Thursday, July 31, 2008

Update 4: Simatai, Training, Uniforms!

Hello all!!

It is time for a weekly update! Since I spoke to you last, I've had some pretty exciting days! Last Friday, my friends and I spent a lazy day chilling out, since we had been busy all week. Then we watched Mulan, and on Friday night decided that we were going to go to Simatai, a place on the Great Wall that is much less touristy than the place we've already been.

So we read my guidebook which said we needed to get to the station between 6:30-7:30 in time to get tickets to go to Simatai. We left our rooms at the early hour of 5:45, and we took the very first subway to go to the bus station. We got to the station around 6:45, which we thought was PERFECT. So we went up to the ticket counter and said, "Simatai?" The woman replied, "Wait a moment." So we went and sat down where she pointed.

Twenty minutes later, she said something entirely in Mandarin, and all of the people who were standing around us scrambled to get in queue for a ticket. So we went up to the woman and said, "Simatai?" And she was like "WAIT A MOMENT." So we sat back down. Then, another 15 minutes later, she said something again, and we heard "Simatai" and a whole bus load went to get on a bus. So we climb aboard the bus, and figure that maybe we pay when we get there. Mind you, its now 7:15 ish in the morning, and it is roughly 95 degrees out. On the bus, we are all tired and grumpy, and the bus driver simply will not show up. So we're getting impatient, when suddenly the woman from before comes up and says, "SIMATAI." All of the Chinese shuffle off the bus, and so we figure that we must NOW go back and get the tickets.

So Anna and I go to get the tickets for us (Helen and Laura were also with us) and when we get to the ticket window, we realize that it is more expensive than we thought, so we have to go back to the bus to get money. The woman selling tickets, however, does not understand this, so we go through 5 minutes of communication and finally Anna just went to get the money and I waited at the counter.

When Anna comes back, we buy the tickets, get on the bus again, and some woman comes around and rips them. As we're getting settled, the bus driver appears and turns the air on. Five minutes later, after we're all comfortably taking over the back of the bus like a group of sophomores, another Chinese woman gets on and says something, causing the entire bus to shuffle off the bus. We realize they are making us get on another bus, so we get off and get on a different, smaller, cramped bus. Keep in mind that the bus ride is three hours to Simatai--one way.

Meanwhile, the bus driver starts the bus, and we're about to leave when five more western tourists step up the cramped stairway of the bus. When they get to the top, they realize they have no where to sit, and immediately begin arguing with the Chinese woman who has miraculously reappeared. So, what do we do? Get off the bus we've been put on and shuttled back onto the bus we just came from.

As Anna would say, "Welcome to China."

After the bus fiasco, there was smooth sailing from there. We arrived at Simatai around 3 hours later. To get to the top of the Great Wall and the rolling hills of China's greatest accomplishment, we had to take a cable car, and then a vertical inclined train. The cable car took about a half hour, the train about three minutes. Once at the top, we hiked up for about 10 minutes (the longest 10 minutes of my life, let me tell you) and then voila! We were at the top of the Great Wall.

Once we were to the top, my guidebook said it was a 2-3 hike down. And the part of the wall that we were on was STEEP. There were a couple of times that we had to basically crawl down stairs. Even though it was foggy and 100 degrees, the wall and its views were amazing. We made a pit stop for lunch on the wall for about a half hour, and then continued our descendent. Once we got to the part where the Wall breaks over a river, we headed for the zipline. That's right--a zipline. The zipline crosses the river, and you're basically put into a harness and you are moved by inertia downwards. All four of the girls did it, and it was amazing. I even video taped it--here's the link!

After ziplining across, we headed to the "Pleasure boat" which brought us back to the parking lot! It was a full day, but a brilliant one. It was probably the best day of the trip thus far. When we got home, we even went to eat pizza to reward ourselves for having such a productive and adventurous day.

After Simatai, we had a wonderfully lazy day. Anna and I got up and went to Grandma's Kitchen, an American breakfast place. The best part, by far, were the "bottomless" cups of coffee.

The next day, Anna and I visited Grandma's again and headed to Ritan Park. It is one of the bigger parks in Beijing, and is located in the embassy district. It was built in 1530, which is one of the oldest parks in Beijing. It was where emperors went to make sacrifices to the sun. We hung out and played some rummy, and then walked around for a bit. Then, because it was so hot out, we decided to go get cheap massages. I got an hour foot massage for $10 USD. It was amazing. That evening we went to a book store called "The Bookworm" which is a large expat area. Anna and I played rummy again, and got some coffee. We then met up with a bunch of people from our trip to go out for our friend Sylvie's birthday. We went to a Persian restaurant called "Rumi." It was delicious.

On Tuesday we had training for the Bird's Nest from 9-5. We went to a university far away from our campus, and met all of the Chinese volunteers. We also had some training on specific sporting events. Wednesday, we went to breakfast and then went to the silk market--some of the girls needed to pick up souvenirs.

Today, we had more sports specific training, and got our uniforms! It is all very nice, and I shall send you some pictures of myself in my rockin' uniform and fanny pack. It's pretty awesome.

Well this update is kind of short. Tomorrow we have training again, and then we have the weekend off and start training again next week. It should be good fun! I hope to talk to you all soon, and hear from you all! I love you and hopefully next week will be more interesting!



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