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Beijing Part 1

September 1st, 2014

I was traveling alone, and I don’t speak Chinese. I knew I wanted to see the Great Wall, but I didn’t know the first thing about how to get there from Beijing. I couldn’t ask anybody because even Chinese people in the large city of Beijing don’t speak much English, despite the amount of international tourists that visit their city every year. Then again, many Chinese people visit America every year, but hardly any Americans speak Chinese. However, when I was alone in a foreign country, I was only focused on my lack of ability to communicate with the people around me. I was only planning to be in China for five weeks, and I had only made this travel plan two weeks before leaving America, so I didn’t have time to learn an entire language. If I had learned Chinese before my trip, everything would have been much easier.

On the other hand, being in Beijing was much easier than being in the city I had just come from. The other city, Dong’E, was much smaller and was composed of people with minimal travel experience and knowledge about other cultures. Very few people spoke any English there and were shocked to see an American wandering the streets of their quaint town. It was a relief to be in a big city after that experience. People in Beijing move quickly. I missed the American-like speed of motion while I was in Dong’E.

I felt more comfortable in the pace of Beijing. When I set out on my quest to travel to the Great Wall, I realized I was going to have to take many forms of transportation. First, I needed to find the nearest subway station to take me to the bus station that would take me to the Great Wall. I was nervous about using a foreign subway system because I had minimal experience with subways even in my own country. I received some help from a man from Spain to purchase my first subway ticket. We walked to the subway platform together and spoke Spanish, because I do speak that language. I navigated my way to a place near the bus station that would lead me to the Great Wall. I knew the bus number that I was looking for was 877, but I didn’t see bus 877 anywhere. I waited for a while amongst a crowd of other people seemingly waiting for busses. Finally, I saw two white-skinned girls looking at a map and waiting for a bus, as well. I decided to approach them because they were the first international people I had seen in Beijing.

I nervously walked up to them and asked where they were from. They told me they were from Holland and that they were also waiting for bus 877. I suggested that we wait together. They seemed happy to be waiting with me and we chatted about why we were in China and what our plans were after leaving the country. Soon after chatting, we realized that there was a small sign near the bus station that said the last bus to the Great Wall came at 12:00 PM. It was 1:00 PM. We had missed it. I asked the girls if they had other plans for their time in Beijing. They said they wanted to go to market to bargain shop, but they didn’t know where to go. I told them I had the same plan but that I did know where to go. They asked I would lead them to the market, and of course, I told them I would love to take them there. It seemed that I had made some international friends in Beijing!

We decided that, on our way to the market, we had time to stop and see some other amazing sights in Beijing like Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden city. The weather was so hot and humid, it was difficult to be outside in the middle of the day. Nevertheless, we had to persevere because… we were in China! How often will we be in China in our lives? We arrived at Tiananmen Square by subway and started taking pictures in front of important monuments and buildings. The local natives also wanted to take pictures with us because people in China are surprised to see people from other countries. We felt famous.

In front of the Forbidden City, I saw another white-skinned girl sitting by herself drinking water in the shade. While my two new friends from Holland were taking pictures with Chinese people, I decided to go say hello to this girl. She was from England. Her British accent was so strong that I could barely understand what she said sometimes. We were both happy to meet another person who spoke English as a first language. I introduced her to my two other friends and the four of us decided to get lunch together. We were a unique mix of cultures and backgrounds, but we had a wonderful day together. We took pictures, ate delicious food, saw important Chinese sights and learned a lot about each others’ countries.

When we finally arrived at the market, we chose to separate because shopping can be a very short or very long process, depending on who you are and what you want to buy. It would have been difficult to stay together in the busy market. Spending the day with my new international friends made my experience in Beijing unique and wonderful. It’s amazing that, even on the opposite side of the world, a person can find friends and speak English with people from any country. My experience in Beijing made me appreciate travel and general humanity all over again.

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