I’m going to summarize the rest of our visit to Beijing for a few reasons. One is because the bulk of what we did here was straight tourism (and the point of this blog series was to report on taking the trip as a cultural exchange trip), and the second is that I didn’t have the down time that I had in Guangzhou and so it didn’t get written day by day.
We essentially had another two and a half days of tourism, which was enjoyable. Please take note the air quality of the following pictures here—Clear blue skies? Yes! That was a direct effect of the snow a few days prior! We were so fortunate to have the clarity.
After settling into the hotel in Beijing, and having a good night’s sleep, we headed off to see the Tiananmen Square area. My first impression was shear awe. If you are reading this and are of a certain age or older, this likely holds a particular scene in your mind. The funny thing was that the kids had NO idea what the significance was here. None. Nor was there anything that we could relate it to for them. From a sociological standpoint, our guides said not one word of what happened here in 1989. In retrospect, it is very possible that neither may have been born (one definitely not and the other is far too young for it to have had an impact). In addition to that the denial there of what actually happened, or the history re-writes and who knows what they actually were educated about. But enough about that and on to the rest of our day!
Our walk continued thru the Forbidden City, and finished after the Palace of Heaven. Any Disney fans reading this? This might look a bit familiar to you:
We had time to walk around and see the detail, and ended up finding a group of junior high students from San Francisco. Their teachers had the opportunity to teach a class here and the kids did an in-home-stay. Such a wonderful opportunity for everyone!
The following day was the one that I had been looking forward to most, and waiting for since finding out about the trip (and it was the entire reason that I wanted to chaperone this trip.) We were headed to the Great Wall of China! It was hard to contain my excitement.
There are a few different areas of the wall that are within a short drive from the Beijing area and that are tourist-friendly. The one we went to was apparently the most “easily accessed” and had areas that could be walked by all types of people. The long and short of this is that the entire area had been developed to accommodate the hoards of tourists that showed up every day. Please note that we are not talking Western tourists, most of these tourists are more local, from one of the other regions in China, more rural in nature. We arrived to find a version of a strip-mall, with various shops, a Subway restaurant, and bathrooms in multiple locations (both with and without seated options). I was not expecting that.
Here at the Wall, there was a central square and two hiking options. The first was shorter and steeper, and the other was longer and less steep. My daughter, after the obligatory selfies on the wall, literally RAN up the wall with some friends. I took it a bit slower with some of the other kids and made it all the way up one side and about 1/3 of the way up the less steep side. I stopped the second half of the way because of the crowds. I’m not kidding when I say that they brought picnic lunches and were making a day out of their journey.
|The blossoms were in full bloom and the colors were gorgeous:|
Our last day in China consisted of a visit to the Summer Palace prior to heading to the airport. This is where the famous “Dragon Lady” or “Dowager Empress” (the mother of the famed Last Emperor) spent her time. It was gorgeous and absolutely enormous. I wondered, knowing that this was during the time when women bound their feet, what the point was making the palace so large. There is no way that they could have walked it on their own, surely they had to be carried?
Unfortunately in these pictures below you can see that the air quality was declining as we were about to leave.
The flight home was tolerable. Unfortunately the food on the plane was awful and I was very tired of being in the back of the plane (we were at the mercy of the seat assignments at the airport, one of the downfalls of not having been in control of the travel booking personally as the travel agent). That being said, I still had a great time and I would absolutely go to China again. I now have a visa that is good for another 9 and a half years, and didn’t even go to Shanghai or Hong Kong. If/when I return, I don’t plan on doing this on my own without a guide. One of the disconcerting things I noticed on this trip was that there was no English in the airport. Were it not for the guide or one of the parents that could read Chinese, I think it would have been far more frustrating to get from point A to point B for me. I’m figuring my next visit will be via cruise ship and guided excursions. I do know people who have gone to China and worked there successfully, but I’m not sure that I would ever be comfortable with that sort of independence.
In summary, this was an amazing opportunity that I never saw myself embarking on. I enjoyed stepping outside of my comfort zone, and, as with any historical sight I have ever visited, I loved seeing things that I have only learned about in history books. It was enlightening to become part of the tourist attraction. In our country, it’s not common to look upon others as so “different” that they become a distraction. It was very odd to be the one on that receiving end here. Lastly, these were precious memories I was able to have with my daughter. Those 18 summers that we get with our children go by so quickly that you need to take every moment available to you. This was one of those great moments that I will always cherish. I am very thankful for the opportunity to have experienced this cultural exchange. If you get the opportunity to do one with your child, take it—you won’t regret it.