During my sophomore year in high school, May 2009, roughly 40 students and a few teachers came and spent five weeks in Nebraska. (Sorry for the poor quality of some of the photos. 8 years ago I was just using a point-and-shoot camera, smart phones and the ability to take good photos of yourself or friends didn’t exist yet, and I wasn’t interested in photography. All I can say is thank goodness for Lightroom and especially for the ability to crop photos so I was able to cut out peoples’ noses or arms that I caught in the images.) We had become sister schools with a school in Tianjin, China, and I hosted one of the students for 5 weeks. The following year, in April 2010, we traveled to China on a free 10 day trip. We arrived in Beijing and on the third day traveled to Tianjin where we stayed with families for the following week. During out time in Beijing we got to fully be tourists: seeing the sights, trying the food, and taking hundreds of photos.
We stayed in a hotel with two people to a room. I sat with two of my friends on the flight over, and we were too excited and enthralled by the airplane seats with our own TV screens that we didn’t sleep. After settling at the hotel, we stopped at a restaurant for dinner and went and saw the outside of the Olympic Village. Since our trip, the swimming cube has been converted into an indoor water park. That night was a blur, at that point I hadn’t slept in over 30 hours, and was running on about 2 hours of sleep.
China was my first international trip without my parents. Previously, I had visited Mexico a few times. The culture shock was so much stronger, as in Mexico I know Spanish and we tend to stay in resorts to have a relaxing vacation instead of throwing ourselves into busy cities or remote locations. I loved seeing the different architecture, artwork, and hearing the language.
We went to the Great Wall our first full day. On the way, we passed an abandoned Disneyland inspired amusement park, and it was incredibly eerie to see the half completed castle. I’ve read that it was torn down in 2013, with plans for a supermarket. I have no idea what part of the Great Wall we visited, although I’m guessing it’s the Badaling Pass. (If anyone can tell from the photos or passing the abandoned amusement park, please let me know!) Seeing the Great Wall is indescribable. Even though we were packed like sardines and people were everywhere, the magic wasn’t lost. Plus, we had the advantage of people watching and laughing at those who were trying to climb the wall in stiletto shoes (don’t).
You could look out and see the wall continuing over the mountains, spreading out like vines. The wall isn’t a single wall. It splits off in sections, and goes in multiple directions, which I imagine is more useful as enforcement. The section of the wall we climbed (and it really was climbing) changed between incredibly uneven steps and flat, steep, ramps. We stopped for a photo near the beginning and I almost fell because I wasn’t expecting the incline.
After the Great Wall, we returned to the Olympic center, and toured the inside of the Bird’s Nest, the main stadium for the 2008 Olympic Games. At the time I was convinced this was the closest I would ever be to the Olympics. (If you’ve read my Rio posts, you know this isn’t true!) The size and scope of the building was astonishing.