Like I said, not one traveling experience has gone well for me during my time here in China. 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, so 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 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 cool 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 hotel grounds.
For our first full day in Beijing, 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 stop, but instead 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 overcrowd the area even more. 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 do was make sure we got train tickets so that we could get to 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 was full, but fortunately there was another train leaving at another time that had enough seats. So thankfully we were able to get them and didn’t have to worry about having to take a long bus ride to Qinhuangdao.
After buying the tickets we still had a half a day left so we made our way to the Temple of Heaven. This was where once a year, the ancient Chinese performed sacrifices to honor the winter season.
Since American manners don’t really exist in China, if you wanted to see inside a building 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. The palace was stunning.
After the Summer Palace made our way to a Buddhist temple, called the Lama Temple. Inside the temple is a statue of Buddha. It is carved from one solid 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, 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 once again up and out early (we are not a sleep late and relax type of vacationers). That day 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 finally realized this we stood in another line waited over an hour to get the tickets to go in. Almost immediately we lost track my dad because he went wandering off by himself, but 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 for me I was constipated the whole time we were in Beijing. Thankfully my parents are the consummate packers and shared with me a bag of prunes they brought. Knowing that prunes help you go, I ate 10-12 prunes instead of the recommended two or three prunes actually needed. That night we went to see a Chinese acrobat show – a circus de soleil esq show, with people contorting their bodies, jumping, and flipping. It was actually really cool, but as I was sitting in the show I started to feel a rumbling in my stomach. The prunes were giving me a ton of gas. I was in the middle of a theater surrounded by hundreds of people and 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 make it to a bathroom in time.
The final days with my parents we spent in my home base city of Qinhuangdao. So far we had only been in major cities and my parents were not used to seeing a smaller city and were taken aback by how dirty and rundown the city looked. I took them to see the Great Wall of China. This is where the Great Wall meets the sea (called The Old Dragon’s Head). One thing that my parents really liked was when local Chinese people came up and asked to take pictures with them. They felt like celebrities.
Like I said, no travel experience ever worked out the way we wanted. 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 a number of different waiting lines we found out that there were literally no trains left. So we ran to the bus station to try and get them tickets before they sold out too. Luckily we were able to get the final two bus tickets to Beijing. Crisis averted.
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 travel 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.