In America, you have Independence Day. Turkey has Republic Day, and Canada has Canada Day. In China, you have National Day. And it’s the second most important holiday after the Chinese New Year.
Chinese National Day is always on October 1st, unlike some holidays that are determined by the lunar calendar. The entire first week of October is known as Golden Week, which means a lot of people don’t have to work. Instead, people take the time to travel. Many travel to Beijing, China.
Beijing Smog and Population
Beijing’s population is around 20 million. Over the National Day holiday, even more millions fill the city. Beijing is a large city and takes hours on the metro just to get from one end to the other. But still, that’s a lot of people to handle all at once. 90% of the time, riding the Subway was shoulder-to-shoulder. It took more than luck to get a seat.
From Wuhan, China, it’s about a five and a half hour high-speed train ride to the capital (sounds very Hunger Games-ish, right?). I could immediately tell a difference between Beijing and Wuhan. It was larger, there was more English, and even the streets and taxis looked a lot different. The most noticeable change, however, was definitely the pollution. At one point, you couldn’t see buildings just a block away. Never again will I complain about Wuhan’s air quality.
The Summer Palace
The most popular tourism stops in Beijing include the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall of China. The Summer Palace was first, and it’s absolutely huge. I’m not talking about the Summer Palace itself: The entire grounds. We spent hours walking down paths that took us up and down a small mountain, alongside a huge lake, and past many traditional Chinese buildings. The site is well taken care of. It’s also a really nice break from the crazy city, even with the obvious pollution hugging everything.
The Pearl and Silk Market
The Forbidden City didn’t make it onto the itinerary because of the huge tourist population. According to some people from the hotel, they were only allowing a certain number of people inside, and the tickets sold out quickly. Instead, we (I went with others) went to the Silk and Pearl Market, the perfect place for buying cheap anything. Basically, everything they sell is name brand knock-offs that have decent quality, if you go to the right place. You can also haggle, which in itself makes the experience fun, even if you don’t purchase anything. Some people even travel to Beijing for the markets.
These people speak perfect English and come off as seriously desperate; they will do anything to get you to go into their shop. And they’ll do anything to keep you there. I found it best to just ignore them unless you were actually interested.
When you find something you’re interested in and ask for the price, they’re going to start it ridiculously high. For a purse, a pair of shoes, or electronics like a “GoPro”, expect them to start anywhere between 1500 to 3500 Yuan (USD$220 – $522). Here’s the stereotypical conversation we had for hours with every single seller.
Seller: 3500 Yuan
Me: Too much
Me: Too much.
After some experience, I found it best to pretend to leave if you’re actually interested in buying. This is where they usually get to the true value.
Seller: No, don’t go. Best price. 700
Seller: 400. Take it or leave it.
This is where you say 300 once more before “leaving” again.
Most people are Western tourists who haven’t spent much time in China, so it’s easy to buy something originally priced at 3500 for 1500. That does sound like a pretty amazing deal. It definitely is for the seller. It’s a lot cheaper for them to make it, so they’re getting a pretty good profit margin. Living in China gives you a better idea of how much products should cost.
I ended up buying a Kenneth Cole Reaction carry-on suitcase for 100 Yuan, originally priced at 450. The others with me also got some pretty good deals; a Mulberry carry-on bag went from 1200 to 250, a small black Gucci bag went from 2000 to 200, and a large Louis Vuitton bag from 2500 to 350.
It was a unique experience that was a bit awkward and uncomfortable at first. But it doesn’t take long for it to become fun. At one point, I had a seller throwing a suitcase into the air just for me to see it slam onto the ground with breaking. Where else am I going to see that out of nowhere? For those planning to travel to China, I highly recommend giving the markets a shot.
The Great Wall of China: Mutianyu
If you want to visit the Great Wall of China, your best bet if to travel to Beijing and leave from there. Most of the popular Great Wall sections are outside of the capital, so you need a bus to get them. I’m totally against tours, I don’t care how good they sound, how much, or where they are. But with the Great Wall being outside of Beijing, with it being National Day, and with my poor Chinese language skills, I made an exception and booked a tour with Holiday Inn to the Mutianyu section.
I wish I could say the tour was great, but it wasn’t. There were other stops such as the Silk and Jade factory, both spent with people trying to get you to buy over-priced things you don’t really need. There was also a time limit at the wall, which kind of sucked. I don’t like time constraints when traveling. But the tour got us there eventually, so I can’t complain.
The Great Wall of China was even more amazing than imagined. Everybody said there would be a ton of people there, making it near impossible to move around. But it wasn’t that bad at all, especially when compared to other popular sections.
Upon entering, we could turn either left or right. First, we went right. If you’re visiting the Great Wall anytime soon, be prepared for some major walking. Actually, walking isn’t the right word. The steps are steep, so steep in some spots that you’re practically climbing. But it’s all a part of the adventure and was definitely worth it. Once we could climb no longer due to exhaustion, we just turned around and explored the other side, which was a lot more flat. Surprisingly enough, fewer people were there.
The views are absolutely amazing, and every few seconds, you just can’t help but think about the long history you’re standing on. You can’t help but imagine the hike workers made to build the wall. And you can’t help but think about the workers who were buried inside the wall after dying. It’s not hard to see why the Great Wall of China is a major world wonder. It is, and it will always be.
It’s an amazing city with a completely different feel compared to other cities I have visited. There’s a lot of cool things to see, and it’s the easier access point to the Great Wall. But I caught myself imagining what it would be like to live there. I can travel to Beijing, but I couldn’t live there because of the pollution.
Read more about the Great Wall of China here!