Guest Writer: Stephanie's Mom
We decided to get another early start to get to the Great Wall today and had an acrobatic show to attend in the evening. Bethany and I had our first experience with a shower corner, it is just so fun having the entire bathroom get wet. We have to make sure the non-showerer uses the bathroom first before we use the shower. Unfortunately, we found out our hair dryer won't fit in the Chinese plug or the converter, because it has one wide and one narrow prong. Darn it. So no shampoos because it is much too cold to go out with wet hair. It was approximately 0 degrees Celcius. This hostel has individual wall water heaters so while someone was showering, the others kept hearing 'beep, beep' while the person in the shower was trying to regulate the water temperature.
On our walk to the subway, we passed many vendors selling food, on carts, outside windows, etc. We picked one place that didn't look too bad and had inside seating in addition to selling food outside the window. We had some fried dumplings and a large fried-dough with a caramelized (thick, browned) sugar on top. Yum. Bethany was in love with the dumplings and planned to go back there again.
We grabbed the subway during rush hour to the bus station, and hopped on the bus towards the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. It's a little nicer than the Badaling section which allows vendors on the wall. The one we went to, the vendors are only at the bottom and we have to take a cable car up to the top. This is the first place we got scammed but it was funny.
Stephanie said we had about 5 more stops to go before we had to get off and grab a taxi for the last distance. But a guy got on the bus pointing to a brochure with a picture of the wall and mumbling something. We ignored him. Then a second guy came to the back of the bus where we were and said 'this is the stop for the Great Wall', and I assumed he was the bus driver so we believed him and got off. Well, it wasn't. It was a group of drivers trying to get people to use their car service to the wall. We could have hopped back on the bus but instead had a grand time watching Stephanie negotiate (quite vigorously I might add!) a much better price than first mentioned. She even tried to use the tactic of getting the price lower because we were 'three beautiful women'. That sure got a laugh out of the other drivers and some spectators. Finally we agreed on 55RMB each for the 40 minute ride to the entrance of the wall, where he would then wait up to 4 hours for us and then bring us back to the bus stop.
We were all smart enough to wear long underwear and multiple layers, hats, gloves and more. It was a cold crisp day but little to no wind, thank goodness. We took a cable car way up into the mountain and the sun was shining for us. There were very few people there with us and we got lots of pictures without any people in them. Bethany and Stephanie decided to go for a long walk and I decided just to have some alone time and take some long distance pictures of them. It was so peaceful and quiet and serene. I'm so glad I got a new camera for this trip and believe I am getting some really awesome pictures. We also gave Stephanie a new camera for her birthday and she is greatly enjoying using it too. Between the three of us, we should have some really great pictures to choose from.
B and S came back from their very long walk (all the way until it was closed to tourists) which took them over an hour and about four to five towers away from me, then we took the cable car back down. It looked like the cable line dropped off the face of the earth and B and I were frightened that it would face us down into the steep drop, but we then realized that the cable car would stay level (duh!) and the ride wasn't bad. We walked by many vendors who were very pushy but now B was used to handling them. We did look at several items and bought a few. Some of the vendors would say 'I remember you' because we walked by them to go up and now we were walking by them again. Some were very enthusiastic while saying this so we would say 'YOU DO?', and they would say 'Oh yes!'
We went into a shop for some warm drinks, met up with our driver again, tried some yummy dried fruits and bought more things and got back into our car. Our driver dropped us off at our bus stop, we paid him and he waited to make sure we got on the right bus. Very nice even though we were scammed for a little more money than we should have paid.
We took the bus back into Beijing and calculated how much time we had left before we had to get to the acrobatic show. We decided to get something quick to eat (a Japanese fast food restaurant) and grabbed the subway to the Olympic village. There is a huge plaza area and there were few people there again and we walked from one end to the other. We saw the Bird's nest and the water cube and the tower and took more cool pictures. We were approached by a few vendors mainly trying to sell us kites and animal hats, mostly pandas. These vendors had some new tactics, such as saying 'no tax', 'not broken', 'you always say no'.
We went into the subway at major rush hour and saw how the people pack themselves into the subway cars. We decided to pass on the first car that showed up and Stephanie told us they would all look that packed. We passed on the second car because we really would not fit (3 big laowais with their big bags). Stephanie was getting nervous about the time so we decided we were going to take the next subway no matter what. There were a few inches of room so we jammed in and amazingly enough, we fit. We went through a few stops and even more people piled on. Crazy!
We made it to the theater in time and met with 'Betty' who was standing out front with a sign with Stephanie's name on it. Apparently when you call to reserve tickets, you get some sort of service that will buy the tickets for you. The tickets were 250 RMB and she wanted the cash. We handed her the cash and she walked over to the box office to buy the tickets (HUH?) so we got nervous and stood near her to make sure she didn't take off with our money, or hand it to someone else. Meanwhile Stephanie checked the price board and that was the actual price of the 'good' tickets we had chosen. No scam but we still don't know if Betty was working for the theater or got a cut of the tickets. Our tickets were center stage, row 12, very nice. Our seat covers said we were in the VIP section. The place wasn't even half full and most of the people were in the cheap seats, including a tour group. There was no-one in front of us, in the expensive seats. And everyone who had our price seats were in our row. Once the show started, a couple of girls from the tour group tried to hop into the middle closer seats and an usher immediately shooed them back to their own seats. They were selling some snacks in the lobby and walking around in the theater. They had bags and bags of microwaved popcorn. We bought a few snacks and drinks and enjoyed the show. Its theme was 'Flying' and the physical feats were pretty phenomenal.
After the show, we were ready to collapse and took a taxi back to the hostel. B and S wanted some more of those fried dumplings down the street (it looked open when we passed in the taxi) but I was too exhausted to go. But when they got there, it had closed. They grabbed some microwavable food at a mini-market and some drinks.
We also found out we could borrow a hairdryer from the front desk, so shampooing could happen. YAY! We went to bed and planned on sleeping in a little more the next day but it would be our big day for Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and Peking Duck.