Food Poisoning and The Great Wall of China – Don’t Forget the Panda Hats

Note to self: Getting food poisoning 24 hours prior to hiking over three miles on the Great Wall of China is not a good idea. Not good at all. Did I make it? Find out now.

April 16, 2010

Remember that street food I ate at the Qianmen Hutong?

So innocent looking. Yet it made me so violently ill.

So innocent looking. Yet it made me so violently ill.

It poisoned me. At 2:30 AM I was in the bathroom losing dinner. Luckily (if anything about food poisoning can be lucky), I only threw up once, but I was in no shape to tackle the Great Wall in just a few short hours. Thank the Lord; my friends (and the bus driver to the Great Wall) were so understanding. Through the help of the girl at the front desk, I was able to communicate to him that I was very sick and would like to reschedule the Great Wall for the next morning, and he easily agreed.  I felt so lucky – there was no way on Earth I was going to come so close to the Great Wall of China only to miss out. Saturday, I slept almost the entire day, ate a few pieces of bread and tried to drink water and get rehydrated. I also cried on the phone to my mom for a few minutes burning through the SIM card I’d purchased to be able to call in China in case of an emergency. Not fun, but necessary, and I felt so poorly anyway it didn’t matter much to me what happened so long as I could continue to lay in bed.

Sunday I woke up feeling much better (although still very weak), and unbelievably managed to dress, take the three-hour ride to the Great Wall, and through some miracle, hike 3.5 hours and 10 km of the most difficult part of the Great Wall – Jinshanling to Simatai with my girlfriends.

Proud moment atop the Great Wall. If you'd told me a year prior I'd be there at 21, I'd have laughed out loud.

Proud moment atop the Great Wall. If you’d told me a year prior I’d be there at 21, I’d have laughed out loud.

Don’t ask me how I powered through all the steps, crumbly bits and people on the wall hawking “water, Coke and beer” after having food poisoning the day before and virtually nothing to eat, but I did. I can tell you, by the end, all four of us were huffing, puffing, sweating (it turned out to be the warmest day of all our days in Beijing), covered in Great Wall dust and at some points melodramatically claiming we were going to die (mostly Jen being a drama queen – “Tell my parents I died attempting the Great Wall!”) but we made it. The icing on the cake? The prize at the finish line? A zip line across from the spot where we exited the Great Wall down to the bus pick-up point. SWEET! Those ten seconds made the past few hours of hiking so worth it.

It looks like the Great Wall goes on forever and ever in this shot. It seemed like it too during our hike.

It looks like the Great Wall goes on forever and ever in this shot. It seemed like it too during our hike.

The prize at the end of the Great Wall - the zipline! A sweet sight for sore feet.

The prize at the end of the Great Wall – the zip line! A sweet sight for sore feet.

When we returned to the city from our trip, showered and generally felt human again, we went out to the famous Quanjude Peking Duck restaurant and celebrated with another traditional Beijing dish – Peking duck!  This was duck done right; the chef actually wheeled a cart next to our table and carved the duck up table side, gave us a card certifying our duck (yes, this was truly a real, live duck at one point in time), and a waitress showed us how to properly fold the duck into the thin pancakes served alongside. I know everyone raves about it, but I really wasn’t that impressed with the Peking duck; yes it was tasty, but one dinner of it was enough for me.

The chef slicing up our official Peking duck, tableside.

The chef slicing up our official Peking duck, table side.

Finally, we checked out the much hyped “Night Food Market” just a few blocks from the restaurant, and I swear to you Chinese people eat the weirdest things! Here are some of the odder things I saw for consumption (this is a short list, by the way): starfish, grasshoppers, cicadas, sharks, eels, animal genitals, scorpions and other things I couldn’t even come close to identifying. I stayed away from the majority of it, in case you were wondering.

Monday was our last day in Beijing before taking an eleven-hour, overnight sleeper train to Shanghai that evening. To start the day, we headed to the Drum and Bell Tower and saw a drum performance in the drum tower which was very good. Very talented performers all of them.

The impressive drum performance in Beijing's Drum and Bell Tower.

The impressive drum performance in Beijing’s Drum and Bell Tower.

Then, we stumbled into the Mao’er Hutong which is a very touristy, famous hutong with lots of cute shops, good souvenir hunting, and tourists. So many people everywhere (welcome to China).  We ended up going back to the Niu Ge dumpling place for lunch again (I told you those dumplings were addictive!) and then we went to the Temple of Heaven Park, which was kind of anticlimactic because nothing was really blooming yet (it was still early April and cold out), and aside from the temple itself, there was nothing to see.  Ah well – it wasted another hour and a half before we went back to our hostel, grabbed our bags, took the subway over the Southern Beijing Train Station, ate McDonald’s for dinner (there really was nothing else, I promise you or else I would have abstained) and got on the train for the ride to Shanghai.

The famous Temple of Heaven. Very pretty, no?

The famous Temple of Heaven. Very pretty, no?

Since we bought the more expensive “soft sleeper” train tickets we actually had our own private four person bedroom on the train with two upper and lower bunks – it was like a cramped little sleepover and not a bad ride at all, as long as you weren’t too claustrophobic.  Overall though, it was really nice to have the privacy – the “hard sleepers” were bunks stacked three high and open to the rest of the train car except for a flimsy curtain separating you and the rest of the world (I’d be deathly afraid of my luggage being stolen while I dozed there). This by itself made China a little more bearable.

Just wait until we got to Shanghai. The only teasers I’ll give as to what’s to come is that our bouts with illnesses in foreign countries were only just beginning, and that the French croissants were shockingly good.

Pick a stick, any stick!

Pick a stick, any stick!

The beautiful presentation of the Peking duck at our table at Quanjude.

The beautiful presentation of the Peking duck at our table at Quanjude.

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