The Great Wall experience I
Beijing, 23rd of August
Now that the first part of my course is over, I decided to travel with a friend to to Shan Hai Guan which is on the east coast of China and is the easternmost point of the Great Wall (Chang2 Cheng2). It's where the Great Wall begins and 'ascends mysteriously from the sea', at least that's what it said in the guide book.
We left on Friday night from Beijing Train Station (Bei3 Jing1 Zhan4). Beijing Zhan is an imposing building that mixes conventional 20th century architecture with traditional Oriental design.
In the evening the Chinese-style roofing is lit up to dramatic effect. Outside the station there were scores of people queuing and all luggage was x-rayed on entry. We eventually got inside to discover that all of the train schedules were in Chinese! There was no English and no Pinyin. Luckily the characters for Beijing and Shan Hai Guan (using the three characters 'mountain', 'sea', 'closed') are relatively common and we were able to work out which waiting area to go to. My three months of studying had come in handy.
The queues in the waiting area were the longest I'd ever seen and at times I feared the worst. To me it looked really chaotic as people pushed and shoved their way into the correct lines for each train – but there was a strange order to it. There were no fights and everyone got through to the platform and boarded their respective trains on time. I was left feeling impressed by the way in which these vast numbers of passengers were managed. I then had a flashback of London's Victoria station regularly closing its doors during the morning rush hour!
The train journey itself was five hours long and although the tickets (piao4) said 'hard seats' – they cost 57Y each (£12) – the seats were relatively comfortable. During the trip people stood in the isles and I later learned that it's still possible to buy tickets after all seats are sold out. These people stood for hours on end and only grabbed a quick rest when someone left their seat to go to the toilet. I did witness an unrelated argument between a man and a woman over seating arrangements which was a little unsettling especially after the woman hit the man over the head with a newspaper (bao4)! A train guard eventually came and did his best to resolve the situation.
We arrived at Shan Hai Guan at 4am and I was concerned that we had no hotel (bing1 guan3) booked. When we got outside the station there were loads of taxi drivers asking us where we wanted to go (ni3 yao4 qu4 nar3?). We asked one to take us to the nearest hotel and he obliged. It was a short journey and only cost us 5Y. We were able to get a twin room for 200Y a night (£21). Not bad especially as the price started at 600Y and we bargained it down to 200Y. Were it not for the fact that it was 4am in the morning and we were both tired (hen3 lei4) – I reckon we could have got the room even more cheaply.
Editor's note: Chris is writing Chinese words in 'Pinyin', Latin script, using numbers that indicate the tone of the word. Find out more with our course Real Chinese.
Sent by: Chris