Although I knew this would be the last chapter of my Japan trip, what I didn’t know is that this would actually be the most action-packed part of the journey! I would be taking the long trip back from Narita, to D.C. 3 countries, 2 flights, multiple buses, trains and a heck of a lot of walking.
The first hiccup came when I accidentally sat in the “first class” section of the train. I had no idea there were designated sections so I just sat in the empty one and the conductor called me on it. This was no big deal, and something we both laughed about.
After getting to the airport, I was quickly informed that my bag was well over the limit for “carry on” and I would have to shed some extra weight. Thanks to my awesome Osprey bag (I’m open to sponsorships) I was able to detach a small piece of it to create a pretty nice handbag. I then brought my heaviest items into the handbag and was able to bring my backpack on at a lean 8 kilos.
I went on a bottled green tea binge in the airport for two reasons. One, it would be the last time I would be getting decent bottled tea for awhile, and two I had some extra money on my Suica card I needed to burn.
I enjoyed a nice vegan Udon at the airport. What the meal lacked in size it made up for in deliciousness and overall I was very satisfied with it. At 3:30 hours, this flight felt short compared to all the traveling I had done in the past few days. Before I knew it I was in Beijing. This time, I had more energy, more experience and more motivation. I was ready to take on the Chinese border control!
I laughed as I saw the mob of tourists heading to the general passport control, knowing they would have to go to the other secret visa line first before they were allowed through. Although it only took me about 20 minutes to get my temporary visa and get through the border, I still struggled to get out of the airport. The reason for the was simple: “money”.
Beijing is a very cheap city, but you still have to take out Yuan at the airport. A quick block of my debit card soon made that impossible and I began flirting with the idea of just staying in the airport that night. I then had an epiphany, and realized I just happened to have $40 U.S on me and I exchanged every penny of it for Yuan.
Starting at this moment right here, I went into survival mode. I had 200 Yuan to my name and that was my only way to pay for things. The hotel was 90 yuan and they did not accept credit card. The bus each way to the airport costs 30 yuan and I still had 2 meals to worry about. Some simple math will tell you that I was pretty much screwed, but regardless I pressed on.
The bus ride was one of the more difficult legs of my journey. Because this one was more packed than on my first trip, I couldn’t put my backpack on the seat next to me so it had to ride lap side. The bag on my lap was so big I could barely poke my head out for fresh air and the hour and a half bus ride seemed like it would never end.
Eventually we pulled into Qianmen street and without any GPS, I basically needed to find my hostel by memory. I was pretty sure I saw the hostel last time I was here and miraculously I was able to find it even though they listed the incorrect address online. This place was such an incredible mix of world travelers. A large German group sat at a table in the restaurant, pounding steins after a long day of traveling. Some French travellers sat at a table in the corner and the rest of the room was a mix of Europeans and Americans on “gap-years”. It was here that I began to fall in love all over again with travel culture. The idea that when you are abroad, you just sleep in the cheapest place you can find and spend all your remaining time adventuring. Some people were going to see the Great Wall in the morning and others were even going to Tibet or Nepal in the morning. This was so cool! It reminded me that there was still so much of the world left to see and that this adventure of mine would be a never-ending one.
I still had some more pressing matters to attend to. All of my remaining money needed to be spent on food and water, and I needed to find the most bang for my buck. I settled on a giant water bottle and 3 bags of peanuts. That should do the trick.
I stopped by a traditional Chinese snack store on the way home and decided to do some window shopping. As soon as I walked in, the woman working there began yelling at me. “TRY! TRY!” she handed me a rubber glove and a cardboard box. I was not sure what to do in this situation, but I was so intimidated I felt as if I was being coerced into trying the samples. I tried a few and then was so confused as to what to do with the box and glove, I just handed it to her and then pretty much ran away.
That night I climbed into my bed, drew the curtains and just laid there with the biggest smile I had ever had. I couldn’t help but be grateful for all that I had and all that I got to experience. My smile got even bigger when I realized that all I needed to be happy was this, a stiff mattress, cotton sheets and a lifetime of adventures to be had. I was already getting excited about my next trip.
