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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Beijing Diaries, Day 5 and 6: The End of a Wonderful Journey

At Mutianyu, once you come back by cable car to the base you have to walk about 100 meters to get to the parking area. This small pathway is very much like the pavements in Pettah for both sides of it are covered by small stalls where they sell everything from replicas of Great Wall to pictures of Mao to I Climbed The Great Wall T-shirts. I know better than to show even the faintest interest at this kind of a place for a brief glance is enough for them to flock around you, so I was just walking steadily ignoring their pleads for me to buy 'original' replicas of Great Wall and the like. However, though those T-shirts looked pretty cheap the words printed on them tempted me so I just paused in front of one stall and the woman in there practically dragged me inside. This is the conversation that followed.

"Sir, this is very good t-shirt, buy one."

"How much?"

"Original price is 285. But I discount price only for you. 230 sir!"

Now, 230 RMB is about 3500 Yen, 5000 LKR or more than US$ 40. That's way too much for a cheap-ass T-shirts and I instantly realized (though not unexpected) that she's trying to rip me off. I just laughed and took a couple of steps.

"Okay okay sir, hundred!"

If you are a Sri Lankan, or from around South Asia in general, you know what's about to follow, right? I thought I'd have some fun.

"Hundred? Hmm... nope, still too much."

"Fifty then!"


I took a few more steps, and the woman in the next stall calls me.

"Sir come here, it's 20!"

The way things were going I wondered, if I persisted a little more, whether they'll give me the T-shirt for free and maybe some money along with it too. Now that would be me ripping them off, which I didn't fancy, so I left saving them some money. A couple or so minutes later I arrived at the parking are and was faced with the next problem; now I needed to find a ride back to the bus stand so I could take a bus back to Beijing. There were no taxis to be found and most of the vehicles around were either private vehicles or large buses where tourist groups arrived in. Finally I found a guy who was willing to take me back, and the same conversation took place when I and the French couple tried to hire a van to the Mutianyu. But this time, probably because he knew that I was at the mercy of him, he was not willing to bring down the price so easily. We started at 75, I was trying to get it down to 25 at least, but he was not willing to go below 50. There was also the added condition that I would have to wait till he found enough people to fill his van. We were going nowhere - figuratively as well as literally - with this when I heard a loud "Sach!" from behind. Wondering who the hell from around here knows me, I turned back.

It was Homar and Mili, in a car, waving at me fanatically.

I needed no second invitation so I jumped in leaving the dude I was bargaining with to curse at the new driver, the French couple, me and probably our mothers too. Our driver Cheng (or Chzeng? I'm not sure, it sounded like that) with whom we struck a conversation later was only too happy to take all three of us back for 25 RMB each which was a very good price. Especially considering it looked like I was going to have to pay 50 while not knowing when we will leave even. Rest of the trip was much more uneventful as we soon caught a bus back to Beijing and slept most of the way. Finally upon returning to Beijing we said our final goodbyes again before parting. They were such a nice couple and I must say they have brilliant timing.

After that I returned to The Den again, my new home away from home if you will, for a cool beer and a plate of noodles while contemplating what to do with the final night of my stay in Beijing. I was very tired by then so a hot shower and the bed back in my hotel room seemed so inviting and irresistible. The only place I couldn't visit so far was The Bird's Nest and I admit that I even thought it's a damn stadium for god's sake, what's so good about it for a moment. But then again I might not go back there ever again so why leave something to be regretted like that. How am I going to tell my grandchildren that I was in Beijing but skipped seeing probably the biggest stadium in the world because I was tired? No, I was not going to let them mock at me like that so I plucked up all my strength, found a taxi and headed for The Bird's Nest.

Even from a distance you could see how big the stadium was. It wasn't just big, it was huge. I mean HUGE huge, not just huge. So much so that it was a little intimidating if truth be told. It wasn't just about the size though. Stadiums like the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff or MCG in Melbourne are probably equally big if not bigger, but this was so impressive in that it wasn't only a stadium but a work of art as well. There still was daylight when I arrived there so I circled the stadium (which took about an hour) to find a good spot to take a few pictures. I found one which reminded me so much of Galle Face for this was also crowded with families, lovers and just random people who had come there to spend a nice evening. The picture was complete with kids running around playing, flying kites and the like, a lot of street vendors selling all kinds of stuff (no scorpions though) and the general leisurely feeling in the air. A quick inquiry from a guy nearby revealed that they do indeed light up the stadium when it's dark just as I had wished so I settled myself into a corner and started people watching again. Just watching the world go by in front of you while doing nothing is such an obsessive activity (or lack thereof) sometimes that you don't realize how quickly the time pass. Before I knew it about thirty of forty minutes had passed and it was starting to get dark.

Then they lit up the stadium.

