So the excitement leading up to Beijing was pretty awesome. I knew that I was going to turn 24 while in Beijing, and I had to get to thinking how to make my birthday anything shy of boring. Then again, when you're in a new city, in a new country, it's pretty difficult to be bored. I came to the conclusion that climbing the Great Wall of China was going to be the best way to ring in the birthday (aka, the celebration of me becoming an old man, or feeling like one at least!)
Saturday morning came quickly, and just after 5:00 am I was on my way to the airport. By 8 am, I was 30,000 feet in the air on my quick flight to Beijing. Beijing is only about 600 miles from Seoul, but since we fly over a sea... there is only 1 way to get there and that is by air. The thought of flying Air China worried me at first. You know, them communist and all, never know what they have up their sleeves. To my surprise, the flight was great. I even enjoyed the tuna that was served to me. In Asia, regardless of where you fly too, a meal is served. It's a luxury to us here, considering you can't enjoy a glass of water on a domestic flight from Chicago to Florida anymore for free. "5 dollars for water? 10 dollars for a blanket? Seriously?"
After a quick ride from the airport, and checking into my hotel, I was ready to explore all that Beijing had to offer. The week before my deperature I made a list of everything that I wanted to do. I knew having only 3 days, that it was going to be near impossible to see everything. However, when in Rome, do what the Romans do, right? Anyways, I tried to decide my best routes. The first day I had the Forbidden City and Tianenmen Square on the list. I was able to check both of these off of my list within a few hours. Tianenmen Square is pretty neat. There is a huge picture of Council man Mao, it's a pretty famous site. Most of you may know what I'm talking about. To me, the Forbidden City was reminsicent of the palaces I've seen here in Seoul. Asian influence 500+ years ago was very similiar. I only was able to see small differences between different architecture in Japan, China, and South Korea. It's not like Thailand where the palaces were made of gold.
Following a tasty lunch of fried noodles and dumplings, I made my way to the Olympic Village. I didn't realize until the day before I left that Beijing was also hosting the Paralympics. More or less these athletes are good enough to make the Olympic teams, but they just have their own games for them because there are so many paralyzed athletes who still compete. The OIympic Village was one of my favorite things in Beijing. The excitement was still in the air, even though the real Olympics were over nearly 3 weeks ago. The streets were crowded, and the venues were packed. I could hear the roaring coming from the Birds Nest while I watched the athletes on a big projector tv compete in the relay races. Many pictures later, I was ready to tackle the traffic jam and find the way to the outdoor patio at the hostel I stayed at. After enjoying small talk, and a few Chinese beers, I found my way to my bed.
Sunday morning I was up and at em by 6:00. My tour for the Great Wall departed at 7. Happy Birthday to me, right? It took about an hour to get the Great Wall. It was a quick hike up to the top, where the walls stretches over lush green mountain tops for hundreds and hundred of miles. There are three main sections of the Great Wall that tourists can go to. I choose the one in the middle. I spent about 4 hours walking as far as a I could in the time that I had. The views were anything short of fabulous, and I went home thinking that I had an awesome story to tell forever. Although I visited Beijing with a friend that works at my sister campus here in Seoul, it's hard for me to not wish that I was having all of these amazing memories with my friends and family at home in the states.
After the Great Wall, I decided to spend the afternoon at the Silk Market. The Silk Market is a HUGE indoor market that sells EVERYTHING and ANYTHING. Everything from Ralph Lauren polos, to real Pearls from the China Sea. I kept my credit card at home that day, but I still managed to buy just about everything I wanted for myself and for my family. My friend Rachel was able to buy 6 sets of queen size silk sheets for about 200 US. Great invest if I say so myself.
My birthday night was spent at the Moon Pie Party the hostel had. And again, I was fast asleep before 12.
Day 3 started early once again. I made my way to the Temple of Heaven.... and then onto the Bell Tower and Drum Tower. Unfortunately, both of these were closed. Thanks to the crazy Chinese man that stabbed an American there during the Olympics, and then jumped to his own death minutes later. Either way I was able to take some great pictures. We found a beautiful park with a lake after lunch that had crazy good shopping. I was able to buy different kinda of teas, and a tea set for a gift to a friend... and I found a store that sold only authentic leather. I can't even tell you how amazing the store smelt, and the prices were great! I was able to get a pair of leather shoes, a belt, and some other things for about 50 US. I was in heaven. literally.
Monday night I found myself at the airport, and binged on Burger King before my flight back to Seoul. It's always hard to come back to Korea after being somewhere else. It also always has me wondering where my next trip will be. Unfortunately there won't be much money for any trips until after I come home to Chicago for Christmas. Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, anyone?