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A Month in China (Part 1)

I spent almost all of 2014 living in Shanghai, China. My girlfriend (Tali) decided to do a study abroad as part of her master's degree and I decided this would be my last chance to pretend like I'm not an adult so I up and went with her. We promised ourselves that while we were in China we would take full advantage and travel as much as possible. This was harder, but not impossible, to do while she was actively taking classes, but we wanted to take full advantage of the fact that she had the entire summer off. I had been doing some research and decided that Western China would be an amazing place to go. Initially I thought I wanted to go to Tibet (I even found a train that runs from the north, over the mountains and into Tibet that was supposed to be spectacular) but because we were ballin' on a budget and because of the hoops you have to jump through just to be restricted as to where you can go Tibet itself became less appealing.

After doing some research, which is harder than it sounds when you aren't allowed to use Google, I found a website called The Land of Snows that detailed an overland route through what is called the Amdo region on the Tibetan Plateau. About 25% of ethnic Tibetans live in Amdo today meaning there are tons of small towns with traditional Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. Amdo also has beautiful rolling grasslands, rivers, mountains and is home to some of the few remaining nomadic herding populations left in China. Best of all, since it lies outside of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, there is no need for special permits, visas or tour guides.

After reading about the region, and especially seeing photos, I was sold. Tali didn't need any convincing so the plans were set. We would spend about 3 weeks traveling through Amdo (by bus) then we would fly to Xi'an, home of the famous terracotta warriors and near Huashan, one of the Five Great Mountains of China, then we would head back home to Shanghai to take a breath. In this series, I will be going through all the parts of our great journey, sharing stories and photos as I go. However, before we got out west, we had to make a stopover in Beijing, which is what this first post will be about.

The Forbidden City as seen from atop Jingshan Park.

Tali had a friend that had been living in Beijing for a something like 7 years and was about to move back to the States. This was our last chance to go visit so we made it our first stop on our journey. Flying in China isn't so expensive but we had heard so much about the bullet train that we decided this would be our mode of transportation to get from Shanghai to Beijing. It turns out that the bullet train is AWESOME! The seats are comfortable, there is plenty of legroom, the holes in the floor of the bathroom don't show the tracks, I mean what else could you ask for? The trip from Shanghai to Beijing took about 5 hours, which after you factor in that we didn't have to go through security, sit and wait in an airport and then wait for our bags on the other end took about as much time as it would to fly. Also we got to say we went 300+ km/hr.

We were in Beijing for a few days most of which we spent wandering by ourselves, which is exactly what we wanted. Our hotel was near the Forbidden City so we took a walk that direction the night we arrived to check it out. We also braved the heat and crowds the next day and took a self-guided tour with about 200,000 of our closest friends. We ended our first day at Beihai Park.

A group of men fishing in the moat surrounding the Forbidden City

Crowds in one of the courtyards of the Forbidden City

Giant doorstops!

Hey, we had the same idea!

Gateway inside Beihai Park

Roof of a pagoda on the way up to the White Dagoba.

Stairway leading up to the White Dagoba

The White Dagoba at the top of Beihai Park.

The next day we met up with Tali's friends and they took us to Jingshan Park. Beijing is constructed on a central axis and Jingshan Park is a highpoint on that axis. On a clear day you can easily make out the Forbidden City as well as another temple beyond to the south but today we could barely see past the Forbidden City. Later we took a bus up to the drum and bell towers which unfortunately were closed due construction (or the demolition of the hutong neighborhoods surrounding the towers).

Small alley along the streets of Beijing.

They cover the wheels of their cars so that dogs don't pee on them (you can't make this up)

Mops are everywhere in China, I love mops now.

Graffiti on a demolished section of a hutong near the Drum and Bell towers

A demolished hutong.

They next day we said goodbye to Beijing (no Great Wall this time) and hopped on a plane to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province and the starting point for our journey through Amdo.

Until the next time,


Shameless plug: If you liked these photos there are many more just like them on the rest of my website

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