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So I don’t really remember where I left off, and the internet is too slow in our apartment for me to risk reloading the blog to see where I left off, so I apologize if there is a break in the story. I also apologize for the lack of posting. We just moved to the capital of China, Beijing, and have had to jump through many a hoop in order to move into an apartment, get visas, etc., but now hopefully we can resume our previous posting pace. Our apartment is a 3 bedroom in Shuangjing, a residential area of Beijing that is only a mile or so away from the central business district. We live with 2 Chinese guys, one of whom has been a good friend and helped us with our move in. Things are going well for me, but Erin’s job did not provide her with a visa, so she is going to have to figure something out. We will update you more in the near future. Alrighty, I will continue the tale of Busa’s visit.

We left Xi’an and flew to Tianjin, which would be the 2nd biggest city in America if it were in America, and yet nobody has ever heard of it. From there we took a train to Tangshan, and we had to get tickets for the sleeper cars because there were no tickets for just seats. We each had a bed to ourselves for the long 1.5 hour trip. People were very perplexed when we got off the train at Tangshan, because most people in the sleeper cars were going for 8+ hour trips. I was glad Busa got to see Tangshan, because it gives a better indication of what most places in China are similar to, and it was also a good place that we knew very well (obviously). He got to see Erin and I teach for a bit, checked out the pet and plant market with Erin, the zoo and a few parks with me, the one Chinese night club in Tangshan, a real Chinese KTV (karaoke bar), and of course hit up most of our favorite restaurants. I was glad that we were able to keep busy in the couple days we were there, and the “tourist” activities we did turned out better than expected: the Tangshan zoo had 3 lions, a tiger, a bear, and even a rare golden retriever! Busa and I were very confused when we walked by cages filled with monkeys, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and then….a golden retriever. He got to meet most of our good friends and our favorite people on the food street, so all in all he got a compact yet complete tour of Tangshan. We had to teach on the weekend, so he headed to Beijing before us, and we met up with him on Sunday night.

Beijing is a great city in many ways, but it can also be a pretty cold place (not temperature cold, emotionally cold). This is especially true for a foreigner that can’t speak or read Chinese, so I was a little concerned with sending Busa there on his own. I booked a hotel that said it was right near the place he would be dropped off, but of course it was not where the map said it was, and also had a completely different name than it said it did. To top it off, my phone, which I gave to Busa for emergencies, ran out of battery. Luckily, after much confused wandering, Busa found the hotel, and we were able to find it right away too. We ate a forgettable dinner together because the night market was closed, but the next day Busa and I headed to the Great Wall.

There are multiple spots where you can access the Great Wall from Beijing. The most popular is one called Badaling, and I read about a bus that drops you off right at Badaling for very cheap. Busa and I headed to the bus stop, and after being repeatedly told that foreigners were not allowed to get on the bus (and me very nearly pummeling a guy that told us to “go home”), I decided we should just try to take a taxi. I asked 2 ladies if they wanted to take one with us, and they seemed very disgusted that a foreigner would suggest such a thing, let alone speak to them. I asked two 25ish year old guys if they wanted to go, and they said yes, and also happened to speak English. Woo hoo! Now we had translators and people we could rely on to avoid getting ripped off or kidnapped, so I was pleased. The two guys were brothers, spoke decent English, and were really cool. They were from Dongbei province, which seems to churn out the friendliest people in China, and we really had a good time. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the Great Wall, and the landscape changes drastically in that short amount of time. Suddenly you are not in a city of 15 million people, you are surrounded by mountains and farmland. The wall has been rebuilt in most places, so it is kind of lame that you don’t get to see any of the original wall, but the Chinese hate things that are old and ruined. It is pretty bizarre. We did some serious hiking on the wall, which had some stupidly steep steps, chatted with our new friends, and again lucked out in terms of weather. After 3 hours we were ready to head back, called the taxi, and that was that.

