This year I was lucky enough to go to the Great Wall a grand total of 4 times at 4 different locations. Each and every experience was drastically different from the others, and I hope to compare and contrast the last three visits in this post. The Great Wall has many different "personalities," and for those who are on a tight schedule on their trip to Beijing it's important that you choose the "right" section of the Great Wall for their individual ideals.
My second trip to the wall was to Jinshanling. This section is relatively far out from the city, but it is absolutely worth the hassle to get there. It was my favorite section of all, and I was only able to explore a small portion of its total length. I loved that this section was both restored and safe, while still maintaining some of the challenge and excitement that comes with climbing the Great Wall. Also, since this section is so far out there are relatively few tourists when compared to more popular sections like Badaling, making the visit all the more pleasant.
The third trip was a part of a school field trip, and unfortunately was my least favorite of the four. Shui changcheng, which translates to “water great wall,” is exactly what it sounds like, the Great Wall over water, in this case, a resevoir. The section of the Great Wall open here is very short and restored to pristine condition. Climbing the entire section open at the time and back took well under 30 minutes, even at the leisurely pace we were going. That being said, the views provided were spectacular, especially over the reservoir. I’m only offering so much criticism so that readers preparing their own Great Wall adventures can pick a section of the wall that offers a longer hike.
The last trip to the Great Wall was during my final week in Beijing, and was one planned entirely by my friends and I. We went to the beautiful but unrestored Jiankou section of the Great Wall. While this area is lauded as being one of the most beautiful on the wall, and rightfully so, it also is one of the most dangerous. After only a few hours of hiking and one too many close calls my friends and I decided to turn back, not willing to risk our lives for a single hike. Considering all the other beautiful spots along the Great Wall including the previously mentioned Jinshanling, I definitely don’t think hiking this section of the wall is recommended. Unless you are the most seasoned and prepared hiker who is fully aware of the risks, I would advise against visiting most any “unrestored” sections of the wall. While many are safer than Jiankou, hiking on them is only destroying and damaging the wall further.
I had a vast array of experiences at the Great Wall over my year. I hope in the future to return to some of my favorite spots and explore new (restored) locations!
One of my favorite places in all of Beijing is the National Art Museum. I only went two times, but because they change their exhibits around so drastically there were only a handful of paintings I saw both times. I would recommend any art lover who happens to be in Beijing to check this art museum out.
The first time I went they had an extensive exhibition on one of my favorite artists, Kathe Kollwitz. I loved that they featured a variety of Chinese and foreign art and artists, most from the past century. I was particularly enamored of the various prints I saw scattered across the museum. Below is a slideshow of some of my favorite pieces from the Gallery. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!
With the smog and the never-ending skyscrapers, Beijing is far from a runner’s paradise. But there is one place in Beijing runners can get away from busy city life and enjoy a nice long run in nature. That place is none other than the Olympic Forest Park. The park is man-made, and located directly north of the Olympic green featuring the famous Bird’s Nest and Water Cube. The place is absolutely massive, encompassing nearly 700 hectares of green space in total!
The place is quite literally designed for running, with paths of varying distances clearly marked across the park for runners' convenience. At any one minute the running paths will be packed full of runners from all over. But what about those who don’t like to run? Fear not, because the Olympic Forest Park has something for everyone, with paddle boats, picnic spots, kayaking, and even a small children’s amusement park. It would be nearly impossible to go there and not find something worthwhile to do!
One of the more rewarding trips to the Olympic Forest Park was with my friend’s environmental club, when we worked together to pick up trash in the park. With so many people entering and exit, it’s no surprise that trash accumulates in and around the park. Even more important than the noticeable difference we were able to make on the sections we cleaned up was how many children and young adults we were able to inspire. One of my favorite moments was helping a father explain to his very young child why we should protect the environment, in Chinese no less!
Regardless if you are running or picking up trash, the Olympic Forest Park is an ideal location for any sunny Saturday afternoon!
Today I went to visit a plant market with my host sister. She was on the hunt for small plants for her dorm room. Surrounding the plant market is a dog market, with shops full of puppies in cages. The dirt road outside had raised enclosures with even more and still more tethered to the fence surrounding the whole area. While the conditions were far from ideal, they certainly weren’t as desperate as one might imagine. Many were mild-tempered and downright gorgeous, not to mention very inexpensive, making me want to throw all caution to the wind and purchase one (or two) on the spot.
The plant market inside was an interesting place. The air was hot and humid, and plants were stuffed so close together in the small little shops that I had to take care to not knock anything over as I weaved through. I loved the pink orchids on display, taken by their vivid colors and elegant appearance. My host sister ended up buying a small potted plant.
Lastly, we stopped by the pet market, separate from the dog market I talked about earlier. These markets featured many different kinds of fish, as well as large ever-chirping crickets. I was amazed by the sheer size of these crickets, as well as the amount of noise they managed to produce. Along the way we also saw baby turtles, squirrels, and even a tub of rather sickly looking axolotls.
I was amazed at how much I learned about Chinese culture just by a simple trip to the market. Even months later I still can remember this trip vividly.
At the beginning of the winter break my NSLI-Y peers and I headed over to the former capital city of Nanjing to enjoy a 10 day trip of service and sightseeing. Three days of our time there would be dedicated to community service, while the rest would be reserved for exploring the historic city, with history and culture lessons weaved throughout.
During our trip, I particularly found teaching elementary schoolers English through lesson plans we devised ourselves to be rewarding. Of the many places I visited in Nanjing, my favorite spots were the Yuejiang Tower, the Presidential Palace, Qixia Temple, Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum, the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, and Jiming Temple. I have some of my favorite pictures from the trip below!
While I try to stay positive in my blog posts, it is important to note that at this time of year Nanjing is miserably cold, and because the city is so far south residents aren’t even able to heat their homes. Even when inside I would be bundled up in a minimum of 3 layers. The trip is absolutely worth it, but I strongly advise winter visitors to pack warmly and bring their own hot water bottles! My first taste of Nanjing was nothing short of amazing! I only hope I can return in the near future!
One of my favorite places in all of Beijing is the 798 Art District, featuring an array of galleries, shops, and small cafes built into the remains of an old military weapons factory. The area is worth the trip if only for the unique architecture and mix of new and old. Graffiti and street art livens up each and every street, giving any visitor an eyeful of art even without entering any of the buildings. There are both free and ticketed galleries, although tickets never seem to be over 5-15 yuan for any one gallery. This is one place to definitely not miss on your Beijing tour.