I am back in my little town of Yeosu. I have spent the past month building a better relationship with my backpack, and yes, we are more acquainted now, greater friends, and with a better understanding of what life may hold, or at least a hope of what it will.
It was a long journey, and I cannot hope to ever tell you, or let you in on the secret of my travels. With a thousand entries I could not get it right. With one entry, I could only get it wrong, so I may break the month in several blogs, perhaps keeping them shorter than I have in the past written.
I started the month off with an overnight bus trip to Seoul, from where I took an a.m. flight to Bejiing, China. The hostel I stayed at in Bejiing was great, though they were doing major road construction on the entire street, and wow the Chinese do construction interestingly. Instead of bringing in bulldozers and tractors and heavy equipment, they had lines of men with small shovels and pics tearing away at the road one scoop at a time and shoveling it into wooden wheelbarrows or buckets. The entire road looked like a landfill, or perhaps like a clean up crew after a major bomb raid. Bricks, stones, garbage and rubble was thrown everywhere across the road with only one small path to walk across, and often not even that. It was a busy road blown up and obliterated by Chinese un-modern construction techniques. While it was noisy, in rambles, and resembling Dresden or your local dump, I thought the whole street added charm and authenticity. Still the little shops stayed open, people walked and passed and dodged workers and debris.
I saw the things I most wanted to see in Bejiing. I went to an acrobat show, spent hours in Tianmen Square, a day at the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven. In Korea, I expect to be looked and stared and pointed at. I am an obvious looking foreigner in a place sparse with foreigners. In Bejiing, there were foreigners and westerners all over, and I thus expected a vacation without the constant stares and giggles, but at least 20 times a day were people asking to take pictures with me, and far more often than that taking pictures of me, most often secretively trying to sneak taking the photo of me without my knowledge. I am sure most of them were chinese tourists themselves from more rural areas of China where foreigners are a not-so-common site, especially the blonde curly hair and blue eyed type. It is as though some of us westerners were part of the tourist attraction of the big city, and had become a niche in their vacation, with photographic memories and proof to show their friends and family back home of the blonde white person they saw in Bejiing. Yep, I am a pop star in more countries than one.
The forbidden city is enormous, and I made the mistake of exiting the side opposite from where I entered, and then walking the circumference of the exterior. That was a bit like skateboarding across the whole of Rhode Island, but I was able to see many of the Hutongs, or old traditional neighborhoods with thin alleys and rustic homes. What can I say about the Forbidden City other than that it is both massive, and no longer so forbidden. Yep, there were crowds and crowds. August is hight tourist season bringing not only a steady flow of foreign tourist, but swarming rivers of Chinese tourists rushing from site to site of their beloved countries capital and her historic sites. I like the Forbidden City, though I think I like the Summer Palace more. While still there were crowds, it seemed more relaxed, and was surrounded by a beautiful lake, with small mote like rivers cutting and dashing through, passing under bridges and through shops and and lilly gardens. I met two japanese women and one chinese woman there who I spent the hours with walking around the palace and grounds. There were trees and boats made of stone, and temples and parks and gardens, and people paddling out on the lake to enjoy silent ripples of water smoothing the sides of their boat.
The temple of heaven was even more enormous, and I found myself lost in there. Really, it is just a giant wooded park with pathways crisscrossing all directions through the vast span of trees and benches nestled safely in shade. The grounds contain several temples, each living up to the splendor of ancient Chinese architecture, and families spread out in the park to play cards or dance or play traditional instruments with small crowds gathering in for a listen. I found myself thinking if I lived in Bejiing, that is where I would go to rest and think and write in my journal, some forested escape from the masses and craziness of the city. As it was, I had one day, one half day, and then I left for some new place, some new city, some new adventure.
Of course though, no trip to Bejiing is complete without the Great Wall of China. I met many people either in other cities in China, or in Japan who said they weren't sure if they wanted to visit Bejiing, and wondered if it was worth visiting. How could you visit China without seeing the Great Wall. As the quote above says, though sometimes translated slightly different, "If we fail to reach the Great Wall, we are not heroes." I my friends am a hero, and can now add one of the worlds great sites to my list of conquests. The list is thus far short, but ready to grow. Of the Great Wall, I will simply say, yes, it is worth it.
I woke up early one morning and headed out with small group from the hostel. We did a part simply called "The Secret Wall." It's the oldest part of the wall, built 2,000 years ago. It's also an unrestored portion few know about or visit. Our group was the only group anywhere on the mountain. It was several miles hike up the steep mountains, several miles across, and several miles down. It was spectacular. The wall was broken down and crumbling and overgrown with plants and flowers, and still it stood out and stretched and carried on. It is humid in China, and walking around always brings out a sticky sweat. Hiking up the steep hillsides in the hot sun of a Chinese summer brought it out fierce. I wished to strip down naked and jump in a cool and clear river and feel the chill of the water on my body. The mountains alone were beautiful and the wall added to that beauty in a subtle, yet forceful accent. The peak where I stood reached 888 M above sea level, marking a special and holy spot in a now revered and sacred wall, 8 being a special and lucky number for the Chinese. After the hike, we ate a traditional chinese meal cooked and served by a family in a small village at the base of the mountain. Only I dared venture to to try the chicken feet, holding on the the little claws like toothpicks to strip off the fleshy meat from the soles of the feet. The meal was good and well needed after the long hike in the sun, miles across the wall, the very ancient stones at my feet.
Well, friends, that is Bejiing. I'll share more of the rest of China later. Now, I have couch surfing responsibilities to attend to, so I am off to play the good host.