The flight was by far the longest I flown…14 hours from Washington, D.C. to Beijing. Surprisingly, it wasn’t that bad because we had books, movies, food, and got up to walk around. There were a few other competitors on our flight…we stick out like a sore thumb with our race t-shirts and bags. I napped on and off but made a point to not sleep the entire flight since we were getting in around 2:30 PM and needed to stay up around 8 more hours to ensure a good night sleep and avoid jet lag.
Stepping off the plane was surreal because we were actually in China, a moment I’d anticipated for almost a year. After a bus ride through Beijing traffic we arrived at our hotel palace. This is by far the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in and I’m excited to explore all the different restaurants, gardens, etc.
After customs ready to take on Beijing
Exploring our hotel
The hotel is pretty far from the center city of Beijing and even the race venue but the staff is extremely accommodating and the hotel is American friendly. At first I was slightly disappointed because this made for a less “authentic” experience but after a few interactions with locals that weren’t bilingual, I realized this might be a good thing for our home base. Our first line of business was a swim in the 33 meter pool (strange distance) with a fellow athlete we met on the plane. Following the swim, we got to eat at one of the hotel’s restaurants, The Chili Pepper. I had a small craving for tofu and ordered the beef braised spicy bean curd dish, which fulfilled my soy intake for the rest of the trip. We had fun trying each other’s dishes and the restaurant definitely lived up to its spicy name.
I was completely wiped by 10:30 PM and slept without a problem until 6:30 AM for our morning workout. Unsure of the safety of running outside, I stuck to the treadmill and played around with speed for 6 miles. I hate treadmill running and was excited to hear about some trails/neighborhoods near the hotel for my next morning run.
The breakfast buffet was like nothing I’ve ever tasted before and I’m glad we have the whole week to explore all the different options: egg station, fruit bar (so many fruits I’d never even heard of!), Beijing snacks (dumplings, egg rolls, etc.), steamed bok choy, baked tomatoes, cereal, pastries, fried rice, fried noodles, BBQ chicken on a stick, potatoes and onions, bacon, pancakes, and so many random varieties of food.
It was a proper fueling for the day ahead. Our plan was to get dropped off by taxi near the Forbidden City and just walk around the area. Tomorrow we are taking guided tour to see the Forbidden City, Tiananman Square, and Temple of Heaven. Immediately, I was taken aback by the contrasts of the city. The ornate and artistic architecture with these beautiful intricate details right next to dingy concrete and pollution. The gardens and temples are the perfect background for meditation but are set against speeding cars, motorcyclists, and bicyclists. The city definitely has a unique feel and look to it.
Our first introduction to the city included several rickshaw drivers (cyclists pulling a buggy) surrounding our group of five and offering us a ride to the Tiananman Square for “three” RMB. This sounded like a great deal because that meant we’d get pulled for the equivalent of 50 cents the 1-2 miles we needed to go. Two people fit nicely into one rickshaw and three of us fit awkwardly into the other. Little did we know the rickshaw drivers were taking us on a “scenic route” of the city that was 300 RMB. They took advantage of the language barrier and lied through their teeth about the price. After trying to charge us about $50 per person for this scenic tour we argued our way down to a more reasonable price of about $10 per rickshaw and learned our lesson. Welcome to Beijing.
Next up we walked around Tiananmen Square, saw the Gate of Heavenly Peace with the giant 15 by 20 foot portrait of Mao weighing 1.5 tons, the Great Hall of the People where the Chinese parliament meets, the National Museum of China, and the Monument to the People’s Heroes. Seeing these structures in person was incredible but to be honest my favorite part was the people watching. We saw soldiers marching, tours taking pictures, people spitting on the street, selling trinkets, and enjoying the same structures millions of people come to see a year.
Outside the Forbidden City
By Mao’s portrait
By the Tiananmen Square with the Monument to the People’s Heroes
The Forbidden City
Next we walked a few miles through side streets to find the Bei Hai Park and Jingshan Park. I loved the street vendors and small restaurants along the way.
Jingshan Park was peaceful and beautiful. One of the points of interest was the lotus tree the last Ming emperor hanged himself from after learning about the entry of rebellious peasant armies in 1644. We climbed up to the Pavilion of Everlasting Spring which gave an incredible view of the city. After that we found a hole in the wall to eat lunch and rest our legs. I am going to try my best not to eat dumplings for the rest of the trip but this will be difficult because I’ve fallen in love. I’ve also developed a liking for bok choy….hmmm.
Tree that Chonzhen hanged himself from
I could spend hours looking at all the painted details on the temples
Much needed walking break and refueling
Bei Hai park is another beautiful park that attracts many locals and tourists. We walked along Jade Island and watched the paddle boats and tourists walking around. The various temples and gardens were just as breathtaking as the other ones around the city. We just don’t have structures like this in the U.S. At one point I watched somebody paint Chinese characters with a water brush. After Bei Hai park we visited Lotus Lane and called it a day.
Bei Hai Park
We were finally ready to head back to the hotel, only one problem – not one taxi driver wanted to take the 50 + km hike to Changping. After 20 minutes of unsuccessful taxi flagging we went into a Beijing Tourist Information Center. The assistants were extremely helpful telling us how to navigate the public transportation system to get back. One bus ride, three subway exchanges, and a taxi ride later we were finally back at the hotel. I was exhausted but somehow managed to get a good 1500 meter swim in before another delicious dinner.
The subway system was crowded to say the least
What a day! Can’t wait to see what the rest of the trip holds.