Goodness gracious Great Wall of China.

I wasn’t going to become that foreigner who lived in China for ten months without visiting the Wall. The amount of ridicule I would have had to endure back home would be enough to build a gigantic wall of shame. So, with time running out and one more holiday to celebrate (China you really do enjoy your holidays) I along with Lisa, Dan, Ollie and Lucy set off to Qinhuangdao, Shanhaiguan and the most eastern part of the Great Wall of China.

Our first train ride was an eight-hour chug through many small towns and one or two larger cities. I was in charge of ticket acquisitions, and in the days previous I thought I had purchased sleeper tickets for the rides there and back. There are many different tickets you can buy for trains here, some are seats (hard or soft) sleeper beds (hard or soft) and, if you’re lucky, a dining cart table on some of the more expensive trains. We were all looking forward to lying down in a bed, playing cards, reading, and nappng away the eight hours ahead.

Plot twist: I purchased seated tickets. Whoops.

(Travel companions are all still talking to me at least).

We passed the time playing cards and napping in obscure origami inspired sleeping/crouching positions. We arrived ~4pm, caught some cabs after fighting with multiple drivers about the exact location of our hotel, and made it to what is definitely in my top three of hotels to never stay at again. Kirin Hotel, nope, just nope. Lisa had some professional students living in Qinhuangdao who after being contacted by her were far too cute in wanting to take us out to dinner. I can still confirm that Beijing Duck is one of the best Chinese dishes you can have (duck skin and sugar, mmmm). The night ended with us all playing Articulate, a game where you describe a word without saying the actual word. It’s highly addictive and a great way to kill an hour or two.

Woke up to day two and rain.
Disappoint.

We hunted out some coffee/breakfast at ol’ reliable McDonalds and then went to the bus station. Bus number 25 or 35 will take you from Qinhuangdao to Shanhaiguan in about half an hour. We got off and purchased tickets to the main attraction and the highlight of my post – LaoLongTou aka Old Dragon’s Head. Its name comes from the extension into the ocean, which is meant to represent a dragon’s head drinking the water. For more information about this specific part of the Wall this link here is quite good –

http://www.travelchinaguide.com/china_great_wall/scene/hebei/shanhaiguan/laolongtou.htm

Emotional summary – BADASS! I’m really jealous of countries whose history extend into the four digit category (silly New Zealand, you aren’t even 1000 years old) and seeing such magnificent structures from time periods my country doesn’t know is really rad.

The first part you could walk around consisted of a lot of rooms dedicated to the soldiers that would have worked and maintained the area. Many grain storage shelves and weapons get appreciated here. Then, through the final room, we gazed across and saw a magnificent stone maze just sitting before us. Naturally we filed into it and proceeded to race around for half an hour. Part of the Wall ran alongside it, so there were a lot of Chinese watching us get lost (we asked for their help in exiting, they helped by getting us even more trapped >__< ).

Finally, we walked up a ramp towards the main temple and the first sighting for me of the most eastern part of the Wall, Laolongtou. Completing the final step I looked out, followed the dragon neck towards the head, to be met with a beautiful sand barge beached up alongside the freakin head. China, what were you doing parking a boat there, honestly. However it didn’t cull the excitement I felt and I am very happy to tick the Great Wall of China off my list of viewed badassery, especially a non-traditional part of the wall with great constructional history and restoration. Now the next goal is to go to the most western part of the wall.

For the remaining day in Qinhuangdao Dan, Lisa and I met up with Agata, a lovely Polish girl who transferred from Shijjiazhuang to Qinhuangdao. We went to Beidaihe by bus and walked along the beach. I do not like beaches with fences, or ones with a fee to actually set foot on it, however that is China for you and we obliged. It felt calming to touch something that wasn’t gravel and concrete though, and we had a great time splashing and walking barefoot (even got sunburnt, whoops).

The sleeper train for the ride home actually was a bed; only it was 8-9 feet off the ground with a pathetic excuse for a safety barrier. But Lisa and I talked ourselves into a sleep coma and I ended up having a reasonable rest, much better than the stupid Kirin Hotel.

As I am in China another year I need another epic monument or five to visit. What would you suggest? Do you think the traditional tourist ones are the way to go, or is there some interesting place you’ve heard about that would be worth checking out?

E.

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“Ni hao.” “My knees are fine, thank you.”

Before coming to China, I had zero skills in Mandarin.

Z. E. R. O.

In New Zealand I was still riding the high from purchasing plane tickets, packing, and all round “adventure time!” I “knew” from the history books English was a powerful language worldwide, and the school I would be working at was very famous in the city for language development, so I thought, “hey this is neat, communication will be pretty stress-less, English is everywhere!”

In the first month I had three major breakdowns, all of them including language barriers.

Now I’ll stop here before you think ‘oh god I haven’t learnt anything either’ and say this post is not meant to dissuade you from moving and working in a non-English speaking country. Rather I want to tell you the most valuable word I keep close at hand (head?) whenever things start to feel out of control or above my understanding.

Adjustment.

(Hands up, who thought the word was going to be ‘change’?)

To adjust is to adapt or become used to a new situation.

Now for two short lists.

1. Things I quickly found different between China and New Zealand –

How being polite really works.
The amount of oil that is actually necessary for a human body.
The definition of hygiene.
Driving.
Life in every sense I had come to know.

2. Things I needed to adjust –

My mindset.

Once I adjusted my mindset, and consciously set my course to the land of ‘Culture Shock’, life became a whole new world again, as I started to train my brain to become bilingual. It was exciting to finally understand what the taxi drivers were asking me. It was exciting to learn that ‘careful’ translates to ‘small heart’ (which I find adorable). It was exciting to receive praise from my wonderful friend Lisa (a veteran in Mandarin, and someone who will be featuring a lot in posts to come) when I could figure out something obscure like ‘self help bank’ is ATM.

The adjustments will stretch further than the language. You realise that you don’t travel to experience what you know dressed up in faces you don’t. You travel to experience what you don’t know, dressed in the faces you’ve never seen. Now, you don’t have to let go of every ‘home ideology’ and change completely, but you will have to give up some areas of what ‘normality’ means to you. Yes, it will be difficult, possibly the most difficult adjustment you could ever put yourself through. But after releasing some of the ‘old’ the ‘new’ becomes addictive. You actively seek out adjustments. China is no longer to me a scary, backwards, disaster of turmoil and toil. It is an ancient wonderland, whose power is intoxicating and wondrous and unknown to many.

So I ask you, if you embark on any quest such as this, to always

Be curious.
Be thirsty.
Be not afraid of adjusting.
And don’t you dare close your eyes to any of it.

E.

Sidenote – there is a wonderful website Memrise worth its weight in Internets. A rare goldmine of language wealth, those who are aching for language skills should start here. Dedicate half an hour a day every day and you will be unstoppable.