Friday, November 26, 2010

China Travels, Part 2

So, intrepid readers, my last tome detailed our adventure getting to Beijing and then visiting the Great Wall of China.  It was indeed a grand adventure.

The next day, after another fabulous McDonalds breakfast, we walked from our hotel to the actual Forbidden City.  See, there's a reason our hotel was called the Forbidden City Days Inn.  It was literally a 10-minute walk from the Forbidden City.  Not that we could have taken a taxi even if we wanted to.  They don't have taxis in China large enough to transport our mob.  Our walk there took us through a very beautiful park complete with a pond of dazzling goldfish and a gorgeous red bridge.  Very serene, which was appreciated because...

...once we got close to the Forbidden City the crowds got thicker and thicker.  Oh, and all those stories about how Chinese don't know how to stand in line and take their turn?  Well, they are all TRUE.  Pushing shoving, cutting people off, blatantly pushing past people who have been waiting very patiently for their was nuts.  The bridge going through the very first gate was packed, and we felt fortunate to not lose any of the kids in the scrum.

There are words to describe the Forbidden City complex, but I'm not sure I can put those words together in any way that would do the place justice.  Every time we walked through one of the gates I said, "Hey, I think this is the one they used in that final fight scene in the Mulan."  And then we'd see another one, and I would say the same thing.  I'm still not sure which one it was that was in the movie.

As most of the Chinese visitors took the central route through the Forbidden City, we decided to go around the side entrances and pathways.  And we only went down the right-hand side, but given the symmetry of the place, I doubt the other side would vary too much in its layout.  It seemed to me that the side galleries and places just went on without end.  By the time we got to the emperor's garden in the middle, everyone was starting to get tired and hungry, so we made our way back out of the complex.
An American couple chillin' in the doorway.

It was within the confines of the Forbidden City that we ate our one--and ONLY--Chinese meal on this trip.  And between you and me, it wasn't that good.  Granted, our children are not as adventurous in culinary terms as Mali and I, but we've heard from a lot of people that, generally speaking, Chinese food just isn't that good.  I'm going to have to modify that statement, however, because I have had some Chinese food that is in fact quite delicious.  Of course that's all been outside of China, but I'll take a chance and say that Beijing Chinese food just isn't that good.  But their McDonald's and KFC are just like we get in the States or here in Bangkok.
That's right, my son knows how to use chopsticks!

Check out the guy to my right--based on how I eat noodles, apparently I might be part Chinese!

Beware the ravenous panda!

Mmm, noodles...and no, Mali is NOT Chinese!

Even Jane loves her noodles.

We also visited Tienanmen Square, but the kids weren't too impressed with any of that (no sense of history--kids these days!).  Okay, I'll be honest: Tienanmen Square really ain't all that, and they have no bowls of chips, just lots of Communist concrete structures.  So we'll just leave it that for dinner we went to McDonald's.  And at least this time there was some place for us to sit...

When I get around to it I will post about the rest of our China adventure.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

China Travels: Part 1

I thought about putting, "Hello, how are you?" in Chinese characters to start this blog entry, but realized that I just don't trust programs like Babelfish enough.  I'm afraid that it will actually give me characters that say something like, "I like to date squirrels"--not that there's anything wrong with that, but this is a family program.

The kids had the entire last week of October off from school, so we decided to go to China.  Our original itinerary included a couple of days in Hong Kong to visit old friends and, more importantly, inflict Hong Kong Disneyland with our presence.  Thanks to Typhoon Gigi, however, we were advised to cancel that portion of our trip and we did.  So naturally the typhoon changed direction at the last minute and we could have gone.  No big deal, except that I had to prepare and teach a Sunday lesson that I had originally intended to completely blow off.

Bright and early Monday morning we headed to the airport and somehow made it through check-in and customs everything and made our flight to Beijing.  Completely uneventful, until Jane decided that taxiing to the terminal in Beijing would be a perfect time to empty the contents of her stomach all over herself and her car seat.  Lovely.  I tip my hat to the flight crew of Thai Airways, who didn't even blink at the disgusting mess left behind (we really did try to clean it up, I promise!).

My impression of driving from the airport to our hotel in downtown Beijing was that this part of China reminded me an awful lot of Virginia--lots of trees with some rolling landscape.  The traffic was quite Virginia-esque as well, with lots of cars creeping along.  The only weird part is that in most of the groves of trees along the side of the road the trees were all planted in tidy little rows.  Kinda like driving through the corn fields of the Midwest, just a lot taller.

