One of the perks of living in China is the fact that it’s a large country with lots of places to explore. And a perk of working at an international school is the fact that you can always find someone to travel with. This summer, a coworker (Joscelyn) and her sister (Jenn) invited me to join them as they travelled within Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai (well, Shanghai was my request).
We left on June 13th, early in the morning. Everything was pretty routine and smooth…until we were an hour away from Beijing. The pilot came on to let us know that he decided to divert our plane to Shenyang due to weather. Now, in America, it would have been easy to communicate with the ground workers and try to figure out an alternative or what to do. In China where Chinese is the primary language? Not so much. We didn’t even know where Shenyang was in relation to Beijing (thankfully our friend, Elaine, was a WeChat away). Luckily, we met a student who attends school in Beijing. Shirley helped us navigate our options: wait at the airport, go to a hotel and hang out until we hear from the airline, or take the high-speed train to complete our journey. All four of us decided to go with the hotel choice. But as we were waiting outside, along with most of the other passengers, the airport for the bus (paid for by the airline) to pick us up, we were told to return to the terminal. So, we all turned around and went back through security with handwritten tickets. Soon, we were back on the plane and headed for Beijing, finally arriving two or three hours later than originally planned. Of course, once we arrived, we still had at least an hour drive from the airport to our hotel, Novotel Xin Qiao. We ate a nice dinner at the hotel’s buffet before calling it an early night since our pick up time for the tour was at 7:15 the next morning.
Justin, our tour guide from Beijing Landscapes, was right on time, meeting us in our lobby. He showed us to the comfortable van waiting outside for us. We got familiar with Beijing traffic while we picked up four more passengers (one young student from Great Britain, an older woman, two men from the Middle East—not together though).
Our first stop was a jade factory. Now, before starting this trip, I told myself to watch the budget and not fall for any traps—you know the ones…the stores that are obligatory for any tour that sell things from the region you’re in. Well, I didn’t listen. At the jade factory, we learned there is actually a variety of colors jade comes in (I thought the only color was green). It’s also a hard stone. Green jade is the only color that changes over time, getting darker as it ages. Shared with us was also the fact that jade pendants or bracelets are passed down from generation to generation; I thought this was a beautiful tradition within the Chinese culture so I bought a bracelet—now, whether or not this is a true tradition or a sales tactic, I don’t know, but I chose to believe the tradition.
Next, we piled back into the van for a ride to Ming’s Tomb, an underground tomb form the Ming Dynasty. Now, if you’ve read my previous entries, you should know I’m not one for remembering the history behind things so please don’t ask me details surrounding this tomb. The tomb is underground, surrounded by cool marble. Once you enter the marble rooms and hallways, the temperature immediately drops 15 degrees. Unfortunately, a lot of the original artifacts were destroyed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the late 1960’s. Outside of the tomb, Joscelyn, Jenn and I asked Justin to take a photo of us…he did, as well as the man from Pakistan (who we did not know at all)…it was a bit weird.
One of the must see items on anyone’s list when going to China is the Great Wall. At one point in history, the Great Wall was one long brick fence, for lack of a better word. Now, only some sections of it are intact. Some parts are more touristy while some are not. Luckily, we were taken to the Mutianyu section of the wall, one of the less tourist-filled areas of the Wall, but is also known as one of the most well preserved sections. We were dropped off, ate some lunch, and then walked up the side of the hill towards the cable car (there are a few ways one can reach the actual wall: cable car, hiking, and chair lift). We selected the cable car (which was still a hike to get to). The ride up to the Wall was quite steep and I found myself having to concentrate on my breathing so I didn’t focus on how steep it truly was. But as with most things that are frightening at first, it was well worth it. The view was incredible! Looking out across the forest below, I found it hard to believe, almost, that I was walking along the path that millions have walked along for centuries. I wish I had a better vocabulary in order to do the moment justice, but I will let some of the pictures speak for themselves. As much as I would have liked to explore much more the Great Wall, our time was limited so we made our way back down to the bottom of the hill to our van for our ride home.
But our day was not over. No. We were told we needed to experience the Beijing Opera. Now, I don’t want to ruin the experience for anyone who has plans on seeing this delightful entertainment, so I will not share too much about our hour at the theatre. The one thing I will say is that the costumes were quite impressive and intricate. And, if I had to suffer through the screeching—I mean, enchanting song—everyone else should too, so make sure you experience this Chinese art form.
Our day concluded and we were exhausted, but it was a good day. Again, we opted for an early evening since we had another early pick up coming the next morning.
Coming Up: Tiananmen Square and Peking Duck