy the journey. Things not going according to plan is part of it.
Since coming here, I’ve had to call my bank 4 times – and this excludes the official letter of complaint that I wrote two days ago.
Yesterday, I had plans to go to National Museum of China. I was delayed by a good 2 hours because I couldn’t get money out of my bank. I walked to the ATM machine, tried to get money out and then had to go all the way back to the hotel. The bank had conveniently decided to block all my cards. The last thing I want to do on a holiday – especially when I’m travelling by myself – is to spend hours in a hotel on a Skype call to my Singaporean bank. BORING AND A COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME. But the bankers I spoke to have gotten REALLY good at both faking empathy as well as shifting and transferring responsibility whilst they attempted to solve my problem. It was midday by the time I left the hotel so I decided to have lunch in my area before heading out.
I was in a bit of a pissy mood.
On route to the subway station (no more crazy cabbies!), I found a Xinjiang restaurant that was full of people. Any place that’s crowded must be good. LOL! I’m so Singaporean… I walked into the restaurant and asked to see the menu before I decided. But the serving lady wouldn’t have any of it. She pretty much shoved me into a seat and interrogated me about I would like to eat.
“Rice or noodles. Meat, fish or vegetarian. Spicy or not spicy.” She was not going to let a customer get away – especially one that had walked through the door. And before I knew it, there it was – a small plate of big plate chicken. Dapanji or big plate chicken is a dish from the Xinjiang area that is exactly what the name suggests. It’s a big plate of chicken with a ton of spices. But as mentioned in an earlier post on Ba Yi Restaurant in Hong Kong, the crowning glory of this dish are the handmade noodles.
I haven’t eaten Dapanji many times, but this is the best bowl I’ve ever had. I highly approve. The flavours were full, yet delicate. And the noodles… oh dear Lord where do I even begin to describe it?
And then I got on a subway and made it to the National Museum of China. I’ve generally avoided rush hour so the subway system has been easy to use. There’re security checks on the way into the subway and all major sites. Kinda reminded me of being back in Israel.
The National Museum of China
Entrance is free. Yippie. And the collection is HUGE. Double Yippie. If you’re a history buff like me, you MUST go to the National Museum of China. It’s one of those places that you simply couldn’t get through in a day. You’d need weeks and weeks and you’d still be learning a lot. There are LOADS of exhibits so best you pick a few that you’re interested in.
I saw the one on the history of money and currency in China. I got to see how we went from using cowrie shells to metal currency to paper money to the financial banking system that we have today. As a former accountant, I found this history fascinating. And let’s face it – who doesn’t love being surrounded by money?
But the best exhibit was the one in the basement that covered the history of ancient China from our pre homo sapian days to our modern day. The exhibit was so extensive that I had to sit down and space it out so that both my mind and body could rest. It had everything from homo erectus to the discovery of fire to textile to astronomy to mathematics to calligraphy to…
Well – you get my drift.
And then I went off to meet my friend Kate for dinner. We were meant to go to a Mongolian restaurant that she’d gone to sometime back – but the place had shut down. So we went on a wild goose chase to find another Mongolian place but that was shut down, too.
BOO HOO HOO!!! I WANTED MONGOLIAN FOOD.
So in the end we settled on another Xinjiang restaurant. Lamb skewers. I approve. We also made friends with the waitress that was serving us.
Nothing ever works the way it’s supposed to, but it all works out in the end.
The Great Wall of China
No trip to Beijing is complete without a trip to… the Great Wall of China. It’s one of the ‘New’ 7 Wonders of the World. I booked a tour through Tour Beijing on the recommendation of my friend Kate. The night before, the driver called the hotel to say that he’d be coming to pick me up at 645am. Oh the horror that went through me when I heard that.
But I’m no stranger to early mornings. So I got up and was ready to go when the receptionist told me that the driver would be late as there was a traffic jam. After waiting in the lobby for 15 minutes, the driver called again to ask me to wait in my room as he wasn’t sure what time he was going to be there due to an accident.
And then he asked me something that pissed me off – ‘how about tomorrow, instead?’. I told him no, of course. I’ve got better things to do than postpone my trip.
20 minutes later, a car showed up at the front of my hotel. I was a little confused as I was expecting a tour bus. But the car drove me to my tour bus. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like it. When I finally got on the bus, it was entirely full. My guide was a chatty and funny young chap called Steven (his nickname). He told many jokes and tried to entertain us on the way there. He told us about his dreams as a kid and his dreams now. Like many people in Beijing, he’d moved to the city from the rural area looking for opportunities. He had an industrious, kind and hardworking look about him. He’s the kind of tour guide that you’ll remember for a long time.
An hour or so later, we arrived at the Great Wall. Depending on your level of fitness, there are many sections of the Great Wall that you can choose see. I went to the Mutianyu section. It’s around 5.5 kms long and is split into two sections. One side is steep and has less towers. The other side is less steep and has more towers. Whilst there were people there, it wasn’t particularly crowded.
Many people were surprised that I was travelling on my own. But honestly, it’s been a nice change. I haven’t travelled on my own in ages. Anyways, I’ll have my partner in crime come New Years’ Eve so I’m enjoying ‘me time’ for now.
I took the cable car up. There are two options – open and closed cars. The guide recommended the open car and we went along with it. I’m scared of heights so it was a little unnerving. It costs 120 yuan US$20 return (not included in the tour price of 300 yuan US$50). There are two men in military uniform to escort you on and off the cable car. They have a strong and firm grip and will not hesitate to shove you in and yank you off.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or be offended.
As I got on the cable car, I gazed out into the distance and all I saw were blue skies and mist covered mountains.
Within minutes, I’d arrived – to that place I’d only ever seen in pictures and history books. And here I was – at a Great Wall built amidst the mountains. As I gazed out the watchtower, I imagined standing there and sending out a smoke signal as the Mongols came through the steppes. I wondered about mankind and its destiny.
In the midst of my daydream, I slid on some snow and landed on my bum.
Within seconds, a gentleman had picked me up and scolded me lovingly. He told me to walk on the sides, not in the middle.
Sir. Yes, sir.
I spent over 2 hours walking around and taking it all in. It was so magnificent. So splendid. So spectacular.
As a born-and-bred Singaporean, I am no stranger to Chinese culture. But it really is something else to be here and see the vastness of this and to see where Chinese culture was, where it is now – and perhaps where it will be one day.
I’m super tired as I write this and I am in desperate need of sleep. I don’t think I’ve done the experience justice. I’ll need to sit down and think about it properly when I get back. Anyways, I have another early start tomorrow.
Till next time 🙂