We stayed at the Forbidden City Days Inn in downtown Beijing.  Despite the fact that Mali made advance reservations and made it clear that we needed two adjacent rooms, that did not happen.  Yeah, there were THREE rooms between them.  Oh, and quite possible the hardest beds I've ever slept on--they felt like box springs, not mattresses.  And this is coming from a guy who slept on the floor for five years.  Ugh.

My first mission, after settling into the rooms, was to go out and find some food.  Maggie and Sarah, bless their little hearts, braved the cold (honestly, it was probably between 55 and 60 degrees, but after over a year in Bangkok, we were FREEZING!) and walked around with me until we found McDonalds.  We got back to the hotel in significantly less time than it took us to find the place.  This is important, however, because we ate at McDonalds every day we were in Beijing.  Thank goodness for picture menus, because even the employees with name tags that say they spoke English, didn't really speak English.  Still, the Big Mac has been fantastically consistent in every country in which Mali has had one (current tally: the United States, Canada, Japan, Thailand, and the People's Republic of China--I'll have to ask if she had one in Hong Kong, even though it's technically part of China).

Our first full day in China we went to the Great Wall of China.  We were able to book a driver and guide--the inimitable Sonic Wan, whom we highly recommend--to take us to the Mutianyu section of the wall.  Everyone told us that the closer section of the wall, Dalian, was more popular with Chinese tourists, while foreigners prefer Mutianyu.  I figure it's because of the alpine slide (which they call a toboggan course) that you can ride down from the wall to the entry point.  I know that our kids LOVED the toboggan, which was the best part of the day for many of them.

Anyway, the Great Wall was, in a word, cool.  They've done major rebuilding on the original foundation, according to Sonic, but I was mesmerized by the beautiful natural scenery.  This part of the Wall would have been absolutely horrible for the slaves that built it, as it is in some beautifully rugged mountains, and as anyone who has been to the Wall can attest, this ain't your average backyard wall to keep the neighbors dog out of your vegetable patch.  This is the keep-the-Mongols-out-of-China-of-proportions-the-likes-of-which-Tim-the-Toolman-Taylor-would-approve kind of barrier.

At this point I have to give my children their proper due, for being champs about traipsing all over Beijing with us and not complaining too much.  Jane, of course, was in the plumb position of sitting in the Kelty and riding on my back all over the Wall, including going all the way to Tower 14.  Maggie and Anne also went all the way up there with me--well, Anne opted out of the last set of stairs, but she went further than anyone but Maggie (and Jane), and I give her a lot of credit for hanging in with me.  She even admitted that the views were amazing and all that walking was worth it.  I think the cool temperatures helped, because a similar endeavor in warmer weather would have been much less pleasant for all of us.  Including Jane.

After getting down from the Wall and before heading back to Beijing, we grabbed a bite to eat.  At Subway.  That's right, there's a Subway at the Great Wall of China.  To be fair, Sonic said that the Chinese food stalls that lined the path heading to the chairlift that takes you up to the Wall itself were all horrible.  I think it's just that he likes Subway.

Next post: The Forbidden City and Shanghai...

Monday, November 15, 2010

An Open Letter to My Brother

Hey there big bro,

Are we going to make this the third year running for the hair-based wager on the outcome of the BYU-Utah football game?  As I understand it, you have been growing your hair out this year, at the behest of your lovely wife (and to her delight and the delight of our parents--at least that's the rumor I've heard), so you might not want to put those lovely locks on the line. To be honest, my wife asked that I let my hair grow out a little, too, but that was specifically for the Marine Ball, which was last weekend.  So I'm good.

Nevermind the fact that the outcome of this year's Big Game is 99% already determined.  Nevermind that my Cougs are stinking up the field in ways that should never be shown in front of small children, pregnant women, or those with a history of heart disease.  Forget the fact that your Utes have been a fine-tuned football machine (I'm conveniently leaving out the TCU and Notre Dame games for the sake of hyperbole).  Don't pay any attention to the fact that the game is at Utah this year.  Anything can happen with this game, so I'll understand if you back out of the wager this year for fear of having to face your wife with a fantasticly gorgeous Y shaved into your hair.  And Mali wouldn't cry too much about it if we didn't have the bet this year. My kids might, though...

Your younger (and taller) brother,