In my previous post, I mentioned that sometimes my husband and I travel separately. While he was enjoying scuba diving on board a live aboard in the Galapagos Islands, I was exploring Beijing, China. The lesson learned even before leaving for this trip was jump on deals when they become available. We were living in Maryland at the time and there was a new non-stop flight going from Dulles to Beijing. The airline was offering introductory fares (this was 2006). I saw them posted somewhere I can't even remember--a travel newsletter or something--and all of a sudden I had visions of the Great Wall dancing in my brain. Something ridiculous like 3 weeks later, I was in Beijing. I used a visa expeditor to get me a Chinese visa quickly (well worth the cost) and off I went. I only had 8 days in China so I decided to stay only in Beijing, but split my time between a large, chain hotel and a smaller, more authentic, guest house in a hutong. Hutong refers to the old alleyways. This made me feel like I had switched cities and gave me a different perspective. I saw all of the famous sites, such as Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. I also roamed the city parks and learned to ride the subway. I learned the hard way that vegetarian food is not always readily available in China. Based on the Chinese restaurants in the States, I figured Happy Buddha or something similar would be on every menu. Not so. I got creative, I started looking at less touristy temples and found a wonderful all-you-can eat vegetarian restaurant near a Confucian temple. It was about 20 minutes away from my hotel by subway, but I was a frequent visitor.
I often notice that my inhibitions are lowered when I travel. I don't mean in a partying sense--I mean I give the world the benefit of the doubt when I travel. Everyone is good and I trust people. This memory from my trip to the Great Wall could have turned out horribly, but it didn't, and because I took a risk and believed everything would work out. I knew I wanted to go to a not as visited section of the Wall (Mutianyu). There was one organized travel group that went there, but based on the itinerary, just as much time would be spent "shopping for jade" as it was seeing the Wall. Not my thing. So, Mandarin phrase book in hand (English was generally not spoken by taxi drivers), I hailed a cab and proceeded to tell him where I wanted to go. Simple enough, right? Well, we agreed on a price and we were off. He was chatting quite a bit on his cell phone, but this was not very unusual. After an hour or so, he pulls off to the side of the road. I'm thinking...oh, this can't be good, but I stayed calm as the phrase book doesn't exactly specialize in phrases like "please don't hurt me" or "please don't leave me on the side of the road". A moment later another guy gets in and starts driving. I quickly look to get the phrases again for as you taking me to Mutianyu. I get a round of friendly head shakes yes. At this point, I decide staying in the car is better than jumping out :) I was calm and my gut told me all was well. Fortunately, all turned out well. I got to spend several uninterrupted hours at the Wall and the taxi driver was still there waiting when I returned. He took me to one or two other places I wanted to visit and then back to Beijing. So much better than hours shopping for jade. A little scarier, but all in all well worth it for me.