During the spring of 2017 my friend Justin asked me if I wanted to go to Beijing for eight weeks. I was a little confused at first, but he explained that his uncle needed some interns at an international boarding school in Beijing. They were having a summer camp and needed some teaching assistants. Since the trip was mostly paid for, there wasn't a reason for me to say no. The internship itself wasn't great, but I was able to escape the campus for a couple days that led to some pretty wild moments. This trip means a lot to me, not only because of the trip itself, but the fact that it was the turning point where I decided I wanted to make photography and videography more than just a hobby.
The first part of this story isn't much of a story, more of me just being a completely clueless 16 year old foreigner in Beijing. A couple weeks after settling into the internship, I decided to go out for a walk to take some pictures. I told Justin, "if I'm not back in a hour and a half, call me" not realizing that I'm in a foreign country and that my data doesn't work. As I'm walking around, I notice this one building that is way taller than the rest. I decide to start walking towards it, hoping I could see it up close. I don't know if my depth perception was completely off or something, but that building was probably 30 miles or so away. So an hour later, I'm completely lost standing next to this giant shopping mall in Beijing.
After that I decided that I should probably just text Justin. I think the rates were like 50 cents a text, so my first text was a long text explaining what happened, where I was, and that he should respond in one long text so that I wouldn't get charged for multiple messages. He responded to that with four short texts that included messages like "bro what". After some more explaining, he eventually got a hold of the lady who was supposed to be taking care of us, and she told me to take a cab back to the school, so I took her advice.
I stood on the side of the road with my hand out to catch a cab, and was consistently rejected because I couldn't speak Chinese. Eventually one cab driver spoke a little english and we had a quick conversation through google translate. After I got into the cab, I showed him the address to the school. Turns out in Beijing, there are both english and Chinese addresses. I only had the english address and he had no idea what it meant so he had to look that up as well. After a 40 minute drive and an expensive cab fare I had finally made it back to the campus.
A couple weeks later after learning how the subways worked in Beijing, Justin and I decided to go out and explore the city a little bit. We ended up making it onto our first rooftop there after making our way through a dust filled attic. The building was only 20 stories or so, but it had a great view of the building that got me lost.
We hung out on the roof for a little while, just talking and taking in the views of the city. I was pretty stoked to be up there since I had been looking forward to hit a roof since I decided to go on the trip.
A couple more weeks passed by and I decided to hit up a photographer named Christy through Instagram. We met up a couple days later and boy was this one of the craziest days of my life. She immediately took me to this roof that overlooked the Beijing skyline. After spending some time there, she told me we were going to meet up with her friend Donald so off we went.
After meeting up with Donald, we hit another building that ended up having some really unique architecture inside. After taking some pictures inside the building, we made our way onto the roof. At this point it was about mid-day so it was a little difficult shooting photos, but we ended up hanging out there for about an hour. Right before we were about to leave, I decided I wanted to climb this little pole that had a ladder. I got to the top of the ladder and Donald was able to snag a nice picture of me before the pole started swinging too much.
After getting some lunch, Christy took me and Donald to the "Phoenix Nest", the coolest office building I've ever seen. The outside of the building basically looks like a giant donut with these wavy beams wrapping around the whole thing. The building was closed so we had to sneak in. We spotted a few guards outside the building so we went through this side door that Christy knew about and made our way into the building. My jaw just kind of dropped when we got inside. I can't quite put into words how crazy the design and architecture of this building is. Anyways, we walked around this massive futuristic building taking every photo we could. I really wish I would've gotten some better angles of this building, but I didn't know much about composition at that point so I can't complain. After about an hour, Donald had to go, so Christy and I decided to go to another roof for sunset.
This is where the story gets pretty funny. We're on the rooftop for sunset. Christy had been there before so she was posted up enjoying golden hour. I was walking around and realized we weren't exactly on the top of the building. I asked Christy how we could get up to the top but she told me no one had ever been to the top. I realized there was three levels to the roof, and we were on the lowest part. I decided that I was gonna climb up the side of the wall to get onto the second level of the roof, hoping it would get me to the third level. Christy went back into the building to try and find a way up. So there I am alone climbing up this glass wall that had these little dusty ledges I was using to climb up. I made it up to the second level, took some photos, then looked for a way onto the third level. I couldn't find a way so I climbed back down the sketchy wall. I got back down to the first level of the roof and wasn't quite sure what to do. The sun hadn't set yet and Christy wasn't back so I thought maybe she had made it to the top. The thing is, the side where the glass wall goes all the way to the top is accompanied by a thin walkway, so if I had fallen off on that side, I could've literally fallen off the side of the building down 60 stories. I was 16 years old, so there wasn't much of a thought process to it, I just kind of unlocked my inner Spider-Man and did it. After getting to the top, there was no Christy, not much of a roof, just beams that ran across the roof. After spending maybe 2 minutes up there I decided to climb back down, being greeted by a security guard once I got to the main roof level. He took me down to his office which was a connected building next to the building I was just in. As we were outside walking to his office, we walked by a group of women that were pointing at me and the top of the building, so I guess I got snitched on. Anyways, the security guard tried yelling at me in Chinese and I just kept telling him I only spoke english and he eventually started laughing and let me go. At this point, I'm a little shook but I head back into the lobby of the building to get some wifi and there Christy is eating a pastry. She told me she couldn't find me so that's how that ended.
This is a terrible photo but it's the only picture I have of all three levels to the roof.
This is a video of the wall I climbed up to get to the second level.
After Christy and I talk about what just happened, she told me she wanted to take me to one more building. We get to the building and I'm just kind of looking at it in confusion. The building literally looks like a giant spaceship, but no it's just another office building. She knew a specific office that was vacant so we climbed through the window and walked along the beams of this spaceship. We were only able to spend a couple minutes there since people were still working, but it was definitely a good stop. As we're leaving the building and getting ready to say our good byes, we both look across the street and see a construction site with two cranes.
After a quick discussion, we decided to send it. We climbed over a ten foot gate and made our way into the site. As we were walking towards the stairs, we noticed there was still some workers. As we noticed this, one looked right at us. Naturally, we both froze like statues. It was dark and the worker was about 50 yards away. We stared at each other for about 30 seconds until he continued to walk away. We made a run for the stairs and eventually made our way up to the crane. This was my first crane so my adrenaline was really pumping. We quickly climbed up the crane and made it to the top, overlooking the building we were just at, and the nighttime Beijing skyline: a perfect ending to a perfect day.