Thank god I had decided to come, was my first thought. It was such a spectacular sight that I'm sure I was transfixed for a few minutes. That there, my friends, was a sight I will never forget for the rest of my life. The stadium may have been intimidating during day time but it was absolutely charming at night. It has three main lit up tiers which glow in bright red and yellow. I feel that words are failing me again here - I could use all the words like stunning, breathtaking, brilliant and awe-inspiring but I'm sure they still wouldn't do the justice - so perhaps you should check out these pictures I've taken. It might give you some idea, but just so you know, in reality it was hundred times better a sight. With the general happy and relaxed air around it was a place to be. I would have killed myself if I didn't go though there's no way I could know that this is not a sight to miss until I see it with my own eyes in which case I am there rendering null the need to kill myself. That last sentence didn't probably make any sense but after I started writing it, it looked so cool I got carried away. But I digress. The gist of the matter is that if you're ever in Beijing, DON'T miss this. And make sure you go there when it's dark.

After being amazed at the sight for a while I started my usual routine; setup the tripod and camera then click, click, click. Then I walked some more circling the stadium again to take more pictures from different angles. While doing that I saw there was a very cute and young couple of girls, surely not more than fifteen or sixteen, keenly watching me. We exchanged smiles before me asking whether I could take a photo of them and they were all too happy to pose for me. After a couple of photos I said a quick thank you and started to turn back when one one of the girls said, "how can we get it?" I asked for an email address and noted it down before leaving them thanking again. I mailed them the pics later that night. That was about it for the day so I headed towards the street and spent several unsuccessful minutes trying to find a taxi because several taxis went past me without stopping. I must say that this is a very common scenario in Beijing for so many taxis go passing ignoring their potential customers which doesn't make sense at all. Luckily there was a young Chinese couple next to me watching this and seeing that nobody would stop they offered me the taxi they managed to stop which was a very nice gesture. I asked them whether they're heading the same way I was going (though I had no idea which way I was going) but since it wasn't the case we said goodbye and I arrived at the hotel about half an hour later.

My return trip back home the next day was totally uneventful, except perhaps for the gorgeous evening sky I saw out of the window. I had my breakfast that morning, packed up (thank god I travel light) and paid my bill at the counter which took very little time. The hotel staff was not exceedingly friendly but they were efficient alright which was all I needed. I soon found a taxi and headed for the airport. Since had I arrived a little too early I tried to connect to airport WiFi but thought they said 'Free WiFi', none of them really worked. So I put aside the iPad and turned to my oh so favorite hobby which you must be familiar with by now if you've read the recent few posts. Also airports being places where you see all kinds of people this was just the perfect place for people watching, so I must say I had a good hour there. Cappuccino was really good too despite being ridiculously expensive. Afterwards I got on the plane (Like George Carlin says, why is it 'on' the plane, not 'in' the plane? You don't get 'on' a car do you?) and watched the remainder of Rio which I couldn't watch on my flight to Beijing. Then, as I said earlier, I got to see the most amazing evening sky I've ever seen plus some lightning in distant clouds in a purple sky. That was a sight to remember much like this whole trip was.

All in all it was a trip well worth the every penny (or should I say every yen?) spent especially considering I got to go see The Great Wall of China which was one of my 'dream destinations' if you will. I always loved traveling and this, not surprisingly, made me love it even more. There are so many other places in the world that I want to see and I think I will go see them as much as possible heeding the golden advice Wijitha - a blogger that I admire so much - once gave me:

"Sach, travel the world as much as you can; you'll be poor with rich stories to tell."


  1. "And make sure you go there when it's dark. "
    You mean when it's lit up?

    BTW, did you ever manage to find out why girls wanted to take pics with you? Maybe you should move to China, eh?

  2. Umm... yeah I think the wording is bad. What I wanted to say is when the surrounding is dark, or simply put at night.

    Nah, I couldn't find out why but I am weighing my options as we speak. Will let you know what I will do.

  3. Hi Sach, I must tell you that your travel to Beijing was not only an interesting one for you but also for me through your blog and photo stream. I wish you good luck in your travel aspirations.

  4. Google, thanks a lot for the kind and encouraging words. Hope I can wish you back the same though I know nothing about you except for the fact that you are good at choosing the most unusual of names.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Ha. That wasn't me. That was the real Google!
    I am getting to change the blog signature only now.
    I am Raj from Dublin, I mean from Colombo and living in Dublin and I love photography and writing although I am not even an amateur on both of those.

  7. @RajM
    I know that that Google keeps an eye on me (he does on everyone though) but I'm not too sure if he'd be bothered to comment.

    And nice knowing you mate, hope you enjoy the nonsense I write here.

    Regarding writing and photography, the only thing I can say is do it more. That's the only way you get better.