Lotus Excursion to the Great Wall

Regardless of your exposure to China or Chinese culture, when you think of China, one of the first things that probably pops into your head is the Great Wall. Built over hundreds and hundreds of years to ward against a variety of different threats and invasions, the Great Wall is truly one of the world’s greatest marvels. I have had the opportunity to visit many different parts of the Great Wall – both restored and unrestored sections, and they both have their own charms and continuously inspire wonder.

With a few new students joining us in Beijing for the next couple weeks, Lotus Educational Foundation arranged a trip out to 八达岭 (Badaling) so that these new students would get the chance to share in the wonder of the Great Wall. Badaling is one of the most popular tourist sections of the Wall – it has been restored intermittently during the last 50 years and it stands today looking just as impressive as it did during the Ming dynasty of the early 1500s. Our trip with Lotus was absolutely fantastic. We hopped a train heading northwest out of the city and spent a pleasant hour watching the dry winter scenery rush by. We met some college students on our train ride, and when I pulled out a pack of cards, they taught us a Chinese card game called 地主 (”landlord”), which turned out to be a spin off of gin rummy. I spent the hour learning a whole cast of new Chinese words (random phrases like “pass” and “you’re turn” and “who’s next?” really take experiencing to learn – often times I will try and translate things literally, which as anyone knee-deep in a foreign language will tell you, usually just doesn’t work out; you have to experience little idiomatic phrases like that to know what to say).

The only trying part of our trip was the weather. The day was crisp and clear, and bitter, bitter cold. Up on the Wall, the wind howled through the turrets and stones, whistling and blowing hats and scarves every which way. My face was wind-burned and pink by the end of it, but it was entirely worth it. We climbed our way up the Wall until we were high enough and sore enough to feel accomplished, and then we started back down before the afternoon fell into dark. We watched dusk roll in as we sped across the countryside back to Beijing.

How to describe it in one word? Magnificent.

王府井小吃街

China is a myriad of excitement and new experiences for foreigners. Whether it’s the language, the food, the culture, or just the city itself – there is always something new. If you’re stuck in Beijing for a few days and looking to do some loafing, look for farther than Wanfujing.

A popular tourist spot, Wanfujing is almost smack dab in the middle of the city on Subway Line 1, where you can easy hop off the underground and find yourself in the middle of a giant shopping district. Whether it’s the giant Chinese bookstore, the foreign bookstore, or the teashops peppering the roadside, it’s easy to spend the entire day just looking around.

However, while the stores are lots of fun, my favorite part has long been the infamous Wanfujing Snack Street (王府井小吃街). A narrow alleyway off to the side of the wide streets of Wanfujing, it’s paccked with food vendors who have all sorts of bizarre things to sell. Whether you want to try scorpions, seahorses, or starfish on a stick, or your more in the mood for some of Beijing’s classic and traditional treats, they have it all.

Muster up some courage and give it a go! As I can attest, scorpion really doesn’t taste that bad…