greatwall + greatball = greatday
November 6, 2009

“oh crap the sun is up” – me in the middle of Sanlitun bar street 6am
After some time squeezing out any tiny morsel of culture and partying I could in Dubai, I landed in Beijing THIRSTY. I couldn’t wait to exchange all my Dirhams into Chinese Yuan so that I could get this party started. I would just take $500 dollars worth of Dirhams and exchange them and be good for the week since China is a cheap place. This is when I faced the worst unplanned moment of the trip thus far. The Beijing Airport, even though is now modernized and upgraded substantially. Even though it just hosted the Olympics and welcomed people from all over the world, did not recognize UAE Dirhams. So since I had arabic money and couldn’t exchange them to Chinese money, I was rich and poor at the same time.
It was a mistake on my part not to take my ATM card with me when I started the trip, so three hours and four airport bank branches later I found a place that would give me a cash advance on my credit card. I could finally eat and continue to find my way to the hostel. Weeks later, Victor would express mail me my ATM card allowing me access to my own money so I could eat. I’m grateful for his help once again. I also gotta thank the Icelanders that loaned me ¥200 so that I wouldn’t starve while waiting for my ATM card to come.
What Icelanders you ask? Obviously the coolest (pun unintended) Icelanders I’ve met on the face of God’s green earth. I met Sif and Egill right after I checked into the hostel in Beijing. They had been traveling for a couple months and had just checked into the hostel as well. We all arrived on October 1, on the day of China’s 60th birthday. My plan was to go down to Tienanmen Square to be apart of the massive birthday party, but word on the street was not anyone could go. Sif told me that only ‘special people’ were allowed to go, and that we were not special people. Turns out only selected people were allowed to watch the festivities. Foreigners were definitely not invited. So, after complaining about not being able to be apart of the celebration and half a pack of cigarettes later, we decided to celebrate on our own. Somewhere between the 3rd and 4th beer there was a foreigner versus china 2 on 2 basketball game in the most dangerous basketball court in Beijing. It was a half-court that was fenced. The fence wasn’t properly maintained and had some barbs sticking out at some places. At that point I was game for anything though, I was at a good buzz. Me and Egill won of course, so we ended the night as winners.
The next night I went to see what Beijing clubs had to offer. After dinner we walk for awhile to enjoy the city and find a bar. When it seemed like one wasn’t popping up in our face, we decided to walk back and have beers at the hostel. This is until I saw a sign with bright lights that said KTV. KTVs are everywhere in beijing. It’s short for karaoke TV, which is better than regular karaoke for some reason. Kids get their own private room to sing and be loud and drink. At the top of this particular 4 story KTV, I found a happening club. The night was no longer a bust.
There are over a billion chinese people, and that night all of them were packed into that club. Imagine the most packed club, and then fill in the gaps with even more people. That’s what the club is like in Beijing on a thursday night. So I talked myself out of buying a table (which I would have if I was rollin’ maybe 4 or 5 deep) and paid ¥50 ($7.32) admission to get in. I rushed through the walkway like a kite through the sky and was abruptly stopped at the other end of the entranceway. There, I joined the slow lumbering organism that was the crowd.
The music was surprisingly good and varied. The night started (11pm) with top40 hip hop mashups and slowly progressed to electrodance music. On the way to 2am glow sticks were passed out and when the time hit the whole place went dark. About 20 bartenders jump on the bar with green lasers in hand, creating a real life version of the matrix. People go wild. Later in the night a girl sings popular anthems that everyone knows and sings along with.
Just when I thought I had seen everything, China amazes me again. The club had two guys walking around dressed in military police gear. White helmet, short sleeve collard shirt, and pressed pants. If they sound out of place in a club, they do. I paid them no mind in the beginning, they were probably looking someone they needed to arrest. Later in the night I knew why they were there. A fight broke out about 10 feet from me, Egill, and other people we were hanging out with. Not more than 5 seconds go by do the military police dudes come charging in. What happens next was a creative display of helmet use. One of the military policemen took off his helmet, a thing used for head protection, and used it to come down hard on one of the drunken fighters. He went down immediately. And as soon as that’s happening, another military policemen was rape-choking the other guy on the neck while pushing him towards the wall. I made a mental note of not ever starting shit in the clubs here. They don’t mess around. After having enough excitement, we decided to return so that we could get enough rest to hike the Great Wall the next day.
At first there were three: me, Egill, and Sif. Their friend Manuel from Spain miraculously found us at the hostel and then we became four. We walked out to the subway station and took the subway to the train station, where we met up with Manuel’s German friend. With the five of us together, we were directed by a helpful Chinese lady to take bus 980 to the Great Wall.
Tired from the night before, I decided to take a short nap on the bus. Less than an hour later I was woken up by two Chinese guys arguing. The bus was stopped. After waking up some more I realized that it wasn’t two Chinese guys arguing but the bus driver and another guy from outside the bus yelling at us to get off the bus. I didn’t know what they wanted but they didn’t want us on the bus anymore. It was also odd that they were kicking foreigners off the bus and not any Chinese people. Anywho, we got off and the bus shut its doors with a force and took off. So now there’s five of us and Kelly, an English student I met on the bus before falling asleep. The six of us were now at an unknown location in the middle of China.
So, waiting for foreigners to be kicked off the bus were a couple taxi drivers. They were demanding a ridiculous amount of money to take us the rest of the way to the wall. It was later that I realized that the helpful Chinese lady and these taxi drivers are apart of an elaborate scheme to trick foreigners. The lady at the central bus station told us the bus that would only take us halfway and taxis were waiting there to take us the rest of the way (and also charge an exorbitant amount).
