I recently spent a couple weeks in Beijing visiting a friend and getting feel for China. I'm always looking for reasons to travel so having my buddy Russ out there made it an easy decision. To make things even better, he had also set me up with an interview for a teaching position at an international school as well. Always trying to have the best of both worlds, i figured it might be possible to have a big kid job and still keep traveling too. So I booked a flight.
China was.... strange. I never really felt out of place or had much culture shock, but it never felt quite right either. The simplest things were a struggle. It took me 2 days, two failed attempts to find a post office, and 3 hotel concierges to mail a post card. I was only there for two weeks but there were plenty of "wtf china?" moments. For example, toddlers over there don't use diapers apparently. They just have pants with holes in the crotch and the kids just squat and do their business wherever. My first day there I saw a woman holding her son over a bush while he peed. Right there on the street. Not a single duck given. There is very little sense of privacy in Chinese culture.
Aside from my post card troubles, it was a pretty bad trip for me as an experienced traveler. my first night there i left my backpack in a bar. Luckily got that back. Then a few days before flying home i managed to leave my bicycle on the subway. Yea, a bike. I don't know how i managed to forget that i had my bike with me, but i did. I got super lucky with that one too and was able to pick it up at the end of the subway line the next morning.
I didn't shoot as much as i had hoped while i was there. Overall i found it to be mostly uninteresting. There was a lot of "huh, that's how they do that over here." but nothing that was really that out of place... maybe aside from the children peeing everywhere. I wandered around a bit and shot some scenes that i thought looked cool, but i quickly lost interest. It was difficult to get into it. I didn't find much that i wanted to document. Until we went to the Great Wall. That thing was totally freakin' awesome. Seriously.. that was pretty much worth the whole trip.
We took a private car a few hours outside of Beijing to a section of the wall that is supposedly one of the least repaired in the last few hundred years. Unfortunately China isn't really big on preserving their history, and as we hiked further out you could tell that it hadn't been as well maintained. We were lucky to have a real clear day and the weather wasn't too bad except for a little snow.
I probably said "This is amazing!" about 50 times in the 4 hours we were on the wall. I simply couldn't wrap my head around how huge it was. Not that the height was overly impressive, but it went on as far as you could see in both directions. It really makes you feel small.
Most of the wall that we hiked was pretty easy walking. Some of it got real steep, some of it had steps, and some parts we had to climb a little bit. At one of the towers the ceiling had collapsed and there was a few holds that could be climbed up to get to the top of the tower. Russ, being a an experienced climber, was all about it. I was skeptical. I got to the top, but my hands went numb trying to find a hand hold in the snow and decided i better not try it. Russ got up there and found a really cool relief carving of a dragon. Unfortunately the image doesn't translate well in pictures. I wandered around the tower and found my own souvenirs.
The Great Wall was absolutely my favorite part of my time spent in China. I'm not one to get out and take pictures in front of monuments and do the touristy things. I'd much rather get out and interact with the place that I'm in. Getting to spend time on a clear day hiking on the Great Wall with literally nobody else there was pretty great. It was one of the days that makes all of the struggles worth it. I'll gladly take the weeks of saving, long and sketchy plane rides, jet lag and all the other nonsense for a single day like this.
In the end, the interview didn't work out, and it definitely wasn't a wise financial move for me to pull the trigger and go to China spontaneously, but I'm happy i did. I had been curious about the job since Russ and I had first started talking about it months before. Getting out there, seeing the school and meeting the people gave me some good closure and drowned out the "what if?" that might have lasted. Plus i probably wont have many other reasons to go to China, so i'm glad i took advantage of the opportunity. I know i started this off a little negative about it all, but i really am thankful to now have the experience. New places, new friends, new stories. Adventure in everything.