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Friday, April 20, 2007

China Experience - Beijing

The second in the series of my China travel journal:

On 3/31/07:
Good Morning - it must be around 7:30 Saturday morning for you all as it is 7:30 pm here. It was wonderful to talk to you all this morning/last night! I loved hearing all your voices!

I'm so pleased to hear that school is going well and everyone is getting along well. You sound like you all are staying very busy!

We had a great day in China today! We had a nice breakfast from the buffet they provide here at the hotel. It is a FULL breakfast - no continental muffins and juice here! Interesting Chinese options and more familiar Western ones, too. I had fresh pineapple, bacon, and some banana bread.

After breakfast we met the group and headed to the Summer Palace. If you get a chance, look it up online. It is an amazing complex of buildings, courtyards, covered walkways, all on a large man-made lake. We took lots of photos and are going to try to upload some to Phoebe Lin's blog.

While we were there, we were stopped by another tour group - a chinese one. They wanted their photos with the "lao wai" - foreigners! (literally: old strangers - remember "old" is term of respect in China) At first we thought they were asking us to move out of the way a bit so they could get a photo, but then it became clear that our group *was* the photo. They all took turns jumping in the photos and taking them. We started taking photos, too. It was such a funny, sweet moment! They were laughing and so were we. We learned that they were from a distant province and didn't see westerners frequently. For some it was the first time. Imagine that.

After the Summer Palace, we headed to a Pearl Market where they demonstrated how pearls are cultivated and we got to see one opened right before our eyes! It must have had 20 pearls in it -all pretty small, but WOW! Then, of course, we got the sales pitch, but it was very gracious. I did make two small purchases while we were there -but, perhaps I'll keep those as surprises. :)

Next it was time for lunch. We headed back into town and enjoyed a family-style lunch. Really delicious food!

(By the way, Halen - last night, I had wonton soup - which has those yummy dumplings in it - I thought of you as I enjoyed them!)

After lunch we had the afternoon "free". A few of us walked down to a popular street that has been closed off to traffic to make a pedestrian "mall" area. Bordering one side of the pedestrian area is a very western and HUGE mall. It was still being constructed in parts (most parts -in fact there were no elevators - just escalators). Kim and I commented that there, in America, there is NO WAY that place would be open. But what was completed was very nice. We saw KFC, McD's, Bennetton, and more familiar names and some not so familiar. We also saw...a STARBUCKS. But, we skipped it....NOT! :) We sat and enjoyed our familiar "lattes".

We went off on our own to explore the outside pedestrian area and one discovery led to another and before we knew it we were thick in the middle of a traditional Chinese "hutong" . A hutong is a group of traditional Chinese courtyard homes set on alleyways connecting them all together (many have been torn down to make way for high-rise apartments - more economical living, but not nearly as interesting). They are VERY old -in fact some families have lived in the same hutong for centuries. The alley ways are filled with market stalls, food being prepared and sold right on the street, , clothes air drying, bikes, kids, etc. It was AWESOME!!

We did some haggling and walked away with some little trinkets. (No English spoken here! I brought my calculator along - so we were able to haggle by using it to show what number we were trying to say. I'm sure we didn't get the best price - but it was still cheap and really fun!) It was just neat to walk and peek in door ways, smell the smells, hear the sounds, etc.

Halen and Ella - we saw people eating tanghulars like in "Little Pear"! I don't think I'll be able to bring any home - they are very sticky looking and wouldn't keep. But I did take a photo for you! We also saw corn on the cob, roasted and on a stick; all sorts of unidentifiable meat on a stick; and even - squid on a stick! And no, we did not eat any!

It is very "quiet" in the hutongs once you get away from the market area. By quiet I mean protected from the noises of the city. This is right in the middle of Beijing and yet you couldn't hear the cars, horns, etc that were only a few blocks away.

We came out to a modern street and said, "OK, I guess we go right". We did and sure enough caught site of our hotel in the skyline. As we headed "home" we came across an area where they had excavated the original city walls (well, not "original" but REALLY darn old - the original "Imperial" walls). We probably would not have seen that little historic gem, nor enjoyed the stroll throught the "hutong" had we not just adventured out. That was GREAT!

By the way - don't worry about us getting lost. The hotel gave us business cards with the name, address, phone number (in Chinese and English) and a little map on the reverse. We can always show someone the card and ask them to point the way.

After returning to the hotel room, we laid down for a quick rest and slept at least 2 hours! The phone rang when our guide was calling to see if we were joining them for dinner. We decided to skip dinner and just take it easy in the room this evening. Also, we might not have had time to come here and email you! We have some "just add water" noodles - so, we won't go hungry.

Tomorrow is the Forbidden City and Great Wall. There was quite a strong, chilly wind blowing here today, and we hear it will be even cooler on the Great Wall. I'll have to bundle up a bit! Oh, that reminds me of one other stop we made...Kim didn't have enough warm clothes, so we went into a nice little (very fashionable - like a "Gap" or something) clothing store and purchased a jacket. We had a great time with the clerk - he was a hoot! But, as we were told, it is hard to find clothes for big western bodies here in China. AND WE'RE NOT THAT BIG! :)

Well, we are pretty tired and it is 8:00pm for us. We need to be heading to bed as we are tired from a very full day. We'll call again in the morning/evening. Can't wait to hear your voices again! Have a good day!

Love to you all,


Jimmie said...

Hi, KerryLeigh!
Beijing is fun for tourism. We've done that. I hope to go back in a few years when DD is even older and able to appreciate it more.

I totally understand what you mean about the clothing sizes! I don't even LOOK anymore! But I recently had two knit t-shirts made to order for about $3 each! Woo hoo! :-)