I was fortunate enough to be able to go to China on a business trip in the fall of 2008. I say fortunate now but I have to say that I was pretty apprehensive about going. How was I going to manage with the language, the food, or the culture? I knew I was going to be accompanied by some local business colleagues for part of my trip but I was also going to be on my own for a while.

It turns out, I had absolutely nothing to worry about. Well, mostly….

I had a busy week, working both in Beijing and Guangzhou. Fortunately, I finished up work on a Thursday and wasn’t leaving until Sunday afternoon so had two and a half days to explore. Friday was spent visiting Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven. Everything was absolutely amazing, the architecture, the colours and the sheer size of everything. I have to say that when I first saw Tiananmen Square, I thought “Wow, that’s BIG!” The same thing was going through my head when I kept walking and walking and walking through the Forbidden City. It is amazing to see but be prepared to spend quite a while there (and wear comfy shoes). The smaller Temple of Heaven is beautiful also, being set in amongst a lovely green space.

A friend of mine worked in Beijing during the Olympics and she kindly put me in touch with friends of hers who worked at the Canadian Embassy. I spent that evening with my new Canadian friends eating the most delicious Schezuan food I’ve ever had. Oh…and the hottest… the sides of my tongue were numb by the end of the meal.


No trip to China would be complete without a trip to the Great Wall. My friend recommended I go to a less popular, more rustic (not restored) but absolutely spectacular section of the Great Wall called Simatai. I was lucky enough to find tour company that went there and piled in with nine Chinese tour mates for the drive.

Fortunately, two of the women in the group spoke a bit of English. They helped me out and ended up being my saving grace that day. The drive was harrowing as drivers were using the two lane highway as a four lane by using the shoulder as a lane. People pass going around curves and more than once I feared for my life as we stared down a big truck!

Luckily, we arrived safe and mostly sound. My new friends helped buy my ticket for the wall and we headed off for the first leg of the trip. It was then that I realized that we were to board a small, open, two person gondola. I held on tight as we went up; the creaking and groaning of the cableway was a little unsettling.

Once at the top it was a short 20 minute walk found to the top. The views took my breath away as I marveled at this feat of engineering more than 2000 years old.

My new friends and I spent the next few hours exploring. I didn’t spend my whole time with them as I didn’t want to impose on them too much but we did take each other’s photos. I hadn’t thought to bring food with me either so ended up having to buy a package of Ritz crackers from a little refreshment table. The wind picked up significantly while we were up there so, with steep stairs and no guardrails, I definitely had to watch my step. I’m known to be a bit clumsy so was missing having someone or something to hold on to sometimes!

The wind made for an interesting change of plans.

We realized it was time to head down to meet the van to return to Beijing but tlearned that the gondola was shut down due to the wind. Plan B, hike back down… quickly. I had no idea where to go so I followed my friends. We went down what seemed like endless amounts of stairs. It must be noted here that these stairs were built for small Asian feet not large size 9 feet in Doc Martens like mine. I almost got vertigo going down as I had to keep watching my feet.

All of a sudden, we stopped. They spoke to a guy…I was handing over money…getting a ticket (which I didn’t look at and shoved in my pocket)…and walking down a small spiral staircase. There I discovered how we were going to get back to the van in time. We were going to be ziplining over a large body of water!

Going on a zipline was on my ‘to do’ list but I didn’t think was going to be doing it in order to descend from the Great Wall. All I can say is WOW, what a rush! I was absolutely giddy. Words cannot describe the feeling and alas, I have no photos either (in to much of a panic to get down in time for the van as well as tucking things into my jacket so they wouldn’t fall out!). I did find photos and video to get an idea of the extent of it.

People often ask if I had a helmet. My response “Helmet? No helmet…what I really needed was a lifejacket”. We made it back to the van in time and back to Beijing. I was so thankful that those two women had befriended me. They were my saving grace! A note on this adventure – I discovered, sadly, this section of the Great Wall is closed indefinitely.

That evening was spent relaying my adventures to my friends and a bunch other Canadians, over another absolutely amazing meal (where I discovered the only way I will eat eggplant is if it is breaded and deep fried).

I absolutely loved China and would definitely go back but would want someone who spoke the language with me.

My words of wisdom for China?

  • Take cabs (they are cheap, I usually hate cabs but loved them in Beijing)
  • Take the Beijing subway (it’s cheap and clean)
  • Take a travel guide with you that has Chinese characters in it (so you can point to it when you are taking a cab to tourist spot of choice)
  • Get your hotel to give you their business card (again, for the cab driver)
  • Be prepared for squat toilets (carry tissues with you)
  • Don’t sit in the front of a tour van or bus (makes the drive that much scarier)
  • Go to the Great Wall (any section you can),
  • Try all the different kinds of delicious mushrooms (I was in heaven!)
  • Don’t be afraid to try any of the food (you’ll rarely be disappointed… I hope).

See my Flickr Set for more photos of China.