beijing | day one

Marian Parsonsa slice of life52 Comments

Whew!  Well, I’m back in the US and it’s so nice to be back with home with Jeff and the boys, to sleep in my own bed, and to eat familiar foods again.  What an amazing trip, though.  Truly a memorable life experience in so many ways.

It was so much that I’m still processing it and I’m sure I will be for a long time, but I did want to share some pictures and stories from my trip, even though there is no way that they can do the experience justice.  I will try, though!

So, my mom, Debby (my licensing agent), and I first flew to Beijing to do some sight-seeing before taking the high speed train south to Minqing (pronounced Min-ching), in the province of Fujian, where I would be working for a week.

Oh, I need to insert that our entire trip was planned with the assistance of one of my readers, who happens to be a travel agent.  Vickie of Vickie White Travel booked our plane tickets, set up our drivers and tours, bought our train tickets, everything.  She was so amazing to work with, so I wanted to mention it.

Anyway, after 14 hours on a plane, we arrived at the Beijing airport where we were picked up by a driver who took us to our hotel, the Grand Hyatt.  I had a queasy stomach and was in a fog from the travel and 12 hour time difference, but managed to make it through immigration, the baggage claim, and customs.  I even made conversation with our driver, who didn’t speak very much english, but really wanted to practice.  He was also eager to teach me Chinese.  We realized quickly that basic conversation, like “How are you?” and the appropriate responses would be too complicated, so we pointed to objects and named them.  Car, truck, bus, bridge, etc.

He was a stickler for pronunciation and drilled me until he was satisfied.  My sluggish brain and slower tongue were working overtime.  Between the English/Chinese lesson and my unsettled stomach pleading for solid, still ground, the thing that struck me the most about our surroundings was the poor visibility due to the smog.

I had read about the pollution problems in China, but I really had no idea that I wouldn’t see a blue sky for four days.  Visibility was so poor that I never saw beyond about three blocks the entire time we were in the city.  It almost felt claustrophobic and, honestly, was a total bummer.  It just couldn’t be ignored.  Everything was cast in a diffused beige light.

When we arrived at the hotel, I was desperate for sleep.  I didn’t care that it was only 6:00 and I should try to eat some dinner and stay up a little later.  All I wanted was sleep.  I took a quick soak in the bath and crashed into bed.

The next morning, we were going to meet John, one of my mom’s friends who lives in Beijing, and he would show us around the city.  We ate breakfast at the hotel and walked a block to meet him at the subway station.  We were not even a block outside of the hotel when I was stopped by a Chinese man.  “Ah, hello!”  He was fascinated by my blonde hair and told me I had “fashionable eyes”.  It was the first of several times we were pointed out as a bit of a novelty and posed for pictures with strangers as if we were celebrities.

We decided to walk to the Forbidden City, which was only a couple of blocks away, so we could take it all in.  Of course, I had my camera at the ready.

There was some event at Tiananmen Square, which is just across the main street from the Forbidden City, so the lines were ridiculously long and there were barricades and soldiers everywhere.  We were so thankful to be guided by John, who has lived in Beijing for over 30 years and speaks fluent Chinese.  He was able to bypass the crowds by taking us to a side entrance.

(It was actually a sunny day, but the gray skies you see in the pictures were from the smog!)

We didn’t go into any of the individual museums at the Forbidden City, but just walked through the numerous gates, reading about the history of the buildings on the posted signs.  John was also able to translate some of the characters and explain some cultural things to us.

In one of the courtyards, John pointed out some women dressed in costume.  He explained they were from a minority group in China and encouraged us to go speak to them.  They let me take their picture and even sang one of their traditional songs for us.

While the Forbidden City was beautiful and the sheer size, scale, and repetitive nature of the architecture was impressive, there was a sadness about the place, too.  The pollution was evident on some of the buildings that have not been restored and the ever-smoggy sky proved to be a dreary backdrop for the colorful buildings.

Again, the benefit of traveling with a local is that he knows the non-touristy, tasty places to eat and he took us to one of those restaurants for lunch.  It was the first privately owned (as opposed to state owned) restaurant in communist China and he ordered a very traditional Chinese meal for us that we all shared.   The total bill for four of us was equivalent to $11.00.

