Thursday, February 12, 2009

China Chronicles: Day Six

By the time we reached day six in Beijing, my feet had officially rejected me. I seriously couldn't walk without wincing, and I thought they would never return to normal. I mean, your average achy foot from too much walking was nothing like the pain I was experiencing by day six. Lessons of the trip? Bring more supportive footwear, because you're going to be walking a lot.

Needless to say, in my condition the last thing I wanted to do was go out for another day of walking. I just wanted to sit in a teahouse and watch the world go by. But, my friends were very convincing and of course, I didn't want to miss out on anything possibly specatcular. So off the the Summer Palace we went.

We took the subway and attempted to get on a bus we knew went to the palace, but as soon as we stepped on we were shooed off by a grumpy looking woman and the bus driver. Jerks! We got in a cab, or, rather, two cabs and were on our way. Ten minutes later, Bernie, Charlene and I had arrived at the entrance but there was no sign of Jeremy and Allison. We waited for what seemed like forever before we all found each other- apparently their cab driver had taken them to the North entrance of the palace while ours took us to the South. So, now we know there are TWO entrances to the Summer Palace (I advise you to take note of this if you are planning a trip to Beijing).

It was getting a bit late in the afternoon by the time we got our tickets, and Bernie, Char and I were unable to get full access to all of the buildings (Allison and Jer had to run through the palace grounds to find us on the other side so they had already purchased the tickets) so we split up and agreed to meet at the Silk Market later. It was freezing and my feet were in serious, unimaginable pain. I didn't really want to stick around for too long, and fortunately, neither did Bernie and Char. However, we managed to walk around the perimeter and, I must say, it was really, really beautiful. I would kill to spend my summers there.

The lake that you are able to boat around in the summer was completely frozen solid, and there were children running and skating around with their parents. Lovers were out on lover's strolls, and families were having a great time. It was nice, until we heard a distraught Mother looking for her child, who had presumably gone missing. She was calling her child's name for hours, and it was maybe the saddest thing I've ever experienced. I wish we could have helped.

After looking at the path ahead of us, we decided we would save walking time and cut across the frozen lake (other people were doing it, too, Mom). We had some fun on the ice and made our way to the other side where the entrance was located. What a beautiful walk! In one direction there was nothing but mountains, in another direction you could see the skyline of Beijing and in another you were looking back on the beautiful, ornate buildings that the palace was composed of. When we got to the other side, we found that the ice wasn't safe enough to get to the shoreline we wanted, so we had to go even further where it was safer to make the transition. When we were back on dry land we saw the sign that said "Don't walk on the ice". Oops.

We made our way back to the nearest subway station and went straight to the Silk Market where Allison and Jer were waiting for us. I had one last shopping sessions and then we had a quick dinner in Wangfujing. After that, I had to say goodbye to my friends and made my way back to the hostel.

I checked out of my room, found an honest cab driver and got to the train station without incident. It turned out that the 50 RMB cab ride from the train station to my hostel was only 10 RMB to go back. Travellers, beware of cabbies! I boarded by train at 11 PM and made friends with a business woman going to see a factory. We exchanged emails and she got off the train halfway through my journey. Luckily, I had a seat this time and didn't have anyone sleeping on me. I arrived back in Qingdao at 7 AM, cabbed to a hostel where my friend Tristan was staying, slept until noon, used the internet and watcted BBC Newsworld for an hour, took a walk downtown, had my last bowl of noodles and finally cabbed to the ferry terminal.

They had given me my return ticket before I left Korea, but apparently I needed to check in at a different location. Gawd. What a hassle. The woman at the terminal called out to this guy, who, as far as I knew, was just another ferry passenger. She must have known him personally. She asked him to take me to the right place. This guy knew a few English words but I had no idea what was going on or where he was taking me! He took me a few doors down the street, gave them my passport and ticket, and gave me my passport and new ticket. I thanked him, and made my way back to the terminal.

He followed me back, tapped my shoulder, and took me to another place in the terminal. I saw a sign that said "Departure Tax: 30 RMB". I got out the money and gave it to the woman. She gave me a piece of paper, I thanked her, I thanked the man again, and made my way back to the line.

Again, the man tapped my shoulder and motioned me to follow him. This time I knew I had everything I needed, so I politely shook my head and pointed to the line up. He insisted I follow him, pointing to my ticket. He was right before and I didn't want to risk missing my boat, so I let him lead me back to the other check in building, where he showed them my ticket, got my baggage allowance (I had a carry on and that was it) and kept it for himself. I was a little peeved! He just wanted my baggage allowance! When we got back to the terminal he said "Thank you" and pointed to all of his mother's luggage. I softened. He was a nice guy, after all.

I was finally able to board the boat after going through customs. I got to my room and realized, this time around, I had no roommates! Yes. I put the heating on low and settled in for a night of Korean TV (Big Bang concert- yesss), ramyeon and beer. So ends my journey. I encourage all expats to take the ferry to China- so much fun, so comfortable, and Qingdao is a pretty alright city when it isn't raining!

Char and I at the Summer Palace.

Making my way across...

O Hai. This is as happy as I get when I'm in constant pain.

Taking frequent rests...

Woo! Frozen ice!

It was a very sunny afternoon.

Near the Dragon Boat
My camera died after this.

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