Sights seen in China: Great Wall & Panjiayuan Market
Number of people who have mistaken me for Chinese: 6
First stop: the Great Wall
After one book, three movies, and a total of fifteen long hours in the air, I landed in Beijing on Monday night where I met my dad in Beijing Capital International Airport. The next morning, we hit the ground running. At 7am (painfully early), we joined a tour group to visit one of the seven wonders of the world--the Great Wall.
It truly seemed like the stars aligned for our visit to the Great Wall. Not only did we have a comfortable group of only 4 people, but the sun was shining and, because we went so early, we beat the tourist rush. After a one hour drive from downtown Beijing and quick stop to a pottery-making shop, we arrived at the Great Wall. Was it touristy? Yes... But it was also spectacular. Being on top of the wall and climbing the steps that were built hundreds and hundreds of years ago, possibly as early at 770 BC, I was blown away by the scale and remoteness of this giant wonder.
Great Wall, Awesome Toboggan
By far, the best part of visiting the Great Wall was the toboggan ride down. As an alternative to the seated lift which carries you up and down the mountain, visitors can SLIDE down down a metal "chute" on little black wheeled toboggans. Recently, the Obamas made a trip to China and the First Lady, with her daughters, bravely tobogganed down from the Wall. Since that one visit, China has positioned Ms. Obama as the spokeswoman for the toboggan, with massive posters of her everywhere, wind in her hair and a huge smile on her face as she zips down the slide. For some reason, I highly doubt the White House approved this endorsement...
Riding the toboggan down the Great Wall of China is of my top ten favorite things I've ever done, and I'm sure that Michelle Obama wouldn't disagree. It's terrifying and the entire time I was thinking to myself "don't go too fast and fly off this slide to your death," but it was ridiculous and awesome. Seriously, who thinks to put a slide on one of the country's most popular and historic sites? I have no idea, but I'm so glad they did.
After we slid down from the Wall, we joined out tour group for a traditional Chinese lunch of eggplant, chicken, pork & rice. We also made some additional stops to the cleverly named Mr. Tea for a tea tasting, followed by an unexpected rickshaw ride through the slums of Beijing and a visit to the home of a Chinese family. We thought we signed up for a there-and-back tour of the Great Wall; little did we know that we'd wind up sipping tea in a Chinese family's living room.
Day two in China, I was on my own. My dad had business meetings so I decided to explore a highly recommended local attraction, Panjiayuan Antique Market. Located in the southeast corner of Beijing's third Ring Road, this sprawling indoor/outdoor market is apparently the largest flea market in China. I took a cab there, and spent hours wandering through rows and rows of vendors, all divided into different sections: beads, used books, antiques, statues, artwork, etc.
Subconsciously determined to practice my haggling skills and find a souvenir for myself, I got into an intense and unintentional price battle with a woman for a tiny Buddha head figurine. She whipped out the calculator, insisting in silent words that I type out the price I thighs was fair. Soon, we had a sizable crowd around us of other vendors trying to get in on the action and secure the sale. I quickly realized there was no escape and got the price down from 500 RMB to 70 RMB, which felt like a reasonable price for a souvenir I never wanted in the first place (approx. $11).
To get back to the hotel, I was determined to master the Beijing subway system. This could have also been due to the fact that the idea of hailing a cab and somehow explaining to them where my hotel was seemed slightly impossible. Overall, I found the subway to be incredibly straightforward, clean and accessible. It took two transfers and about 15 min of confusion but I eventually found my hotel and went up to my room where I plopped onto the bed in total exhaustion. Mission complete.
No trip to China is complete without some Peking duck. For dinner, we met up with some of my dad's business associates at DaDong, a restaurant recommended to me by a friend. We were seated at a giant round table and left all the ordering to Robert and his wife, the only two Chinese speakers at the table. Enormous servings of eggplant, lotus root, bamboo shoots, shrimp, salad and fish soup arrived at the table, one after another. Everything was delicious, but the star of the meal was the Peking duck, which was rolled to the side of the table on a white linen cart to be sliced and diced before our eyes. We wrapped the crispy skin and duck meat into thin dough sheets and piled on plum sauce, garlic and other garnishes--the works.
The meal wrapped up with a platter of sliced melon and watermelon. We left the restaurant stuffed and happily drowsy from the red wine and rich food. My first Peking duck experience was wonderful and deliciously authentic.