19 hour BJ.

A wee while ago now I enjoyed a 19 hour stop over in Beijing. I managed to contact a very kind couchsurfer (Skip) before I arrived and he was free to hang out with me for the day. The story goes as follows.

I arrived in Beijing at about 6am, after a long flight with many a hoiking Chinese people and made my way by train to the station Wei Wei (or Skip) had suggested we meet at. I got there early so mosed around a bit and the perched myself on a stoop (avoiding the spit piles) to wait for him, wondering if I would people able to pick him out of the sea of Chinese faces. It was rush hour.

Once we met we headed by squishy metro to the 'Ding Dong Access Way', I have no idea if this is it's correct name but that's what Skip called it. Skip was lovely, a self taught English speaker who works as a programmer but recently quit his job because he was tired. 31 and living at home with no bride in his sights (not that he doesn't want one). Skip had never left China, only travelled with in it.

Skip told me most of the main 'sights' and places with historical significance are all on this one 'access way' that runs across the city. We moved into Tiananemn Square, it was swarming with tour groups in matching clothes and saw the memorials there but didn't enter any as the lines were horrific and it was hot.

I said to Skip outside the Forbidden City that I was boiling (in my woolen jumped) and that I should take my jumper off. He asked what I had underneath, 'A singlet' and I showed him my shoulder. He said 'Best not'. So I kept my jumper on sweaty as hell not wanting to offend anyone.

We walked all the way round the forbidden city and on our walk stopped for 'sour milk' (direct translation) 'I think you call it yoghurt?' he told me and then told me a little about his life. He is an only child, born a year or two (or was it 3?) after the one child policy was brought in and that by the time he was 20 was morbidly obese or getting there. Then he started skipping and lost 35kgs in a year! So decided his English name would be Skip.

Next we went to an amazing city park, you had to pay to get in, even as a resident but he did say you can buy year passes (his mum and auntie have them, they go there to exercise with the other elderly people he told me, there were hundreds of them dancing, twirling ribbons, stick games and singing but no sign of Skips fam that day) and sat by the lake there for a midday rest.

Skip said let's go to another park then for lunch and onto the Olympic village. It was now or never to stress my desire to visit The Wall this trip. Skip wasn't sure there was time and didn't believe I had the energy but we nutted out a emergency return to the airport plan and decided to give it a shot. Though Skip was still giving me sideways looks about it as we set off.

We still visited the extra park as it was right next door and found a place for lunch- I gave the reins to Skip for ordering and we had a very nice chicken dish with yummy sauce and peanuts and then duck that came with little taco looking things. Skip showed me the ropes for that one. All was delicious. I visited the vintage shop next door while Skip found a bus to the main station. I had just finished paying when he yelled 'Bus!' but we missed it so with bellies full we ran full steam to the next stop and just got there in time.

 The bus to the town closest to The Great Wall cost only $3 and took about 1 hour 20, both of us caught flies on the way, dead tired. Then we taxied to The Wall from there. Our nice taxi driver stopped for petrol and told us to buy water now because the prices at the wall are nuts, thanks pal! As we drove up to the entrance you could see it towering on the hill above us. It was amazing.

Skip got our tickets and we started walking up to the cable car (I thought) but Skip walked past the cable cars entrance and kept going. When I questioned he said 'Oh I didn't buy cable car tickets, we have to walk'. WALK! It was bloomin' hot, I had a woolen jumper on and it was a long way straight up! But off we went, Skip telling me that its believed you are a real man if you can make it to the wall on foot. We passed some Chinese men walking down who asked us if we knew there was a cable car to come up. Finally I said to Skip I have to take my jumper off, did and he said 'Ohh what do you call this?' 'A singlet' 'Oh a singlet is fine!'. Thank god.

 Finally we reached the wall and boy was it a beauty. It stretched on forever, up and down the mountains and off into the distance. The part we were visiting had been restored but you could see the 'wild wall' away in the distance with trees growing out of it. Pretty darn rad. We decided to see if we could make it to the wild wall to the east, it's very steep in parts so skipping along there wasn't easy, and it was hot but we made it. The Wall at this point then splits into two, Skip told me the one straight ahead was correct and the one to the right was a mistake. It went on for ages so it seemed like a pretty big stuff up!

Skip also told me last time he came up there he spent the night on The Wall, it's not allowed but there were no guards around. There's really just people selling cold drinks and treats on the wall. However he didn't recommend it saying he froze his ass off.

After a good explore we made our way back to the path to head down, it unusually seemed much longer going down but that was probably cause my legs were now feeling like jelly and fatigue from the flight and the huge day was setting in.

Our taxi driver was ready waiting for us so we scooted back to the bus stop and hopped aboard for the trek back to Beijing. Skip and I caught flies all the way back too.

The train station next to the bus station was the one for the airport, I was exhausted and heading straight there to sprawl out on a seat sounded ideal. But Skip said it was his turn to shout me some good food so after a quick supermarket stop off (at my request!) and a packet of seaweed flavored Pringles later we headed for dinner.

At dinner (strange but delicious Chinese pasta and a chicken dish) Skip said 'Ive got one more thing I'd like to show you, but it's 40 minutes away by Metro. We'll have to go quickly.' Conscious of my 10:30 last train to the airport and because I was so tired I almost said no but I felt like I owed him to see the day through. Boy I'm glad I did!

He took me to a place called 'the English corner'- where every Friday hundreds of Chinese people come to practice their English. Skip said they are all over China but this one was particularly famous because of it's size. As soon as we arrived I was pounced upon and chatted to a huge group, telling them the story of why I was in Beijing and what I'd spent my 19 hours doing, for about balf an hour. Then we had to motor back to the station for the last train, I made it. Skip and I said our goodbyes and I said a lot of thank you's and then I was off. Ready to sleep the whole next plane ride away.

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