After my semester ended, my sister Sophie came to visit me in China! We started off in Beijing before going southwest to Chengdu, Sichuan, and later going even further west to Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture for some trekking (in a separate post). After our more adventurous experience, we ended with a few days back in Beijing, and flew home together from there. It was Sophie’s first time in China, and I was so excited to see her after so long and to show her around!
Beginning in Beijing
The first night, I picked Sophie up from the airport, showed her my apartment, and took her to one of my favorite bars in Wudaokou for a relaxing beginning to our travels together.
Early the next morning, we set off on my scooter, stopped at PKU for a quick tour and coffee from the best spot on campus, then drove to my friend’s apartment where I left my scooter for its next owner. I was sad to leave my beloved scooter, but glad Sophie at least got it experience it once before I sold it. From there, we took the metro to Tiananmen Square, took a look around, and went to visit the Forbidden City with a few of my friends from PKU. We all walked around together, but it was insanely hot and crowded, so our tour was pretty short. Next, we walked to Jingshan Park for some views, and had a very Beijing lunch of zhajiang noodles, guotie, etc. near Shichahai. In the afternoon, we quickly saw the Drum & Bell Towers, then perused the hutongs – first shopping in Nanluoguxiang, then getting a drink Great Leap Brewery. For dinner, we had Beijing duck at Quanjude in Houhai. We were both exhausted after a long, hot day.
Our second day in Beijing, we set out early to go to a section of the Great Wall at Gubeikou called the Coiled Dragon, or “Panlong” (蟠龙). We made our way there via so many public buses, setting off from Dongzhimen towards Miyun, and then onwards towards Gubeikou, which was a very small and quaint little town, full of countryside charm. We walked by fields of flowers, farmers, small houses, and guard dogs before we finally arrived at the Wall. After walking up a bunch of stairs, we made it to the top, where a lone guard chilling in one of the forts checked our ticket and showed us the best photo op’s. We set off walking along unrestored sections with incredible views of mountains & lush greenery below. It was probably my favorite trip to the Wall, and all the effort to go out there was so worth it, since we had the entire place to ourselves. Eventually, we heard thunder, and it started to rain, so we raced back down the Wall and back to the town, getting caught in a classic summer downpour. We tried waiting for the bus back to Miyun, but a guy came & offered to drive us in his shared van (fairly common in China, not as sketchy as it seems, and worth it if you can negotiate a fair price), so we went with him, shaved an hour off our trip, and caught the bus from Miyun back to Beijing. Back in Wudaokou, we had Korean BBQ for dinner, then passed out at home.
The next morning, we slept in a bit, then got matcha ice cream and the famous Qingfeng 庆丰 dumplings for lunch, which Sophie loved. Then we took a Didi to the 798 Art District and browsed a new exhibit at the Hyundai Motorstudio on environments & mobility, which I found super interesting. We also met up with one of my good friends, explored some more, got coffee, and eventually all went to Sanlitun for dinner at Bottega in Nali Patio. A few more of my friends from PKU came too, and I felt so happy to have everyone together one last time and for Sophie to meet them all. From there, we all went for drinks at La Social, then to V+ to chill & watch the France-Uruguay World Cup game. It was a long night, and when we finally got home, Sophie & I still had to pack up all our stuff for our train to Chengdu in the morning!
After rushing to the catch the train in the morning, we got onboard our sleeper train to Chengdu, which Sophie found to be a very interesting cultural experience. Leaving Beijing for our 3 weeks of traveling around China, I felt a little sad knowing my exchange experience was really over, and all my friends would be leaving before I got back. The next morning, we arrived in Chengdu, and made our way to Lazybones Hostel.
After refreshing ourselves, we went out to “the Wide & Narrow Alleys” (Kuanzhai Xiangzi), despite the rain, to explore the shops. Then, we decided to go for a stroll around People’s Park. It was a lot less active than when I visited in the winter, but we still saw lots of people sitting around and playing mahjong. It was incredibly green & lush, and we sat at Heming Teahouse for some yummy maofeng green tea under the cover of the pavilions. Still one of my favorite things to do – just observing lots of people playing games and socializing. For dinner, we ate hotpot near our hostel, which was so yummy but extremely spicy!!!
The next day, we went to the nearby city of Leshan to see the famous Giant Buddha. We visited the temple and pagoda at the top of the mountain, walked down to the feet of the huge Buddha statue alongside a raging river, and climbed back up top, looking at some of the caves that the monks lived in back in the day. All of Sichuan seems so lush visiting it now in the summer.
Back in Chengdu, we went to the Giant Panda Breeding Base. The morning at the base was hot & humid (like most days in Chengdu), and there were so many mosquitos. I didn’t see as many pandas as before, but the ones we did see were so cute! We also watched a video about the pandas (and were so moved we cried), and bought hilarious matching panda headbands. We also went to the Wenshu Monastery to look around, and saw some monks chanting and some people doing a procession around the temple and singing, which was very interesting. We then sat at the teahouse there for a while, which is always nice & relaxing. Later, we went to Jinli Old Street, which was packed with people. We tried some local snacks, and walked through some of the Wuhou area too. Finally, we prepared ourselves for our journey west of Chengdu — to the Tibetan grasslands! The next day, we took the bus from Xinnanmen to Kangding, and entered a whole new world.
(fast forward) back to Beijing!
We took another sleeper train from Chengdu to Beijing, this time chatting with so many of our elderly neighbors, who were very interested in us — perhaps because they had been drinking baijiu the whole time!
We had a few days to just chill in Beijing before we flew back to the States. I had a bunch of errands and packing to do, and we were both extremely exhausted from our travels, so we took it easy. We did some shopping & eating in Zhongguancun, visited the Temple of Heaven on a beautifully clear day, went shopping in a fake market in Liudaokou, where we also got our nails done, and I showed Sophie the Beijing nightlife of the Sanlitun clubs. Sophie also got to experience the convenience of “waimai” (delivery) services in Beijing, and was very impressed. A small glimpse into my China-daily-life.
Being back in Beijing, with the hot, sticky, and polluted weather and no friends left, I felt like the time had come for me to leave China, and I felt anxious to leave. (full reflection on leaving China in a separate post — in the moment, I just wanted to be on my way!) Surprisingly, all my stuff fit into the luggage Sophie & I collectively planned to check, and finally, we took our last Didi to the airport, and departed Beijing to Seoul, and on to New York. It was so much fun having Sophie in China and getting to share such a unique experience with her, one that I’m sure we will look back on and laugh about for years to come. So much quality sister bonding!