We knew from our Lonely Planet guide (the bible right guys?!) that there was a bus station nearby that would have the bus that takes us right to the wall. However, a combination of pushy cab drivers and the power of group buy made it possible for us to get to the wall by taxi. We were up to a crew of eight now, because I talked to two other people who looked lost and were also trying to get to the wall. English is a beautiful thing in a place where people rarely speak it. Me and Kelly tag teamed two taxi drivers in the bargaining. Kelly is Chinese so she speaks mandarin, and I learned how to be a tough bargainer from a very helpful Indian man in Dubai. As a team we were able to get the price ridiculously low. It was so low that one of the two drivers became grumpy the whole way. Luckily, me, Egill, Sif, and Kelly were in the other taxi. Our driver was in a good mood and didn’t care about the price and even spoke a little english. Enough to create a connection which is good.
When we got to the Wall the drivers tried to stiff us our change; they said they would hold on to it and it would be applied towards the fare back to the bus station when we were done at the Wall. They said it would all work out the same. I said if it’s all the same then let me hold onto the money. They tried wasting a couple more minutes of our time but eventually gave me the change.
What can I say about the wall. In my opinion its the biggest public works project of all time! The stretched we hiked was from woiusdfj to wsdfouxiuo. Some parts were flat and even; they were easily walked. Some parts of the wall were in ruins and were more difficult to navigate. Some parts required me to get Sylvester Stalloned with it and do some cliffhanging, climbing and jumping between gaps. There were parts of the Wall that was built so that if an army charged with horses, the horses would get messed up by deep trenches. So since they were bad for horses they were extra difficult to cross by being human.
I also enjoyed the water and juice vendors every half mile along the wall. I can’t believe it’s someones everyday job, to get in the middle of nowhere on a wall and sit there to wait for thirsty tourists to come by. I could feel their excitement every time we came up on a new group of drink sellers. Since I packed more than enough water, I just donated my empty bottles to them, which they were glad to take.
What I wasn’t glad about was the amount of hustlers on the Wall. Some were from the state and legit, and I got a ticket for some parts of the Wall I crossed. Some were a little more suspect. I crossed a very long and beautiful bridge almost at the end of the hike. The view was amazing and when I got to the other side, there was a man demanding ¥1 otherwise we couldn’t continue and had to go back. At that point I didn’t feel like arguing and since the others were already reaching for their wallets I decided yi kuai (¥1) wasn’t much to argue about.
Waiting for us at the end of our route were the two cab drivers who tried to con us from before. Kelly agreed on a side deal during the ride there, that they would be the ones who would drive us back to the bus station that would take us back to Beijing. She was the only person who spoke mandarin but I think she was bullied or coerced by the taxi drivers into agreeing to use them for the ride home. Anyway, they were there and demanded a higher price than what was agreed upon earlier. This time, the sun was setting and it was getting cold and they had us by the balls. They were the only rides (we thought at the time) that could speedily take us to the train station to make it on the last bus out to Beijing. So after conferring with my dude Egill we decided to eat the extra and got in the two taxis. We were on pins and needles trying to make it back to the station. If we didn’t make it in time we would be stuck in the middle of whoknowswhere China. We didn’t want that to happen.
So what happens is the cab driver barely makes it to the station as the last bus is about to leave. He screeches in and blocks the bus with the entire cab. My life flashes before my eyes as the bus headlights fill my face. We bust out of the cab and fastball toss the car fare to the driver. The driver catches the money and continues running towards the bus, waiving it to stop. It does. The eight of us get on, and though some fancy accounting there’s enough money for all of us to stay on the bus back to Beijing. After a couple minutes we realize everythings going to be okay and start talking about the day. A little outside of the city, Kelly gets off the bus to her college. She was trying to get to her school initially but got on the wrong bus. That’s how she ended up hanging out with us for the day. It’s funny how she woke up just going to school, but ended up meeting people from six different countries and hiking the Great Wall for hours. I bet that wasn’t in her calendar. The bus breaks down and we all have to get out and wait for another one to come. Beijing is getting cold.
So the only thing that we’ve eaten all day is a thing of instant noodles in the morning. We had hiked a good part of the wall just on this, and by the time we got back to the hostel we were ready to consume like monsters. We order a pizza (yeah they’re not bad in China) and each swallow the pieces whole.
Since Manuel was flying back to Madrid the next day, it was mandatory to go out and send him home properly. This meant that after everything that happened during the day, we had to muster the energy to tear it down that night. After swallowing pizzas and beers, the energy came and I was ready to go.
We headed out to Sanlitun, a happening bar area next to the Yashow shopping mall and went to BarBlu. At first I thought the place was called Babaloo because that’s how it was said to me. People need to work on their pronunciation around here. I was lost for 15 minutes trying to find a sign for Babaloo and finally saw a sign that said BarBlu. Everyone was in there.
BarBlu is full of expats and so it was completely different from the KTV that me and Egill went to the night prior. I wouldn’t really recommend it because the crowd is very European and the price matches the crowd. If I wanted this vibe I would have stayed in Paris. That’s not to say I didn’t have fun, however. I was having a blast and before I knew it the bar was closing and I found myself stumbling out.
“Oh crap the sun is up” I said. It was close to 7am.
We took a cab back to the hostel, and somebody (I’m not saying who Egill) left half a beer to spill in the back of the cab. I crashed immediately but Egill stayed up with Manuel to bullshit and drink some more.
The craziest part though was: I had promised to meet Kelly at Line 2 Dongzhimen Station in two hours.