Monday, June 2, 2014

Good morning from Beijing

If you are younger, your body seems to adapt more quickly to the huge time change from Dallas to Beijing, or at least if you base it on whose still asleep at 5:00 am and whose not.

Thankfully we made it to Beijing without incident. We had wonderful help at American Airlines checking our bags all the way through to Beijing, rather than us claim and re-check. The man who helped us with our bags has 2 nieces from China, one name Gracie and the other Annie, so he went out of his way to ensure we were taken care of when he learned our bags consisted of items for the orphanages.

We were extremely fortunate that Mom and Dad paid to upgrade us to business class, with seats that completely stretched out. We aren't used to that kind of luxury but it made a huge difference.

We arrived in Beijing about 9:00 pm on Sunday, after leaving Chicago at 7:30 pm on Saturday. If that is confusing, you can see why my body is so confused.

After checking in, we walked to 7 11, which we had been told was somewhere between 1 and 2 minutes. It was very close and I was insistent on having some ramen noodles on hand in the event someone woke up in the middle of the night hungry. Annabel has never flown this leg of the trip and Grace was only 11 last time, but I vividly remembered waking up with my stomach on my "normal" schedule.

Since no one slept much, we were at the breakfast buffet by 6:00 am. If you have never traveled to China and had a breakfast buffet, you are missing out. This one seems even more extensive than any others I have seen, but still had the traditional items. There were dumplings, eggs served in a variety of measures, pastries, fruits, and a few odd things, like baked beans, which they always seem to have and I never see served anywhere else.

We were to meet our guide at 9:00 am but in the meantime, thankfully my girls figured out the free wireless access and were able to communicate back home for us.

Our first stop of the day was to the Hutongs, a preserved area tucked away from the hustle and bustle that a city of 23 million presents. Because the streets are so narrow, we left our bus and hopped on a rickshaw! I felt like I was giving these men a good work out! I bet they flip a coin to see who loses and has to carry the Americans!

All the buildings are gray, so as not to compete with the beauty of the emperor's residence. There are only communal bathrooms and little to no electricity, yet each property is valued in the millions because of their location. We met a very nice man who let us look at their home which consisted of 4 buildings facing a courtyard. OK buildings is somewhat of a misnomer and it is more like 4 rooms facing a courtyard. The way facing the north is higher than the other 3 and reserved for the most senior family members as it has the best access to heating and cooling from the weather. The courtyard included an area filled with bird and grasshopper cages suspended from a pagoda.

From there we went to the silk factory, run by the government. Learning about the silk worms and processing their cocoons was very interesting. They were selling silk quilts that were amazing, but I could not see spending our entire souvenir budget on me a quilt. I did get the girls each a beautiful silk dress, so we are ready for parties.

After that we had lunch. The other family is adventurous in their eating so our guide was pleased to oblige by ordering fish heads, spicy long beans, ma po tofu, shaved pork, and one beef dish, that was not nearly as spicy, since I admitted I was not quite as adventurous.

With our stomachs full, we headed to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. She warned us that we would walk non stop for about 2.5 hours and she was right. The lines to pass security were longer than any US citizen would stand, just to see a national treasure like the square. Thankfully our guide flashed her pass and knew some people in charge, and we were on the square within minutes. I was immediately overwhelmed by the enormity of the square and the vast number of significant historical events that had happened there. The area is huge and yet you could feel the presence of those who had tried to stand their ground there, outside the many government buildings. There is also Chairman Mao's tomb, which is open to the public each morning for a few hours, but your Chinese ID is required and enduring a line that was longer than the square itself.

You eventually make your way across the square to enter the gate that we are familiar with, where the giant picture of Chairman Mao is suspended. This is the first of many gates necessary to go through to get to the Forbidden City. So I was expected lush gardens and beautiful scenery inside, but instead, most of it was a series of huge pagodas, some recently restored, but all at the top of a long series of stairs. It's amazing to think that this was created in the 1400's and survives intact today. The final stop was the lush garden you think of, but I hate to admit, that between the crowds, the heat, and my back, I mainly just wanted to get back to the bus. I'll also blame it on jetlag.

There are plenty of pictures coming, I've just got to figure out how to upload them. I'm not used to being blocked from websites like google and Facebook so I'm having to find new routes to accomplish it.

We ended the day with dinner with the second family in our tour group, who had just arrived. Again, our guide did a great job of finding so many foods that my girls absolutely loved. I'm doing my best to try more than I ever have and admit the flavors have been so much better than anything we can get in Dallas.

Part of my reason for not being able to sleep is we are having trouble getting our donations to the orphanage shipped and the donation to the local orphanage picked up. Hopefully it will all be resolved today and I am especially appreciative to our church paying for the costs of shipping, since they expect it to be over $100 US.

Speaking of US dollars and the Chinese RMB, for some reason I can't do the math. I thought some ice cream last night was over $10, when it was only $1 and then I thought a phone case was $10 and it was over $30. Very glad I have 2 extremely bright children who access their calculators quickly to keep me from making too many blunders.

Today we are headed to the Great Wall, a portion that is considerably less crowded but takes a couple of hours to get there.

More later!

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