From there, we hopped in a motorcycle taxi.  As we loaded in, John nonchalantly informed, “We’re sort of taking a chance with our lives doing this, but we don’t have to make any turns, so we should be okay.”  The seating area was so small that I had to hang my legs over the side.  I smiled, snapped this picture, and enjoyed the wind in my hair and the bustle of the street around us.

We rode over to Tiananmen Square just to walk through it and snap some pictures.  I’ve been to Red Square in Russia and the similarities were obvious…  A large concrete square surrounded by imposing government buildings and reminders of a pre-Communist past.

I didn’t realized until I developed this picture that there was this trio in my picture, laughing and holding hands.  I thought it was so touching and beautiful.  Joy and love can still be at home in a place symbolic of an oppressive government.

We took in a few other sites in the city, like the building called “the egg”, and a few other experiences, like riding on a bus, running across a busy street (they don’t yield to pedestrians there), and visiting a traditional courtyard house (which I’ll tell you about in another post).

Even though we were tourists, experiencing the city with a local took us off the beaten path and allowed us glimpses of a culture so different from ours.  Despite the jet lag and tired feet, the tension of the constant police presence and barricades at every sidewalk, it was one of those days that felt like a gift.

And as I was looking over the pictures of the day, I had to laugh at this one…

Despite purchasing a power converter, I blew up my rather pricey curling iron within 24 hours of being in China, so that meant buns, hair knots, and ponytails for me the entire trip unless I wanted my hair to look like the tresses on this guy!

More on my trip to China and lots of Lucketts prep coming up…

beijing | day one

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52 Comments on “beijing | day one”

  1. Marian,

    Thanks so much for sharing! My son is getting ready to make the trip to China in a few weeks. Even though his degree is in Engineering he will be spending one year teaching English and has been working on learning Chinese. Like you he goes everywhere with his camera. Looking forward to your next installment.

    1. What an amazing opportunity. I really fell in love with the people there, especially the ones we worked with in the factory. I loved their humor and work ethic. 🙂

  2. Loved hearing about your trip and wonder if you find small influences creeping into your design aesthetic. I think you make a good case for not weakening our EPA or deregulating environmental protections. I am grateful for our clean air and water.

  3. Loved the last photo and your tresses analogy. I also laughed to myself when I pinned this to my travel board with the description, “MMS goes to China”. Can you tell I was an early childhood teacher?

  4. Thank you so much for sharing these amazing wonderful photos. I have lived in Japan, traveled to Hong Kong and Taipei, Taiwan on business and you have a real knack for capturing visuals.

    I always felt overwhelmed by the crowds of people in the places we went, especially as a blonde and redheaded colleague and I walked the streets. I am only 5’4″ and felt tall. You never gave me that jammed crowded feeling in any of your pictures, maybe China is just that much different. Great job, thanks

    1. No, it was crowded, but I tried to find the quieter corners, so I could capture the architecture and individuals and small groups instead of just a mass of people! It was tricky at times.

  5. Welcome home! Looking forward to hearing more about your work experience – I often feel like no one in the world could relate to what I do over there, so will be refreshing to hear your take on it! 🙂 I also work in the same province, in a city called Fuzhou – known for it’s handicraft and also cottage-style finishing. Super interesting!

    Hope the jet lag is treating you ok! 🙂

    1. Oh, we went through Fuzhou when we were flying out of Fujian. Minqing was only about an hour away. I loved the mountains there. It was really a beautiful area.

  6. What beautiful photos!!! I totally agree that we should thank God for our EPA regulations! Looking forward to the rest of your journey.

  7. Enjoyed your summary of Beijing. It brought back many memories of my trip and some of the similar experiences. Going to the Pearl Market at the recommendation of others was so much fun. The taxi rides were as your friend said-a bit scary! I also remember it was a wonderful experience but it was so wonderful to be back on American soil!

  8. Welcome home! Glad you had a wonderful trip. Thank you for sharing your gorgeous photos – looking forward to hearing the whole story and how you got on with your business folks!

