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...

1 comment:

  1. When we were in Hong Kong, we went to a park across the border in China that had a to-scale model of the Great Wall and even that was awesome to me. I think it would be an amazing sight! What a cool thing to do with your family!