That night was not a good night for sleeping. My bunkmate was, I kid you not, a sleep growler. I had never encountered one of these before, but basically his exhale was not a snore or a scream but more of a deep growling noise. The other two people staying here were two Russian women that came in somewhere in the middle of the night and didn't seem to think that it was possible for other people to be staying in the room. They pretty much talked at full-volume.
I may have drifted off for about 10 minutes here or there, we’ll never know. I got out of bed at 4:00 am and went straight back into survival mode. I was running low on water, money and battery power, and I still had a 13-hour flight ahead of me. The hostel I was staying at had a 50 yuan deposit for the room key. This doesn’t sound like that big a deal but if I had left my room key in the room by accident, I may not have been able to get home. Pretty crazy right?
Luckily I returned the key and was able to get the money back. I now had to worry about charging my phone and getting enough water.
I asked the woman at the front desk if they had any filtered water here and she said they only have filtered water that is boiling hot for tea (shows you where their priorities are). She also strongly recommended I do not drink the tap water and I did not want to take the risk. So what did I do about the water situation you might ask? I first filled the sink with cold water to use as a cooling bath and then little by little placed small squirts of boiling water into my bottle to cool it off. This process took about 2 hours, but with no money to afford another bottle of water, this was pretty much the only option.
I left my charger on the last plane, so I had to borrow one from the front desk. This would be my last time charging before the flight home so I had to really make it count. The wifi signal was so weak here, I couldn’t even send text messages. I signaled to my family that I was safe by “liking” messages in our group text. I knew that because this was binary information that it would go through instantly despite the weak signal. I was not alone in the lobby of the hostel. A wild ferret scurried out from the walls and began running around the restaurant, sneaking small crumbs of food. I had never seen anything like this inside a hotel!
With a bottle full of lukewarm water and a phone at 70% battery, I headed out to see the sunrise and also experience one of China’s most famous tourist attractions. The Temple of Heaven was an awesome celebration of the Ming Dynasty, considered by many to be the peak of art and architecture in China. I didn’t think the Asian Art class I took in college would be so useful!
The temple was nestled inside the Temple of Heaven park in central Beijing. In Chinese cities, parks offer a beautiful oasis from urban life. Although I went on a cold fall morning, this was still one of the more lively parks I had ever been to.
There were hundreds of people here gathered for all sorts of different lessons, classes and social get togethers. There was a Tai Chi class, a calligraphy class and even a dance class happening here! The sounds of traditional Chinese music echoed throughout the park and there was all sorts of wildlife scurrying about. These animals were familiar, yet different at the same time. There were squirrels that looked more like prairie dogs, blue jays with black heads and a tree squirrel with ears so big it looked like a rabbit!
I really liked seeing people here just enjoying the nature and each other’s company. I even participated in a clapping ceremony. I had no idea what it was, but an older man began walking towards me and clapping along with a song until I started clapping a long as well.
The Temple of Heaven was actually one of the highlights of the trip. It was so beautiful how the bright green, red and blue colors shined in the morning sun. There were intricate depictions of dragons carved into the marble floor beneath me. I would’ve stayed at this park all day if I could, but I knew I was already starting to cut it close with the flight.
I took the last of my Yuan and headed back to the train station. While my first trip to the airport was pretty seamless, this one seemed almost impossible. I had to change stations a few different times and it seemed as if they made it about as difficult as they possibly could to get to the airport. On top of that, I think it was the anniversary of the president of China, so a lot of the roads were blocked off around Tianamen square making it difficult to get to my initial station.
With all that chaos, I was able to safely make it to my train with only 6 yuan (less than a dollar) and 5 minutes to spare. On the way back to D.C I relaxed and watched just about every single Mission Impossible movie in existence. A glorious end to an unforgettable trip. I reflected on what an amazing trip it had been. It felt like it had been a month since I left D.C because I packed so much in. Tokyo, Shizuoka, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima and Beijing. These places were the setting for an adventure of a lifetime. I can't wait to go back!
Thank you everyone for all of your support. I’ll see you next time!