My first visit to China was 6 years ago with my parents. It was the first place I had ever traveled to outside of the USA/Canada (well, besides an all-inclusive resort in Mexico) and upon my arrival in Beijing I was excited, overwhelmed and completely terrified that I had signed up to spend a few months there. China taught me so many lessons about myself and the world around me, but most importantly it taught me what a small part of the world I live in.
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert
After my visit to China, I was hooked on traveling. My dreams shifted and I had a desire to explore as many places I could and to understand cultures unfamiliar and different to my own. As the years went on and a big RTW trip evolved into a real plan, China was immediately on the list. Before leaving the US we submitted our Chinese visa paperwork and passports to a questionable office in Aurora, Colorado (due to a lack of Chinese consulates remotely close to Denver), gave them our money, and hoped for the best. A few weeks later we had passports and Chinese visas in hand…we were ready to take on China!
China did not go as planned for us. We experienced incredible highs and the lowest of lows. We were constantly challenged as we traveled here. I am so glad we made it to China on this trip, but I was equally as excited to leave. Scott on the other hand doesn’t share this sentiment…he feels as if we barely scratched the surface and that there is so much more to see. Maybe he will write about his thoughts and feelings, but for now here is our recap!
Things We Liked
The Great Wall, the Shanghai skyline, dumplings, Shanghai vs. Beijing soccer game (or football, whatever you want to call it), Forbidden City, and seeing friends/family.
Things We Disliked
Dirtiness, constant littering, language barrier, lack of Google, weird pool rules (required swim caps), pollution, cultural differences (no personal space, people cutting in line, not helpful…), and slow internet. In general, everything seemed to be difficult for us in China and we were often frustrated.
We had Sichuan food a few times while in China. This type of cooking often uses Sichuan peppercorn, sometimes called Chinese coriander. They are a bit spicy, very flavorful, but most of all….they make your tongue numb! The tongue tingling was strange and a bit unpleasant to us at times.
1. The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China is worth a trip to China. We were on a mission to avoid the hoards of tourists you see pictures of on the Great Wall so we hired a driver to take us to a wild section of the wall, Huanghuacheng. We were picked up at 6:30 am and by 8 we were hiking the Great Wall. This portion of the wall is not fully restored and parts of it are crumbling which made for a slow hike (with a bit of scrambling). It was an incredible day that we will never forget. We will write a whole post on The Great Wall and our experience there (coming soon)!
2. Shanghai by Night with My Dad
One of the highlights of our trip was seeing my Dad in Shanghai for one evening. I wrote more on his quick departure in the lowlights section. We met up with my Dad after he was done with work for the day and went to dinner at a nice place nearby our hotel. We drank fresh brewed IPAs (my Dad was not super impressed, but for us it was magical), ate a bunch of food, and caught up. It was while we were at dinner we realized this might be the only night we all have together in Shanghai. In order to make the most of the time we had, we hopped in a taxi headed to the rooftop bar at the Hyatt, Vue Bar, that overlooks the Shanghai skyline and the Bund. The views were AMAZING and it was an incredible experience to be there with my Dad.
The rest of the evening took us to Xiantandi and across the street from our hotel to have a few more beers and catch up as much as possible. We stayed up way too late and you could not wipe the smile off my face!
3. Our 1st Wedding Anniversary
It does not feel like a year since our wedding already. The past year went by so fast! On the morning of our one year anniversary we woke up on the overnight sleeper train and had just arrived in Beijing! Although the train was more comfortable than we expected, we knew we wanted to spoil ourselves for the two nights o to celebrate our first wedding anniversary! We checked into the Renaissance Bejing Wangfujing Hotel and never wanted to leave! We even busted out our nicest of clothes (look out) and on the night of our anniversary we had the concierge make us a reservation at Duck de Chine where we wined and dined on the Beijing specialty, peking duck. It was a fabulous evening and we can’t wait for what year 2 of being married has in store for us!
1. My Dad’s Early Departure from Shanghai
My Dad was able to work out his schedule so that we was able to be in Shanghai for a business trip at the same time we were planning on going to China. We would have 9 glorious days together in China! After a few weeks on the road by ourselves, we were very much looking forward to seeing a familiar face. As my Dad was on the long flight from the USA, my Mom was hospitalized with acute renal failure (among other things). At the time of hospitalization it was not immediately clear what was going on or how sick she was. Upon landing in China my Dad learned this news. My Mom was alone in Cleveland…and pretty much everyone they know in Cleveland was out of town for labor day weekend (and all of our family lives in Texas). We all wished we could be with my Mom at that moment and it was completely heartbreaking that we were all halfway across the world. Scott and I arrived in China Monday afternoon, spent one evening with my Dad, and sent him to be home with my sick momma Tuesday morning.
I am so happy he left to be with her. It was 100% what needed to happen. It hurt my heart that I could not be there with her. It also was really crappy that hanging out with my Dad did not happen as we planned it. I know my Mom was hurt that she “ruined everyone’s good time,” which made me sad. We could barely drag ourselves out of bed the morning my Dad left and we pouted for a full day. It was the lowest moment of our entire trip.
Thankfully, my Mom was released from the hospital several (long) days later and my Dad was there to hold her hand through it. She absolutely needed him more than we did. Scott and I learned that things don’t always go as planned and we grew from this experience. We adapted to our new situation and ended up having a great time in Shanghai!
2. Our First Airbnb Fail
Airbnb has been our preferred choice for accommodations. Hotels and hostels are great, but we have loved the comfort of our own apartment with a bit more space. I had used Airbnb a dozen times in previous travels and we had used it several times since starting our trip and have been pleased every single time. Our luck ran out in Beijing….
We arrived at our apartment through a questionable alley to a building we probably never would have chosen. We aren’t picky and as long as the apartment is nice enough, we can overlook a lot of things. All of the reviews for this place were great so we were confident in our choice. The real problem began after we arrived inside the apartment and realized the level of dirtiness in the apartment. We would put on shoes when walking around the apartment, the bathroom looked as if it had not been cleaned in a year, the kitchen was not a place for food, and there were bugs everywhere (dead and alive). We tried to play it off as “not that bad” and went out for dinner. When we got back to our apartment later that night we were looking into activities to do for the rest of our time in Beijing. I got bit by several bugs just sitting on the couch for 30 minutes and we decided that was the last straw.
Scott spent the next few hours talking to Airbnb requesting a refund and looking for a new place to stay. The problem was made worse by the fact that our internet was slow and unreliable. Scott was using Skype to call Airbnb support and the internet would cut out and drop the call. In normal circumstances this would not be a huge deal, but since we had no call-back number and no access to email they had no way of reaching us (The Great Firewall is amazingly good at blocking Google even with the use of a VPN). It was already very late at night so we stayed there one night and booked it out of there as quick as we could the next morning!
Total Number of Nights: 13
Currency: $1 USD = 6.68 Chinese Yuan Renminbi (CNY)
Number of Miles Traveled: 1,283 miles (including our flight from Taiwan)
Number of Miles Walked: 113.4 miles (average of 8.7 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 243,934 steps (average of about 18,764 per day)
Transportation Used: train (high speed overnight train), plane, metro/subway, Uber, and taxi
Type of Accommodations: Apartment (2), hotel (3)
Number of Beds: 5