Happy New Year! I am writing this on New Year’s Eve from Shanghai, China, so I just wanted to wish my fantastic readers a splendid 2012 and that I can not wait to tell everyone of you all about my adventures in the next few days. I will be home in approximately four days, so not much longer now. This will be not a long post, as I have to go get ready to ring in the New Year in what promises to be a very interesting evening.
So when I left you last I was off to sleep early for an early start towards the Great Wall of China. The next morning around 0500, I woke my friend from Singapore and we were the first to board the tour bus. It was a smaller type short-bus and by the time we picked everyone up from various hostel/hotels around the city, it was jammed packed. We got a measly breakfast of McDonalds (breakfast of champions I say) and were at the wall in about three hours which passed by quite quickly as I spent the morning talking to an Australian and an American I had befriended during the ride.
The Wall has been my highlight of China. To start, it was a gorgeous, sunny/clear morning and quite brisk weather-wise. After a brief introduction about the section of the Wall that we were seeing, we climbed the side of a steep hill towards the Wall itself and entered the main Wall area through a side entrance. It was a real hard hike and I was pretty winded (even with all my walking and new found leg strength) after that first jaunt. However, from this juncture, the climb would prove increasingly more difficult. The section of the wall we were seeing was one of the oldest and least-restored parts of the Great Wall. The stairs from tower to tower were precariously steep and the rocks that formed them were loose, slippery from wear and some were even missing. One misstep or second of lax concentration meant a dangerous fall, or at best a turned ankle. Some young German boys in our tour group steamed ahead (German efficiency I remarked) so I was not about to let them show me up, so I plowed on.
After about an hour and a half of stairs and screaming calf muscles, we reached one of the main towers that was the highest point for this particular section of the wall. For those of us that made it this far (many others in our group lagged behind or turned back) we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the entire section of the wall. I sat down with the German boys that had arrived before me and we shared a drink they had brought with them and exchanged words about the beauty of what were beholding. After a few minutes of enjoying the view, we were on our way back the way we came to partake in a quick lunch then head back on the bus into town. The entire process on the Wall took about four hours, not including lunch and I’ll admit at the end of it, I was sweaty (despite the cold) and exhausted. I ended up sleeping the majority of the ride back.
By the time I had gotten back, I had just enough time to pack my bag and head towards the West Beijing Train Station. Since it was close to 1700 and traffic was at a crawl (as usual) it took me a solid hour to get there and I feared I would be late. I arrived with a few minutes to spare and boarded the train just on time. As I sorted myself out in my compartment (soft sleeper again this time) I met a Mexican gentlemen who was looking for his compartment/bed as it was the first train he had taken in China. After offering my expertise/assistance, we got to talking. Turns out he was a Doctor (Phd) who specialized in Parkinson’s and related diseases and had just finished being a guest-speaker at a huge conference on the related subject in Beijing. I realized this was a seriously educated man, so after we exchanged pleasantries/courtesies, I picked his mind about the economic/criminal situation in Mexico. He told me that he had known many politicians personally in Mexico and said I reminded him of one. I did not know whether I should have been honored or offended. We talked for awhile longer before a younger Chinese guy heard us speaking English and stopped outside the compartment to ask where we were from. After exchanging further pleasantries, we discovered he was an engineering student who had just gotten his student visa to study in the United States. While he was only eighteen years of age, he was one really big dude and reminded me of one my Chinese friends from high school. After a social gathering lasting a couple hours, we all retired to our respective compartments.
The next morning, I was awoken by my stern, unsmiling female conductor about an hour before the train was due to arrive. She must have been one hard woman, because not even my patented, winning smile could seem to phase her. After the train arrived and I had wished good-bye to my new friends, I found someone holding a sign outside the station with the name of my hostel on it and remembered they offered free rides into town. While walking to the awaiting bus, I quickly made friends with a fellow named Julian from Brazil who would be my companion for the next few days. After checking in, we met a Mandarin-speaker from New Zealand (he had majored in the language in University) who was staying in the same dormitory as us. After booking my ticket to my next (and current) destination of Shanghai, we all decided to enjoy lunch together and find out more about each other since we were all staying in the same room. That afternoon, I was contacted by a couch-surfer named Meng who offered to show us around town later that evening, so after a brief nap, we all headed out to see what Xi’an had to offer.
However, it is getting late here and this Cat needs to go get ready to enjoy his evening. Hope everyone of you has a fantastic/memorable New Year’s Eve celebration tonight and an even better year to come. Happy New Year!