Great Wall, Great Fall (Break)!

Students on the Great Wall of China
Walking along the Great Wall

It’s been 10 years, but I finally returned to the Great Wall. One of my program’s excursions this month was a trip to the Great Wall of China. We piled into two buses and rode up to Mutinayu, one of the most popular Great Wall sites. When I visited the Great Wall in 2009 with my family, we rode the gondolas up to the wall. However, this time, being the real world travelers we are, all of us -around 60 students, all trudged up the wall, toughing it out in the blistering heat. Did we play “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus? Maybe. Okay, definitely, but I really do believe it helped us to keep going! It was extremely worth it too.

Sweaty, dehydrated, but feeling accomplished, we made it to the top of the wall! After some group photos, we were set loose. I trekked all the way to Tower 14. It was exhilarating being up there. The views were spectacular, but what I found to be even more amazing is the fact that I was standing on something so historic, so much bigger than myself. The Wall has a place in history, not only Chinese history, but world history. It is a feat of architecture and prowess and standing on it is indescribable. Things like the Wall, which were built to stand the test of time,  inspire and encourage me and I hope that one day I can make a difference in the world and leave my own legacy.

After walking the wall, checking out the views, and taking majestic photos for our social media, we had two options of descent. One was plain ol’ walking (boring, right?). The other? A HUGE slide, all the way from the top to, you guessed it, the very bottom. It was only $14.00! How could we possibly resist.

View from the Great Wall of mountains and blue sky.
View of the Great Wall from hill top
Sarah and I jumping on the Great Wall of China
Sarah and I on the Great Wall of China
Students walking on the Great Wall of China
The Great Wall snaking along the top of a mountain ridge
CSI group of students at the Great Wall of China
CSI group photo at the Great Wall of China

We have excursions almost every weekend, but the dreaded Monday always has to come again around. Soon enough it was back to the grind: classes, homework, and tests. However, this month, lucky for us, our regular scheduled programming was interrupted, and we were on Fall Break! “Fall” break, but let’s be real, it was still 80 degree weather with no wind. Where I’m from, that’s summer, and a really hot summer at that. Now we were faced with the decision of where to travel?

China is a vast land, offering diverse experiences. All 60 of us students considered very carefully where to plan our travels. Where did we decide on? Shanghai, baby. And not just a few of us. Literally, all of us. We all went…to Shanghai. So we all split off into smaller groups, and planned to meet up together in the big city once we arrived. My group included myself, my friends Sarah, Marilyn and Aili from University of Denver, and my friend Juliana from California. Together, bags packed, sunglasses on, we headed to the (other) big city for a well-deserved break.

We rode the high-speed train called the 高铁 (gaotie) to Shanghai, which only took around 6 hours. China’s high-speed train is so convenient, comfy, and quick that it could give the Eurorail a run for its money. From the train we rode taxis to our hostel. Because we arrived in Shanghai pretty late, we hit the hay and started our Fall Break the next morning with a trip to the famous Bund! Shanghai’s Bund is a beautiful walk by the water, where you can see Shanghai’s famous skyline.

The city really looks as if its from the future. All of the buildings are brilliantly designed with artsy shapes and sizes, and at night they put on the most spectacular night lights. We hit the museum and walked around some more, later taking a nighttime river cruise where we were able to take in all the beautiful scenery.

The skyline of Shanghai from "the Bund."
Shanghai city skyline from “The Bund”
The skyline of Shanghai from "the Bund" at night.
Shanghai city skyline at night

The next day we went on a trip to Jing’an Temple. An active temple right in the heart of Shanghai. It’s very interesting to me the juxtaposition of the very preserved and beautiful traditional temple surrounded by a modern, loud, and bustling city. It’s especially striking because the temple is an active temple, and many people were praying and practicing at the temple, right there in the heart of the city.

Jing'an Temple in Shanghai.
Jing’an Temple
Jing'an Temple and town square in Shanghai.
The public walking into Jing’an Temple
Jing'an Temple with the courtyard in the front and view of Shanghai skyscapers on the horizon.
Jing’an Temple (notice the skyscrapers in the background)

After the temple we headed to the Shanghai Tower with some other friends from the CSI program who were also in Shanghai. A view of the city from the water wasn’t enough; we had to get one from the sky as well. The city looked so vast and alive from the tower, and I recommend the experience to you all!

The final destination of our Shanghai trip was one of the reasons we even chose the city. All five of us knew we wanted to go, even before we booked anything. We were going to… Disneyland! We spent the entire day at the park, arriving when it was opening and leaving well after the fireworks show. It was not very crowded, even though we thought it might be because it was a national holiday. (Golden Week, read more about it in my next blog). But we were lucky and the lines were short, the weather was nice, and we all bought Mickey ears.

Sarah and I jumping in front of Shanghai Disneyland
Sarah and I in front of Disneyland Shanghai
Sarah and I in Disneyland
Sarah and I in front of Disneyland Shanghai

Fall Break had a sort-of US “Spring Break” feel. It was really nice to have a break from class, since it is non-stop, tests every weak and hours of classes every day. I’m not complaining at all though, as my Chinese has improved so much! I have to say, after Shanghai, I am happy to be back in Beijing. Our Shanghai trip was a whirlwind and I had the best time, but I prefer Beijing. Shanghai is a beautiful place full of amazing sights, but it felt a little too much like the United States to me. There are a couple reasons for this. The city (especially compared to Beijing in my opinion), was very international, and even more modern than Beijing. Beijing is the cultural and political capital of China, whereas Shanghai is the economic hub. This means there are tons of businesses and business people from all over the world. It’s much more diverse than even I expected. Fashion, architecture, and infrastructure were all different than our neighborhood in Beijing (Haidian), and it was really compare and contrast the two large cities in China, and how their development as cities differs due to their history.

Friends and I Shanghai
CSI group photo on a bridge, overlooking city
Shanghai Tower view
Shanghai Tower, top floor view.