- Hassan Mustefa, University of Colorado, Denver
"Beijing, China. The Adventures of a Lost Boy."
Beijing is a fascinating city filled with lots of rich culture and history. I was experiencing a world unlike any other and through all of my fears I was able to explore a country that was unknown to me. The trip opened my mind yet humbled me.
When we first arrived in Beijing the language barrier proved it was going to be a huge challenge. Luckily my friend and I had brought a book along with us that would eventually guide us through the captivating streets of Beijing. Rather then making the trip easy and simply taking a taxi, we wanted to adventure off and get around using the city’s metro system. As we tried to find someone who spoke English and could put us in the right direction of the Metro, we struggled as the only words in Mandarin that we knew were “Ni Hao,” “Xièxiè,” and “Chongwenmen.” The first two meaning “Hello” and “Thank you," and the last word being the name of our train station we needed to get to. This moment reminded me of my parents and how they ventured into the United States. They knew little to none English when they first arrived and, like my parents, we only had each other. It took us about two hours to find our Airbnb but eventually we had found it by train and by foot.
Our first day we learned how efficient the metro is within Beijing. Almost anywhere you wanted to go within the city there was a train that could you get to your destination and do it quickly. Social media and Google were both blocked in China; therefore, we had no choice but to find our way by a map through the city. As we were puzzled as to where we were, we managed to get around. We spent the morning of our first day searching for a bank that would exchange our currency. And, we enjoyed our first meal. We quickly fell in love with beef noodles and aimed to try foods that were foreign to us. For the second half of the day, we ventured to the Forbidden City. It was a beautiful site to see although we didn't manage to get in.. Like Sundays in the US, most places close on Mondays in Beijing; therefore be aware of this if you visit.
For our second day, we woke up early and visited the Temple of Heaven Park. It was a chilly morning. As we wandered, we saw the culture invested within the people. We saw the elderly playing checkers and other Chinese board games. Locals exercised throughout the morning dancing and singing songs. It was a good feeling to not be harassed by street vendors. The temple--which was also a large park--gave us a temporary escape from the hustle and bustle of Beijing. Within the park, there are various places to visit that tell you the story and rituals that used to happen there. I'd highly recommend reading the history as this enhanced the experience. We then made our second attempt at trying to get into the Forbidden City. This time we knew it was open and could tell by the actions of people shuffling to line up and get a ticket to get in. Rather than hiring a tour guide, we took matters into our own hands and followed our guidebook to do a self-guided tour. When exploring the Forbidden City, you must take notice of the small details and read about the history. The endless architecture and wonderland of gardens are what make the city so unique. After some hours of exploring the city, we became tired and went to rest for our next big day--The Great Wall of China.
When we visited the astonishing Great Wall, this is when it really resonated with me that I was on another side of the world. I remember being a small child and learning about the Seven Wonders of the World. It was all just pictures on a computer screen. However, once I saw the view, it all felt so real. The things I dreamed of were finally becoming a reality. We stopped at each watchtower appreciating the beauty in every direction. You saw people of all ages hiking up and down. It reminded me of home with the steepness, and stairs being like the Manitou Incline back in Colorado. We met friendly strangers including some Americans, and others who wanted a picture because they had never met an American before.
For the short time that I was there, I made the most out of exploring the city of Beijing. It is a beautiful city filled with lots of culture and pride. If you are able to travel, do it and do it often, since what you experience will help mold the type of individual you will become.