When I arrived in Beijing I was terrified. Could I figure out how to get to my hostel? What if I got lost? What if something happened with my money? What if someone took me away to a Chinese brothel and sold me? Ok so obviously some of these fears were a bit irrational. But I came to China terrified.
When I arrived in Beijing, a Chinese university student immediately befriended me. He had never traveled before, and I knew no Chinese so we were a perfect match. I helped him with things like what line to stand in for passports and where to go next, and he helped me with things like what subway to get on where and where I should store my bags. I was off to a good start and feeling more confident.
When I stepped out of the airport armed with the new knowledge and maps my friend had given me, I was immediately hit with the insane heat and smoggy air. Similar to in Kolkata, I could not see the sun and a grey haze was consuming the sky. The heat was overwhelming. I got to my hostel with the unsolicited help from a British man who lived in the area. Upon arriving at the hostel, I met two Americans who had just left a year of teaching in Korea as well, and I made plans to take the bus to see the Great Wall with them in the morning. That evening I explored the area around the hostel, got dinner, and did some wrong things and got yelled at, you know the usual.
The next morning we went to the Mutianyu portion of the Great Wall. After a 3-hour, sweaty, air-conditioning-less bus ride where my legs were buried in the seat in front of me because they were too long, we arrived at our destination. Ever since my Chinese history class at AU, I had wanted to visit the Great Wall, and it was pretty unfathomable to me that I was actually there. We climbed up the mountain, climbed the wall, and I imagined what it would be like to be a solider at my post, guarding China from its enemies. It really is remarkable that the wall is still there and bears so much history. I also think I have never been so sweaty in my entire life.
After the 3-hour, sweaty, air-conditioning-less bus ride home with my knees buried in the seat in front of me, I was pretty well exhausted, but I knew I only had a precious few days in Beijing. So, I rested up, went to dinner and then headed to the night market. Where I saw all these interesting ObaMao things. Weird.
The next day I set off to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. The thing that sticks out most in my mind about the Forbidden City is that it was incredibly ornate and massive. (Sorry Gyungbukgung and Korea, but you are just not as cool as the Forbidden City.) I moseyed around for hours, took a lot of pictures, listened to my automated guide, which sometimes worked, and tried to dodge all the people who wanted to take pictures with me.
By the time I was finished with the Forbidden City, I was exhausted and again possibly the hottest I have ever been in my life, so that did not leave a lot of room for walking around Tiananmen. Luckily there is not a whole lot to do at Tiananmen but just be there. The one thing I did notice was how much security was there. When you walk in every Chinese citizen has to give some form of ID to the security guards. For those of you that do not know, you will never seen the famous man standing in front of the tank picture, because it is illegal to publish in China. If you Google Tiananmen Square anywhere but in China you will be flooded with scenes from the 1989 protests in the square. But if you Google this in China, nothing comes up but pictures of tourists walking around and other pleasantries. Just like China blocks Facebook from its citizens, it also blocks some of its history.
After Tiananmen I went to the wrong temple. I thought I was going to the Temple of Heaven, which looked interesting to me because it looked a little different than the dozens of other temples I had seen in Asia. But I was actually at the Lama temple. So rather than be disappointed about my mistake, I sat for a long time taking in the scenery and trying to absorb the fact that this was my last day in Asia. This is where it somewhat hit me, and I was tossed into an emotional whirlwind for the rest of the evening.
My last evening in Asia was spent eating dinner with an American on his way to North Korea and drinking terrible Chinese liquor on the side of the road with some meat on a stick. The people I met that evening helped me though the emotions of my last night in Asia and my grand adventure coming to a close. It is funny how awesome people can be that you have met only hours before. I woke up the next morning at 5am with some help from a friend and went to the airport. And that, my friends, was the end of my Asian adventure.