We headed back to the hotel, ate a quick linner (lunch/dinner) at a very cheap Chinese place, and then headed to Hou Hai. Hou Hai is one of the biggest areas to go out in Beijing. It consists of a group of lakes that are surrounded by bars and restaurants, many of which are very Western friendly. It was Chinese Valentine’s Day, so the place was jammed with couples, but it was more lively than I had ever seen. Busa commented that it was the coolest place to go out for drinks/food that he had ever seen. I ate a veggie sandwich, which was perhaps the worst sandwich I have ever had, then stopped at another place which charged me 30 yuan for a coke (they cost 3). It was a great atmosphere though, even including the barrage of people saying to us “Hello friend, beer, cheap beer. You like ladybar?” It is a very beautiful area and was especially alive that night, so it was fun. We were pooped and headed back and called it a night.

This was much longer than I expected. I will finish the Busa excursion hopefully tomorrow (lol yea right), and then try to get everyone up to speed on our current life. I am thinking about my grandma right now, who just got out of the hospital, and I hope that everything goes smoothly with her recovery. Talk to you soon.

I hope not! Because we have a few more for you. This past Monday we visited the Summer Palace, where the emperors would spend the summer in luxury. The entrance had an impressive canal lined with small shops and ancient buildings, which looked like a perfect movie set. The actual palace was huge and ornate, but overall very similar to many we have visited so far. There was a big lake around which all of the palace buildings were strewn, and my favorite part was the lily pad pond. The Summer Palace is known for the “Marble Boat” which is made to look like an incredible feat of buoyancy, but really it’s made of wood. Unfortunately we didn’t see the boat…strike one.

After the palace it was our mission to find Kro’s Nest pizza, which we had tried to find on a previous trip but couldn’t locate. We took the subway to Mudanyuan and started the quest. We walked around the area for nearly an hour, unable to locate the restaurant. Then, we got in a cab and tried to say “pizza” because we knew we were close…fail. I was getting really hungry at this point so we stopped in “The Library Cafe” which was very nice and Western, and I got a mango smoothie. Re-energized, we set out again. We asked even more people on the street about the confusing address…were about to give up, when finally we asked a guard who understood us and pointed straight ahead. No sign and all, we had finally found the Kro’s Nest! The pizza wasn’t NY quality, but it was the best we have had in China, and the salad and fries were also really good. They were also giving out free beer that night, and although I don’t usually drink, I had a few celebratory sips, ha. Oh yea, and we got veggie and mexican pizza! After dinner we took the metro to the Olympic Village, in hopes to see the buildings at night…strike two. We missed the lights by 20 minutes at 10:20pm.

We slept in a cheap hotel room without windows (hate that but it was a good deal). In the morning we stopped by a bakery and went to Tienanmen Square to see Mao’s embalmed body. Stike three! Viewing hours ended at noon, we were TWO minutes late. Still took some pretty photos and headed to a culture street behind the square. I passed by a store called Me & City and saw a dress that I really liked, and David actually agreed to go in! I debated heavily over the dress, but it was a little pricey, so I just bought a tank-top…and we headed to Lao Shi tea house. This tea house has hosted many politicians and world leaders and it was incredibly beautiful and ornate. This has to be one of my favorite buildings in China…but drinking tea here requires renting a private room and paying over 100 RMB per pot, so we didn’t sip. Maybe we can in the future with some visitors, though! After the tea house we had lunch at an authentic nearby restaurant and, much to David’s excitement, headed back to the store to buy the dress that I couldn’t stop thinking about. The employee informed me that if I bought the dress I would get a free t-shirt…so it was a done deal. (I know you were worried.)

To end the trip we walked on the Wanfujing shopping street for a while, bought two English books at the international bookstore and did some food shopping at Jenny’s Lou’s. We missed the 7:30 bus by a few minutes (strike 4), waited, and headed back. Overall it was a frustrating trip because of timing, but that was our fault for not checking hours better…and we still saw another good chunk of the city.

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