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…