  9. I won’t be making a trip to China, so enjoyed seeing it through your eyes. I loved seeing the colorful costumes of the dancers and their bright smiles. The architecture is always fascinating also. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Wow, thanks for sharing your wonderful photos and tales from your trip. It’ll be interesting to see how this experience inspires your art. Wonderful post, can’t wait for more.

  11. Welcome home!!! Sounds like you had fun, the only way to travel , if you can, is to have a guide that lives in the place you are visiting. It makes it much easier and sometimes more fun! Can’t wait to hear the rest of your story.

  12. OMG! I really have no desire to travel but I love to hear it all so that I can live vicariously through the visits of others. At my age, I really rather sleep in my own bed and eat what I like.

    My son lives in Amsterdam and is always trying to get me to go! It is such a long trip that I have been digging
    in my heels. I have varicose veins and read that the pressure on a plane can cause some real problems with
    blood clots for the elderly…and I am that.

    Please keep writing as I love to vacation this way by reading.


    1. Hi Genevieve, go to Amsterdam it is not China and is a gentle easy going place. And for the flight, wear compression socks and get up now and then and move your legs and feet as you seat. Bon voyage , I mean
      good trip.

      And to MMS, your photos are great, the architecture and painted colorful detail so vivid. Yes, some photos are not sharp because of the veil of pollution. Take some deep breath of clean air and adjust to the US time. The only
      way I’d see myself go there is to have a friendly John person to guide me. You were so lucky to have that kind
      looking man with you.

  13. Thank-you Marion for sharing your experience with us. I really enjoyed reading about it and seeing your photos.The closest I’ve seen was China Town in Vancouver.

  14. What an adventure ! I love to read your stories we’re travelling again too home from our month in India and we’re touring a South Germany and Switzerland 👍 Seen so much art my eyes hurt ! You MUST take your mum to India it’s a massive culture shock to the senses ! You’ll be blown away with colour. Will we see a Chinese influence in your style ?

  15. Welcome home!
    I don’t believe I will ever travel to China so it is fun seeing it through your eyes. It’s as if we are there with you. All of your pictures are beautiful but the one that caught my eye was of the motorcycle type thing which appears to have strawberries and other food sticking out of it. Is that China’s version of a food truck? Can’t say I would have purchased anything but the berries do look yummy.
    Thank you for sharing I can’t wait to read more about your amazing trip.

  16. Beautiful images despite the smoggy backdrop. The architecture, shapes, colors, and decorative elements are what are so striking. Inspiring on so many levels. Thanks for sharing. I hope you bring home all the positive experiences, sights, sounds, and smells, while the not so pleasant ones will fade into the “smog”. It’s a trip of a lifetime, and a great memory you will share with your Mom forever.

  17. I also was wondering about your third picture and had wished for a subtitle to explain what we were seeing. Is it food ? Looks interesting ! Thank you for sharing with us, Marian. It’s all so incredible!

  18. What glorious pictures! Can’t wait to see which ones you paint! Can I just say that I am SO GLAD you are all home. There I said it . . . I’m glad you had an adventure but I’m glad you’re back safe and sound!


  19. Thank you for your post – although China is one country I have no desire to see but still very interesting to read of your experiences. I am not a good traveler, and you are very lucky you have someone to show you the less tourist-y places which I know is wonderful – that is definitely the way to go! Glad you are home safe and sound!

  20. How absolutely enchanting and exciting to be traveling vicariously through you. I cannot even begin to imagine the first hand delight of it all.
    Thank you for sharing your experience.

  21. You are a great ambassador for America! I love your positive outlook on life. I really appreciate your open heart to people of another culture. Instead of being negative, you chose to show the universality of the human spirit and the force of love and the desire to connect to one another.

  22. Your pictures are amazing! My great aunt was a world traveler, and I have all her trip slides including those of China, India, Egypt, Vietnam and the Ukraine. You and your Mom were very lucky to have a friend who has lived in China for so long as a tour guide.

