Alice Through The Looking Glass
Holy moly China has been busy. I am here for three weeks so I am trying to break my blog into each week since a minute is never wasted in this country. And it hasn’t helped that the Cubs are making their run for the World Series- forcing me into walking while staring at my phone!
I arrived in China and had one day to myself. After spending the morning in the hotel room watching the real live baseball game, I headed out for some sights and some food. The Temple of Heaven was a recommended sight (remind me to make some alternative suggestions for them) and an easy walk from my hotel so that was the winner. First thing I noticed was that everyone talks really loud. Like insanely loud. I am told it is because they need to emphasize their words because of the four tongues, but I am not buying it. I do now understand what it must be like to be around me all of the time! The Temple was in the middle of a really big park- which I found far more interesting than the building itself. My favorite part was a long corridor where groups of people were playing a very animated card game. My Chinese being what it is made it somewhat difficult to order food. I pointed and gestured and somehow managed to get myself a lovely bowl of noodles and what I sincerely hope was just vegetables! That night I met the group I would spend the NEXT THREE WEEKS with and was pleasantly surprised (those that know me know I don’t commit to people for very long so three weeks is an eternity- 5.76% of a year to be exact). I seem to travel with Aussies and Canadians quite well so was grateful to see they were the majority of the group. First order of business at the group meeting was to learn to say “let’s go” to add to my ever growing vocabulary to get people moving.
As we have a million things to do in China, we kicked off the trip big with the Great Wall- an impossibly built structure with an even more impossible climb. The early morning start made it apparent that China doesn’t get going early- making breakfast difficult and coffee even more challenging. Literally the only thing open was pork buns and McDonalds- where I quickly learned to order by picture and found their Egg McMuffins come with ketchup. Again, my poor Chinese made it impossible to customize! I also learned that Chinese coffee is actually worse than American coffee.
The bus ride to the Wall included our first lecture on the country. Things we learned- Buddhism is the most popular religion but Daoism is the most important, the Wall was built to protect China from the Huns, most of it is gone because it was built with mud (which makes me wonder why the enemies just didn’t pour water on it!) and there is now a Subway at the base of the portion of the Wall we visited. After completing the near impossible climb to the top, my veggie delight 6″ on wheat was lovely. After the Wall, we went to a Kung Fu show, another recommended activity in Beijing. Again, I can really make some suggestions for alternatives!
The next day was our last in Beijing, which I was quite grateful for as the smog was a bit thick. We headed to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It was a bit odd to see something that has such strong perceptions in China and very different perceptions in the rest of the world. I spent my time in the Square following around what I believe were retired soldiers so I could photograph their solemnity. My entrance to the Forbidden City was my first taste of truly insane Chinese photography. I cannot possibly put into words the craziness that goes into every photograph in China. After the first building, we realized we could not compete with the natives and gave up trying. Each photo involves pushing yourself to the front, while trying not to give up any ground in front of you and protecting your face from the cameras that are just placed in front of you or on your head. We were rewarded, though, later in the day with lunch in a families kitchen that was absolutely amazing. Impossibly, we managed to make friends with so many people despite our lack of collective language.
Next up was our first overnight train- only 14 hours. It was far less painful than expected and shockingly easy to sleep. The train carriage is organized into about ten open compartments, each with six bunks so our three day friendship was taken to new levels. The beds were clean and somewhat comfortable, but most decided it was best to be dehydrated rather than brave the squat toilets. We arrived in Xi’an early in the morning and headed off to the City Wall to cycle. I could have done that for hours if the temptation of buns didn’t exist. Our guide does a fantastic job of finding truly local restaurants- the owners are cooking and speak very little, if any, English. The owners of this place videotaped us ordering and took lots of photos so we were pretty sure we were a novelty. Things got even better at dinner when we found a dumpling house and consumed our collective weight in dumplings!
Our hotel was across the street from one of the main parks in Xi’an, so a few of us got up early to watch the Tai Chi, calisthenics and dancing in the park and forage for our own breakfast. Another impossibility, we found our way to a random corner filled with carts and people making food. Turns out we were having the local breakfast- a pancake type bread with egg, lettuce, potatoes and chili. I was hooked. I could eat nothing but that and Sour Cream and Onion Pringles forever. After breakfast, it was time for highlight number two- the Terracotta Warriors. This tomb of a clearly egotistical and paranoid Emperor includes 8000 clay soldiers, each unique, lined up to protect his tomb. It took 720,000 people 40 years to pull off this stunt and was discovered in a local farmer’s land. He was given about $15,000 USD in today’s money for his land and now autographs books to buy his bread. It is quite an impressive sight to see, despite the billions of tourists. By now, we have become quite good at the photo fight and managed to gain ground in this place. What we once thought to be impossible was becoming a reality. This site also started our quest for the best Chinese signs, which may earn a blog post of its own. Becareful was the highlight here- my editing tendencies cringe at least once an hour. That night was in the Muslim Quarter where we braved street food- including sheep feet, squid, unidentified meats and lots of rice type stuff. Me, being the vegetarian, went home a wee bit hungry.
The last day in Xi’an was a visit to another Emperor tomb- this one with much smaller soldiers, cooks, waiters, etc. It was like a really big dollhouse and I amused myself the whole morning making up stories about their adventures. I also giggled to imaging the Emperor sneaking down at night and playing with his dolls. We had free time that afternoon in the rain, so we found a cinema with American movies and a proper British pub. The pub was a big mistake as the beer haunted me as we boarded the next overnight train- this one for 19 hours. Clearly China was exhausting as I slept about 12 of those hours and spend 6 of the other laying in my bunk.
And so that concludes week one- the group is passing around a lovely cold that I have already survived but fully expect to get again. We continue to beat the impossible- although the most challenging is yet to come! And even more impossible, the Cubs are in the World Series!
China Week Two to come!