I had heard some pretty scary things about traveling in China: that it was just a really difficult country, that Westerners were stared at relentlessly, that the pollution is enough to literally knock you down.
Despite all that, I made a last-minute decision to skip exploring more of Laos in favor of heading north to Beijing, where I could crash with family for a week. A decision made partly out of loneliness and partly out of the attitude of, “Well, if I don’t go to China now, I’m never going,” turned out to be one of the best choices I’ve made on this trip.
Simply put, China was awesome. I had spent the past five weeks traveling solo – which, in Southeast Asia, is easy to do and there are plenty of people to talk to, but the simple act of having to navigate new cities and figure out places to eat and sort out sleeping arrangements is really exhausting. By this point, I had done it in five different cities in two countries.
By contrast, I think I had the easiest tourist trip to Beijing that anyone has ever had. I stayed in a beautiful, huge apartment with my cousin and his wife and finally experienced a bed that wasn’t Asia-style rock hard. I mean, the floors in the apartment were even heated! AND since they have a DPO box they can get deliveries from Amazon for all their non-perishables – hello, Crispix. Allow me to eat this entire box over the next week.
|I even got a welcome gift bag! Chateau Pierson is so classy.|
Besides experiencing the comforts of home, I just had a deliciously easy and relaxed week. I didn’t have to make a single restaurant choice, and when I did go out to eat, it was with two people who speak Mandarin. More than that, I got to do exquisitely normal things – after more than a month of every day being exciting but challenging, this was incredible. I went grocery shopping with my cousin (and got to watch him charm the fruit ladies with his Mandarin and as a result get tons of free fruit to munch while we shopped). We went out with his friends and played trivia over pizza and beer. I lazily watched a bunch of (totally legal) movies. And did I mention the heated floors?
And yes – the weather was cold and the pollution pretty terrible, at least for the first few days. My second full day there, the day started at about 520 (the scale to measure Air Quality only goes up to 500, by the way). That afternoon was a bit more clear but SO windy that I think I saw a woman on a bicycle flying by. But the bonus of that wind? It shoved all the pollution out, giving us some gorgeous blue sky days right as the weather warmed up to the 60s.
I managed to do some touristy things, namely the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and the Temple of Heaven. But besides that, I just took it supremely easy, indulging in Reese’s Cups, trips to their gym, and a Chinese massage that literally involved hammers (much to my surprise).
It was with reluctance that I left such a comfortable environment. But it was time to head south so I could continue with the final leg of my trip – Pops and Daughter McCarthy take on Cambodia and Vietnam!