While in Shanghai I tried to visit as many places as possible: I wandered around the city quite a bit and even tried to go outside of my comfort zone. I was in China and I was definitely going to make the most of it!
A few months before my departure I was considering taking a week for myself, just after the summer course ended, to visit Beijing. Why?
Simply because the following question was imprinted on my mind: How many times would I get to visit China? But each time my inner monologue asked this question, I’d tell myself: Not many, I guess?!
However, in the end, my plans changed, and I decided to come back to Denmark right after the course to handle some of my administrative issues.
Do you think the thought of visiting Beijing went away? It never did, in fact, it came back into my mind once again, just after my arrival in Shanghai. And when I found out that I was allowed to skip a couple of days on the courses, the thought consumed my mind.
Then, one day, my roommate told me plain and simple: We’re in China; we have to see the Great Wall!
Right then and there, with her words, our thoughts became our plan: We have to go!
And so, we did. A few days after that conversation, we booked the train tickets and a hostel room for no other reason other than the last time I checked we were by no means billionaire students. With the transport and accommodation settled, our comfortably planned trip to Beijing and the Great Wall of China was all sorted out. And nothing could stop us! Or so we thought…
A week passed and the time for us to leave the campus for our trip to Beijing came. We had everything we needed and we worked out how much money we should bring. We made an estimate and decided to bring just enough for the tickets, entrance fees, a bit of souvenir shopping and food. After all, we’d already paid for the hostel stay and the train tickets.
The train ride was exciting as we got to travel with the high-speed train; and the accommodation, although situated on a tiny street, was very central and looked very local.
Now, we just had to follow the plan, which was thoroughly structured:
Day 1: Arrive at the hostel and get some rest for the following day
Day 2: Visit the Great Wall
Day 3: Visit the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square
Day 4: Enjoy the city until 13:00 and then leave for Shanghai
One minor thing cropped up once we arrived at the hostel. We were told that even though the credit card was added to the reservation, the room was not paid and we could only pay in cash. We managed to make a deal with the hostel staff to pay half of the reservation upon arrival and the remaining amount the next day.
On day two, we arrived at the bus station ready to take the bus to Mutianyu (the section of the Great Wall we wanted to visit). I put my card into an ATM to withdraw more money for our hostel stay and because we were both slightly down on cash.
However, funnily enough, from the moment my card went into the ATM a mental rollercoaster started in my mind, body and soul.
The ATM showed an error and then released my card. I reached to grab the card, but could only touch a small part of it that was somehow slipping from my fingers constantly. The same thing happened a second time, when again I could not take the card out completely. And then, the ATM started a countdown. Faster than my mind could process it – IT ATE my card.
We were now two people with very little money, in the middle of Beijing, with a card in an ATM and a card that we were scared to put in an ATM, trying to contact a bank without speaking the local language.
The information office of the station we were in, was, fortunately enough, extremely helpful and managed to contact the bank for us. They told us to go to the bank in four hours to try and pick up the card.
With our plans for the Great Wall ruined we tried our luck with the Forbidden City. The good part was that the Forbidden City has 80,000 entrance tickets available each day. The not so good part was that, that Friday, at 9 o’clock in the morning, 80,000 entrance tickets were sold out.
But what do you do when everything’s gone wrong, and you want to feel better? Well I don’t know about you, but I eat. I like to eat. And our next step was to find a good place to eat. Luckily on our way there we found an office of the ‘Bank of Beijing’ (the big owner of my card’s eater) where I tried to convince the personnel that I needed the card ‘today’ and not in seven to nine working days. Weirdly enough, in the bank queue, we met two other travelers who came all the way from Denmark only to have their card eaten as well.
But after long hours of nothing but waiting, my card was back in my hands and I was ready to relax.
We visited the Summer Palace, which was more than amazing, and where the bad luck continued as I was so relaxed I lost my first and only pair of expensive glasses I ever had.
But nothing could go wrong from here! I was going to my room where I could sleep all the bad luck away.
One minor issue: I couldn’t.
After falling asleep, I woke up in the middle of the night with a strong, pointy-like pain on my leg. But I didn’t have the courage to look – I knew something was wrong! So I woke up my friend, with a worried voice, and asked her to turn on the light and help get the duvet off me.
A leech! A leech was attached to my leg! A LEECH!
Ok. My mom taught me not to be a quitter when life gives me lemons, but how about when life gives me leeches?
I wanted to quit the whole trip and go back to Shanghai. What was I saying? I wanted to go back to Denmark.
We packed all our things and stormed out of the hostel after showing the amused receptionist the thing that I could barely take off of me.
This is the story of how we ended up at a McDonald’s at 4 o’clock in the morning, shaking off our clothes hoping that no other bug, leech or any type of creature, was stuck to them.
Although my mom didn’t teach me about not quitting when life gives you leeches, life itself did.
That morning, all tired and emotionally drained, we went on with our plans and visited the Great Wall. We booked another accommodation, a hotel this time, and the next day before leaving Beijing we visited the Forbidden City with pre-booked tickets.
And yes, it was emotionally draining. And yes, we were not relaxed tourists. And yes, we didn’t get to see more than we’d planned. But we fulfilled the dream of seeing the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.
Beijing did nothing more than show us, once again, that sometimes fulfilling your goal just means not giving up in spite of every obstacle that life brings your way.