I know, that’s a really stupid sentence – but what can you expect from Mao?
The border crossing was relatively uncomplicated. For 10€ we hired a jeep which should bring us over to the chinese side. Our driver was a true character, pretty stressful but still nice. A funny situation occured when the border police at first didn’t want to let him (and us) pass because he was queue-jumping but with some nice words and probably some money (what he paid, not us) the problem was solved easily. The attention we got from the chinese customs was a little bit more than normal, we had to pass a medicine check (because of the pig flu) and were pulled out of the mass to get “further examinated” where we had to unpack our backpacks. But finally we arrived in the first chinese city after the border, Erlian. From there you have the possibility to take a sleeper bus to Beijing or to find some companions and hire a small van by yourself. We found one finnish, one dutch and one chinese guy so we went with a minivan to Beijing. Usually that takes 7-8 hours (the sleeper bus needs 11) but today we had pretty big bad luck. You should know that the “People’s Republic of China” celebrates its 60th birthday at the 1st of October this year and the government really gets paranoid about that. So we got into a massive 7 hour traffic jam on the motorway because the police checked ALL cars on ALL streets to Beijing for security reasons. That was a pretty good first impression we got from this surveillance- and spy state. Anyway, we arrived in Beijing in the middle of the night at 2.30am, got into a taxi and went to Zack’s place, a couchsurfer who offered us to stay at his place for some days. Thank you very much for that and sorry again that we kept you up so long!
The next day was our only real full day in Beijing at all but we didn’t know that when we got up in the morning. What to say about Beijing? It was damn hot and humid at that days, the air is the most terrible you can imagine, even when there are no clouds in the sky, the sky has a grey-blue colour (the most air polluted city in the world!) and additional to that the city is unbelievable noisy and it really seems that theres no place anywhere to have a minute for yourself and to relax. I still was more or less fine with the idea to stay in Beijing for two or maybe three days to see at least some of the sights but for Annika this monstrous 15 million city was maybe a little bit too much and she felt very uncomfortable there and in the evening we decided to head to the small town Shanhaiguan, 300km northeast of Beijing, the next day, what was pretty fine with me too.
Originally we planned to stay at Zack’s place for four or five nights but now the next morning was already our last so at least we wanted to have a nice breakfast with Zack. In the supermarkets in Beijing you can find almost everything you find in Europe, too, plus some nice additional goodies like tofu in all imaginable kinds and strange but interesting fruits. The only big minus in China is the absence of good bread. You can just find very soft white bread that most of the time is terrible sweet, as well. But we were good nurtured when we entered the train out of the capital.
Shanhaiguan immediatly was a total different thing than Beijing. It’s a wonderful town of about 150000 inhabitants directly at the Pacific Ocean with a very nice old town and an impressive city wall. The best of all was that there were really no tourists except us in the city. Somehow strange because the city really has something to offer. For example the Great Wall hits the ocean just a couple of kilometres away, passes the first big mountains (known as “The first gate under heaven”) and the already mentioned nice old town and city wall. We found a small unofficial guesthouse were we booked a double room for 35Yuan each for the next days. The facilities all were a little bit shabby but our demands aren’t very high so it was totally okay. In the first evening we found a nice restaurant that served the best food for unbeatable low prices – our first real experiences with the great chinese kitchen. A dinner that was so big that it was hard to finish for two persons was something like 40Yuan (10Yuan = 1€) inclusive beers, it really was no surprise that we visited this place three times during the three days we spent in Shanhaiguan. Another big surprise for us was that there was really something going on in this town. Every evening the main square turned into a open air disco with some stylish chinese techno music or traditional western songs like “Bella Ciao” in techno versions. And really everybody meets there. Old and young, women and men go there and do whatever they like. The younger people very often play a game that I would call “feather hacky-sack” and the older people dance in order to the music with studied simultan moves or do some traditional dances at the other side of the street. Very cool. It took not really a long time until we were involved in the “feather hacky-sack” thing as well and at the next day we bought our own
It was hard to get bored in Shanhaiguan. We spent the second day at a beach where we had our first swim in the Pacific in our life and visited the “Old Dragon’s Head”, the place where the Great Wall clashes with the waves of the Ocean even if we saved the 30Yuan (each!) and did not climb up. At day three we finally climbed the Great Wall. The entrance gate (again, it’s 30Yuan each to enter the wall) to the wall is approximately 2km north of the city and the wall really gets steep here for the first time. With no doubt, the wall is an impressive monument in the history of mankind and I think it’s one of the sights in the world everybody who maybe has the possibilities to see it should see it. Unfortunately it was a pretty dizzy and foggy day when we went up but for that we nearly had the wall for ourselves – we just met a handful chinese tourists during the couple of hours we spent there. It actually was a good legwork as well – it was not a big deal to sleep this night
At the next day we had to get up early because we went back to Beijing and in the evening on to the southwest of China. Our plans were to arrive early, meet up with Iannis and David to pick up our train tickets they organised for us (it was not possible to buy train tickets from Beijing to Guilin in Shanhaiguan, so thank you very much doing that for us!) and to visit the Forbidden City in the afternoon but once again we had no luck in this city. The communist party choosed this afternoon to have a rehearsal for their big 60th anniversary military parade and just closed the whole inner city. The subway stopped running at 1pm and we somehow made it that we found us in the middle of the inner city where usually nobody was allowed to go at that day. Just soldiers, policemen with machine guns, security guards, tanks and us two with our big backpacks beside some people who live there… A really dodgy feeling. We tried to get out of that area as soon as possible but the nonexistance of any public transportation forced us to walk out and Beijing really really is a big city. During our walk we passed policemen who took pictures of us, x-ray scanners (these ones that you usually find at airports to scan your luggage) and hundreds of still standing soldiers. What a crazy country!
Finally we made it to the West Railway Station and met David and Iannis and boarded our train to Guilin, which is 2200km south of Beijing in the southwest of China. The train journey took 27 hours but it was totally worth it. A tropical climate and one of the most stunning landscapes of China was waiting for us…