Our plane touched down on 14 August, 2019, and the first thing we noticed in China was the heat and humidity, but the most difficult part of the trip has to be the language barrier, as most people were only familiar with their own native tongue.
We somehow managed to get a taxi, despite no one understanding English, and get to our hotel safely. My uncle, who is currently a post-graduate student in Beijing, suggested that we have our hotel’s address written in Chinese.
Once we got to the hotel, we literally had to communicate by sign language with the receptionist, because of course -- the language barrier. Even the translation app I downloaded earlier did not help matters.
After a while, the receptionist started to use his own translator, making things easier and we finally checked in. After settling in, we went to get some food at a nearby restaurant, where we pointed to our desired items on the menu. We settled in for the night a little early, in preparation for the long days of travelling from the next day onwards.
For the first day, we went to the Forbidden City, which is the royal residence for the emperors of ancient China. Even to this day, you need a special one-day visa for entry. Every single day, there are 80,000 visitors there, and if you want in, you have to buy a ticket in advance (at least 3 days beforehand), otherwise they sell out quickly. It is an astonishing place, and the architecture is just incredible.
After that, we went to the Temple of Heaven, which is one of China’s most spiritual centres. If you ask me, it is possibly the most beautiful building in China. We also watched a shaolin monk Kung-Fu show at the red theatre, which I can wholly recommend, as it is sensationally entertaining.
On our second day, we went to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China. This was the highlight of the whole trip; just witnessing one of the seven wonders of the world, built more than 1400 years ago, gives you chills. After taking tonnes of photos, we went to a jade store, where we got a tour, and an explanation on the process of mining jade, and how to distinguish the fakes from the original.
From there, we went to a traditional tea ceremony, where an expert taught us the ancient art of making and consuming tea, and its various benefits to the body. On the 16th, we flew to Shanghai to see Disneyland, something I had been meaning to do since forever. I’ve been to the ones in Paris, LA, Orlando and Tokyo, so from experience, I can say that this Disneyland is the worst, because, the rides are not that amazing, and entertainment for adults are non-existent. Also, the shows were awful and there were just two of them.
One good thing in Shanghai was our place of stay; Ramada Hotel, because it was very pleasant, and we could communicate easily as the staff knew English.
The day after Disneyland, we took a Big Bus tour through the city and went to every one of its major attractions, such as the Shanghai Tower, currently the second tallest building in the world, and features the fastest traveling elevator in the world. We also watched the skyline of the city from a yacht tour, which was included in the Big Bus package. We went back to the hotel via the subway, which I must say, is incredible because it has 16 lines, cheap, and very manageable.
On the 19th, we went back to Beijing, and stayed there for the remainder of the trip. We decided to try the famous tourist market called Silk Street.
I watched a few YouTube videos on the market, and wrote down the bargaining tactics in preparation for this visit. Once we got there, the bargaining started, and it was tough. For two T-shirts, and they would ask 500 RMB for it, which was way too much. Then you have to start with 80 RMB, and slowly get them to wear down until you get to the real price, which is around 90-110 RMB. Its tedious I admit, but after a few shops, you do get the hang of it.
As we stepped out, we were instantly offered a taxi to get back to our hotel. And that brings me to an important rule — if you get offers like this, know that you have to pay a hefty amount for it. We experienced this first-hand when taking a tuktuk, because the guy driving it offered to give us a ride to the Temple of Heaven, a mere seven-minute drive.
We never asked for the fare, and when we got there, he slapped a 90 RMB price on us, and we had no other choice but to pay him. In contrast, our twenty-minute ride to the Forbidden City from our hotel via a taxi cost us 20 RMB, so it’s safe to say we were properly fleeced.
On the last evening, our whole family went on a walk in Beijing, and realised this city was nothing like we imagined it would be. The streets were as clean as it could possibly be, and not just in Beijing, but in Shanghai as well. Everywhere you looked, there were trees.
While I wish I could travel the whole country to find out more, I have to be content with just these two cities for now. And if you are on the fence about which country to visit, you now have one for to add to your list of must-visits.
Photo: Bappi Suparna