I am not going to lie, the flight from Boston to Beijing was long. Being on the twelve and a half hour flight gave me a lot of perspective on what my father does every week when he takes his passengers from Boston to Hong Kong. By the end of the flight I was feeling light-headed and a touch nauseous from the lack of sleep on board. Never someone to sleep easily sitting up, I might have snuck in an hour or two of shut eye. When we landed and I stepped off the plane, I felt like a traveler getting off of a boat with legs shaky but moving. Walking around every two hours felt like a funny ritual but it helped break up the night into day into night travel. Hainan airline served two meals which were very tasty: a tilapia for meal one and some chicken fried rice with dumplings prior to landing. I measured time by movies. The silver lining to hours of television was that I had not had that kind of solo time since the boys! Twelve hours to just watch romantic comedies was in some ways luxurious. I watched: Florence Foster Jenkins, About time, 500 days of summer and the notebook. So yes those generally sappy rom coms had me hidden crying in my row each time because movie love is so beautiful and I was all triggered up missing my soulmate, David. When the wheels touched down we spent at least an hour making our way through customs and immigration. While the signs were clearly different and it was obvious in many ways we were in a new country, in many other ways it visually looked like Logan airport. Once we collected our bags, we hopped on to a bus and drove an hour to the hotel and passed out sick with travel weariness.
High: I sat in an aisle seat with the middle seat empty. This gave me not only some extra leg room but one chaperone to my front and one to my back meant funny little check-one with them along the way too and a nice balance of solo time.
Low: Definitely saying goodbye to David and the boys. I wish we were adventuring together.
Laugh: We made it though customs and were connecting with our local guide for about five/ten minutes and as we started to head for the bus, a student left his bag behind and just started walking away carrying nothing. Another student shouted, "hey your bag!" The student rushed back and grabbed for the bag of the student who announced the issue, "this is my bag, yours is over here." I tried not to laugh and then remembered "uh oh we are responsible for these kids." #dayonefail
Day 2: Really our first day in Beijing
Have you ever woken up in a dark hotel room completely confused as to where you are? That was definitely how I felt waking up in Beijing. But once I got my bearings, I got myself ready and thought multiple times "wow I am literally in China," got dressed, had too much for breakfast (which was an assortment of American standards like bacon and eggs and Chinese standards like congee and dumplings), and grabbed a Starbucks. Stepping outside of the Penta hotel felt a little like I was in NYC. Big tall sky scrapers and neon signs turned off or down for morning, people waking up and heading out for their days. Starbucks had a pink blossom latte which was a delightful, I checked out a local grocery store with Dave and bought a little candy for my babies back home, and we headed for the first adventure the temple of heaven.
When we arrived, we went over to the retiree playground first to walk around, get some fresh air and watch hundreds of 65+ members of Chinese societies do their morning exercise. It was astounding!!! This whole playground was teeming with retirees bending, stretching and moving around on all sorts of fitness/playground equipment! It was simultaneously quaint and strange. I mean strange in the sense that there is no comparison in the states and I doubt any of my grandparents could have been as limber as the men and women we saw! Legs up alongside their heads, hacky sack tournaments, chin ups, dancing, and all sorts of feats of strength. Our students joined in and it was amazing listening to them practice their Chinese with the group. We laughed so so much!! It was so playful and the Beaver kids even picked up some new dance moves.
Walking into the square of the temple of heaven was startlingly! I just have not seen any architectural comparison. It was so beautiful to see the wide open square and towering structure and the details of it all were captivating. You could easily get lost in the beautiful Ming designed space. The corners of the side structures were adorned with elegant guardians denoting the importance of the building. It was hard to leave but so fun to have been. From this very tranquil setting we headed to the Pearl market, which is a bargainer's dream as vendors sell their "real" bags and shoes to susceptible tourists. It was all fun though and the kids stocked up some sneakers, bags, sunglasses, and adorable stuffed animals. I was feeling a little unsettled in the tummy while there and found myself face-to-face with a squatty potty! With thirty minutes to spare before the kids regrouped from the market, I sat down outside the market with our local guide, Martin, and just look at the city life driving and walking by. We talked about daily life, his family, and the smog. The smog was not as bad today as sometimes. On the smog index it was a 283. Without context, I am not sure if this is really good or bad. We had some blue skies in the morning but they turned thicker and hazier by afternoon. I swear I could "feel" it in my chest but maybe that was psychosomatic?
Our lunch was amazing! We arrived and everything was set up for us. We each had giant bowls of noodles with veggies and a delicious fermented bean sauce. There was sliced potatoes, spicy cabbage, and different preparations of pork and chicken. We left massively full and sleepy but it was time for the forbidden city! We walked alongside Tiananmen Square on our way toward the imperial residence. The square is the largest public square in the world donned with the symbols of the Chinese communist party. We were not able to walk through because the government officials were meeting and security was strict and very visible. But the space was vast, imposing, and beautiful to see first hand. I thought a lot about free speech and what that means and who gets to define its limits.
Once through the gates, the forbidden city illicited all of the "oooooo" and "aaaahhhs" you could imagine! It is stunning in scope and detail and so vastly different from the architecture of European cities I have visited. Yet the function of demonstrating the importance of the emperor as a divine right ruler is universal. We walked through courtyard after courtyard. And I loved learning about the male and female lions that flanked the entrances. The male stands on an orb and the female is tickling her cub. Did you know that? It was so cute! After going through the private residence of the emperor and his concubines, we ended in the gardens. Trees marked with red labels were over 300 years old!! It was a lovely space with imposing rock formations, architecture, water features, and lush plant life. I could have sat in there even longer.
We ended our night with Peking duck and so much more food!! The duck was delicious and eaten in a pancake with scallions and cucumbers. It tasted rich and fresh. And we tried something called fried milk. It was like a dessert in sweetness but served at the main meal time. It was light and flaky sort of like a churro in shape but when you bite into it it has a sweet milk the consistency of pudding inside. It was delicious and surprising and the kids were so full and tired that they fell asleep on the bus and lights were out in the hotel by nine.
High: definitely the retiree park! It was all so cute and welcoming and so different and awesome.
Low: we struggled a bit today with having kids come back to our meet up spots on time. We gave a little speech about safety and will be tightening that up!
Laugh: I love BJ! These shirts were everywhere in the pearl market and I naively was so confused by them. Was this supposed to be sexually charged and provocative? Nope it was I love Beijing!! Also a student told the most hilarious story about a trip he took with our school and an awkward occurrence and I died laughing! I had tears streaming down my face but you will need to ask me to find out.