Like I said, not one traveling experience went well for us during this vacation. After spending a great four days in Shanghai we were on our way to Beijing. Once we arrived in Beijing we went to the luggage carousel and guess whose bag didn’t arrive? That’s right, mine. Apparently my bag wasn’t even on the flight, we had to wait for the next flight from Shanghai to arrive so I could get my bag. What a mess.
If Shanghai is like New York with all its new high rise buildings, then Beijing is like Washington D.C. with its mix of government buildings and modern and historical aspects. In Beijing we stayed at this really nice hotel called the Bamboo Garden Hotel. It was located in a section of Beijing called the hutongs. (Hutongs are really basic homes. Together they kind of make up the slums of Beijing. There is usually no running water, no plumbing, and sometimes no electricity. Most homes in the Hutongs are just a single room.) The Bamboo Garden is located in what used to be the compound of a General during the Qin Dynasty. It was really cool to just walk around the grounds of the hotel.
For the first full day our plan was to go to Tiananmen Square and then to the Forbidden City. As we were on the subway to Tiananmen Square we were surprised when it didn’t stop at the correct subway stop. It dropped us off at the next stop. Apparently there were too many people in Tiananmen Square and they didn’t want more people getting out at that exit and overcrowding the area. Walking to Tiananmen Square was an adventure in and of itself. The streets were jam packed with people. Once we finally made it to Tiananmen Square, we were overwhelmed with how many people were actually there. It was difficult to just walk down the street. We decided that there were too many people and that we would come back to the Forbidden City another day.
One thing we need to make sure we did was get train tickets so that we could go to my home city of Qinhuangdao. In China if you want to take the train, you can only buy a ticket from the city you are leaving and only one week in advanced. So we ran over to the train station hoping that we could get tickets. The train we wanted to take had no seats available and there was only one train left that had enough seats. Thank god we were able to get them and didn’t have to worry about how we were going to get to Qinhuangdao.
After buying the tickets we still had a half a day left so we went to the Temple of Heaven. This was where the ancient Chinese performed sacrifices once a year for the winter season. There were a lot of people there too. The Chinese are a pushy people so if you wanted to see inside one of the buildings you had to push and shove your way to the front. It got pretty vicious.
The next day we woke up bright and early and headed out to see the Summer Palace. The Palace was built by Empress Dowager Cixi, who wanted a summer retreat from the Forbidden City. Although Empress Cixi started out as a concubine, her son was able to become emperor but he was too young to rule so she became an Empress.
After the Summer Palace we went to a Buddhist temple, called the Lama Temple. Inside the temple is a statue of Buddha. It was carved from one piece of wood and stands over 60 feet tall. The Buddha carving is so tall that they had to build the building around the statue.
Somewhere between my dad taking a staged photo of my mom and I eating, or us snapping a picture every 10 feet did I realized that we were turning into the very same stereotype that we have of Asian tourists. I had to chuckle at the irony.
On our third day we were up and out early once again (we are not a sleep late and relax type of vacationers). We were dead set on going to the Forbidden City. When you walk into the Forbidden City’s compound you are taken aback by its size and grandeur. The place is gigantic. We were lost right from the beginning. First we waited in the wrong line for about 20 minutes and when we realized this we had to wait over an hour in the real line just to get tickets to go in. We then lost my dad because he went wandering off by himself. Once inside we were overwhelmed not only by the size of the place but by the number of people there. (If you are catching my drift, Beijing was really crowded). The Palace was very impressive and takes your breath away.
Unfortunately, during my time in Beijing I was constipated. So my parents (being the consummate packers that they are) pulled out a bag of prunes. Knowing that prunes help you go, I probably ate around 10-12. Apparently I was only suppose to eat two or three prunes. That night we went to see a Chinese acrobat show. It was like a circus de soleil show, with people contorting their bodies, jumping, and flipping. It was really cool. As I was sitting in the show I started to feel a rumbling in my stomach. The prunes were giving me gas but I was in the middle of a theater surrounded by hundreds of people. I was doing my best to hold in these farts but it was starting to hurt. By the end of the show I was in so much pain I could barely walk. We had to steal a cab from another couple so that I could get to a bathroom in time. (I had checked before the show had started and there were no western style toilets in the theater).
The final days with my parents we spent in my city of Qinhuangdao. Once they got off they train they were shocked at how dirty my city was. I took them to see the Great Wall of China. This time to where the Great Wall meets the sea (called The Old Dragon’s Head). My parents got really excited when random Chinese people came up and asked to take pictures with them. Later that day my parents came to watch me teach my Small Stars class (my 4 year-olds). They were really impressed.
My parents needed to get back to Beijing to catch their flight home but the only problem was that there were no more train tickets. After calling everybody I knew and waiting in more lines we found that there were literally no trains left. We had to run to the bus station to try and get them tickets before they sold out too. Luckily we were able to get two bus tickets to Beijing. Like I said no travel experience ever worked out the way we wanted.
After spending ten days with my parents you would think I would be tired of hanging out with them but I truly enjoyed every moment of it. They were great traveling partners and it was really fun experiencing China with them. I am glad that they were able to see China, where I live, and what I do.