When we first arrived in Beijing in the summer we thought visiting the Forbidden City on a Sunday would be a great idea. Nothing could have prepared us for what would happen next. We were bombarded with people wanting to touch our cute blond daughter, take pictures with her, or just plainly stare at her. We turned into the attraction at the Forbidden City. The experience was very surreal for our family. I thought nobody would notice us in China among all the tourists – well, we were wrong. At some points we had to ask people to let us through, and I could not find my husband and daughter because so many people gathered around him and our blonde daughter.
After the summer we settled into “normal” life in Beijing and have been avoiding big tourist attractions since then. My wish for my birthday was to visit the Great Wall of China, I wanted to make plans to have a trip with a tour guide. I asked around in the great WeChat groups and one name that always pops up is Tom Dong. I have been following him for several months and he seemed to be taking lots of people up to the Wall.
We met Dong at 7am to go see the Wall. I had prepared our toddler but frankly, she was not impressed. “A wall?” she asked me. “Will it be purple?” Dong picked us up at our home and we drove off with no traffic in sight; his car is clean and he soon started talking about the history of the Wall. His English is very good and he even cracked a few jokes. Although I found the history of the wall interesting I wanted to know more about Dong.
Dong is a self made man; with no money to go to school to learn English, he got a English text book and tried to teach himself. When this proved hard, he started working in a restaurant next to International School of Beijing (ISB) and started to practice his language skills on teachers and patrons. He worked for over 10 years in the hospitality industry, and got fluent in English. Guests of the restaurant started asking him to take them around to show Beijing. Dong did so in his free time and started a business. Today he has been working as a tour guide for almost 20 years and has climbed the wall over 900 times.
Dong drove us to the Mutianyu Great Wall and took us on the lift. We were the first ones up the Wall for the day. Dong knows all the guards and bought us our tickets, making the journey very relaxing for our family. He took our pictures on the Wall and let us explore the Wall with our family, giving us time to enjoy this magical experience. Taking the slide down was most likely the best part for our four year old and after we got back to the car, Dong took us to a proper Chinese restaurant where we shared lunch together. My daughter is still impressed by our trip to the Great Wall, sarcastically as a four year old can be pointing out walls around us in daily life: “Look mommy, a wall, you like walls!” At least it made a impression.
Dong drives safe and charges very reasonable prices for driving and guiding tourists to the Great Wall and other tourist attractions in Beijing. When friends or family visit we will gladly leave them in his hands.
Tourguide Mister Dong WeChat: Tom105780102
Pauline van Hasselt has been working for beijingkids since October 2016. Born in Wassenaar, The Netherlands, she moved with her husband and her 3 year-old daughter to Beijing in June of last year. Prior she lived in the Netherlands, Belgium, Paraguay, Texas, and London, studying and working as a chef. Pauline enjoys biking around Beijing, finding markets and new restaurants, reading crime and fantasy books in bed, and most importantly, turning her house into a home for her family.
Picture Credits: Pauline van Hasselt and Tom Dong