Let’s talk about Beijing.
A city so huge it makes Berlin look like the tiniest village. So vast you think that you will get lost after one minute. But, as a matter of fact, as long as you remember the metro station closest to your hotel, you will always be fine. Because if there’s one thing that’s extremely well organized, it’s the metro. Understandable, even for an alien. And, as welcoming and lovely as you will be treated, this is what you are gonna feel like: alien. Me, being rather tall, rather blonde and rather pale, I felt like a superstar. And I didn’t like it. People would just walk up to me and take photos or stand behind me so that their friends could take photos of me with them in the picture. They even took turns. Some of them asked, which is fine. I honestly don’t mind being on a photo in some Chinese living room, but I would like to be asked for permission.
At some point during one of our shopping tours in the silk market (which you should definitely check out, you can’t buy nicer copies of brand items for a lower price anywhere else), one of the sales ladies just rubbed my face because she wouldn’t believe that I hadn’t used makeup. That was pretty strange, but my friend got a good price for a handbag in the end, so I figured this had helped. But apart from that, there is really much to love about this city. The old architecture is simply beautiful and there is something elegant in the way it mixes with the modern skyscrapers. But consider to wander off the usual tourist paths. The Forbidden City is definitely worth a visit, especially considering the long history, but there is much more to explore. I can only recommend to see the hutong quarters, it puts your life into perspective, how much luck you’re having if you live in a rich Western country. Though, come to think about it, the people there looked at least as happy, maybe even happier, as everywhere else.
There are definitely fewer tourists there which is probably a good thing for them. In the middle of a hutong quarter was where we participated in a tea ceremony. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s among the most relaxing things I have ever done in my life. There is something about listening to a lady (who looks 17 but is actually 40 years old) talking about ancient traditions while pouring hot water on an ancient clay tea pot that completely makes you forget time. We only just remembered where we were when some friends came in asking where the hell we had gone to. If you ever visit Beijing, don’t miss it. Another thing we have to talk about is, of course, the Great Wall. We started off excited on a hot clear day, thinking we were in good shape. Turns out we weren’t. It felt like climbing so many steps you forget how to count halfway up. Once you’ve made it to the top, the view is absolutely worth it, especially if the weather is fine. It is just so beautiful you forget to breathe (which is something you have to learn again once you climbed the stairs, at least how to do it without sounding like a dying rhino). But the exhausting part is yet to come, because now you’re exposed to the sunlight and the flooring on the wall is the exact contrary to ‘even’. There is one step that’s half a meter high and another one that’s only 5 cm right next to it. So you take many breaks to appreciate the view! I took the stairs to get back down which I still regret to this day. Going back down was somehow less exhausting, instead you got to see a lot of spiders and other insects that you didn’t actually want to look at. From the perspective of a German, anything that’s bigger than your regular house spider looks downright lethal. Maybe some of the things up there were lethal, but I don’t want to think about that now. Some of my friends took the alternative route down: a giant slide. Though they had to queue, they looked like they had had the time of their lives. Which they probably had. But either way, though it is rather touristy the Great Wall is just impressive, beautiful and stunning. Needless to say, we fell asleep on the ride back to the hotel.
Food-wise, what can I tell you – it’s different from Chinese restaurants. Be brave, try something from elderly ladies selling their food on the street (best dumplings I’ve ever had). But always have something with you to stop explosive diarrhoea, especially if you have a sensitive tummy. I’m not saying that it will happen, but it might and it’s always better to come prepared. But most of the time it’s just great fun to look at the menus and order by pointing at the photos of the food. I ate some really great stuff there and some of it seemed like traditional dishes, but don’t ask me what it’s called. Or what’s in it. I highly recommend to eat in bigger groups, that way you can try different things and most restaurants have a rotating middle part out of glass which makes it both easy and fun to pass everything around. And please use chopsticks for eating. It may seem hard, but it’s worth trying and once you’ve got the hang of it it’s actually pretty easy. Most of the time. Some foods just can’t be eaten elegantly with chopsticks.
The last, and maybe most striking, experience was only possible because one of our group had some very good connections in China. He took us to visit a music school where students from all over the country lived to study, with an emphasis on drumming classes. It was just heart-warming to see how every student was assigned one of our group to show around. I was trusted to the attention of Sally (whose Chinese name I could neither say nor spell) who took her job very seriously. She couldn’t understand a word I said nor could I understand her, but we still got along really well which just shows that communication is more than words. She showed me how well she could play her instruments and had me have a go at them. We practiced a tongue-twister (which I failed miserably at) and laughed a lot. In the end, we even got to see a performance from one of the teachers who had played during the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing. It was impressive and the Goosebumps were inevitable. I could tell you much more about this amazing place, but as always it’s better to go and see for yourself. You will likely see more great things that I have missed!