    I love “Chinoiserie” décor and my most prized possession is a pair of signed vintage Foo Dogs. I loved seeing your Foo Dog statues in your pics. Looking forward to hearing more about your trip especially your tour of the Great Wall.

  23. My daughter will return on Wednesday from a year of teaching English in Harbin, China. She has a ton a great stories! Tell him to take lots of deoderant, as it doesn’t exist as we know it!

    1. Terri – Sounds like your daughter had an enjoyable trip. I am sure you are excited for her to return and to hear all her stories. Good to know about the deodorant I will be sure to let my son know.

  24. Happy that you and mom are home safely!
    Glad to know it was a great trip and you had the best tour guide ever!
    Look forward to seeing and reading about the rest of your trip, and the business side of it.
    Thank you for sharing!

  25. Boring, I rather see what you do here. Painting furniture, craigslist finds, your shopping trips especially like your shopping trips, etc.

  26. Welcome home…and thanks for sharing! All your pictures turned out great, especially considering all the fog! I was wondering what kind of camera you travel with.

    Thanks for all you teach us!

  27. Marian thank you for the tour. I had no idea that Beijing was so full of pollution and I noticed that you mentioned it several times. I promise to never complain about my Greek blue skies again! Lovely pictures and such amazing architecture.

  28. Marian – Your pics are wonderful. Can’t wait to see and hear more about your trip to China. It is a shame that their is such a pollution problem there. Such a beautiful country! Lucky you that you had John to show you around. Nothing like having a local person to give you tips and tricks of getting around. 🙂

  29. We traveled to China 10 years ago to adopt our daughter. If you can imagine, the pollution in her province, where we stayed for 5 days, was even worse than Beijing! I wished I could stop breathing because it smelled awful and hurt my lungs so badly. There is definitely so much unique beauty in China, and the Great Wall was fascinating (wish the view had been better- but smog!), but overwhelmingly my memories of the country are clouded by the dingy, dirtiness of it all.

  30. I am not interested in traveling, but love to see photos taken by others on their trips. Your pictures are absolutely fascinating! Thank you for sharing them!

  31. Pingback: Thanks, Miss Mustard Seed! – Vickie White Travel

  32. Oh, what a lifetime expierence for sure! The photos are amazing, I feel like I’ve been there right with you all! If you were to ask any of my family, they would say that seeing you (for me) in person would be equivilent to anyone on the big or small screen!

    Thank you for all you do to make our world a little more colorful!!

  33. So glad you are home safe! I had a friend,an interior designer who went to Thailand to get her products produced. She was an elegant beautiful blonde and was found murdered in her hotel suite. Please be very careful on these trips!

  34. What wonderful photos, Marian! Your trip looks like it stretched your mind quite a bit, which is what I want from travel. Seeing the pollution is depressing; what must it be doing to the lungs of the citizens?

    The photo of the three holding hands is especially meaningful because the Chinese rarely display emotion like that. It is considered unseemly and there was a time when you never saw hand holding or a kiss being exchanged.

  35. Very interesting,
    Just curious, are you still a vegetarian?
    If so, what did you eat….must have been challenging!

    1. I actually do eat meat now, but I’m pretty picky about it. I mostly ate vegetables and rice while I was there.

  36. I’m so excited to read your post about your trip. I have five beautiful children from China. My two sons are from Fujian province. I love your pictures. They bring back great memories.

  37. My Husband goes to China 3xayear to visit the factories they use and to find new products after going there the first few years he learned where all the American restaurants were located and use to laugh saying he is probably the only guy that goes to China and gains weight-LOL

  38. I’m a newcomer to your blog. I enjoyed reading about your trip to China. The photos which you included highlight the beauty of the architecture and landscape of places you visited. I loved how you captured the pride and joy on the faces of the women in costume. I plan to find your booth at the Lucketts show this spring as I am practically a neighbor in Fairfax County.

  39. Omy goodness this trip looked wonderful and I absolutely love the pictures of the trio holding hands, such a nice reminder that as much as the government can make this horrible we still all stand together. So heartwarming and a nice reminder of so much love and joy in a place so different from ours. PS eheh the ending made me chuckle.


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