I know I haven’t written in a while so I thought I would back track a bit and tell you all about our trip to Beijing. We decided on rather short notice to spend a weekend in Beijing….Mother’s Day weekend. Friends had told us how convenient the overnight train is and with the tourist packages available, transportation, sightseeing and lodging were all easily obtained. What a trip!
We started with a our final packing on Friday afternoon, thinking we would simplify things and eat out for supper before the driver arrived to take us to the train station…simple so we thought. We all made our way to the basement garage, the kids taking both stairs and elevators to keep it interesting, only to find that the van was with the driver. This is when Wendell and I realized how accustomed to China we have become, with a shrug, we headed back upstairs to order some McDonald’s. It really didn’t phase us! We have come to expect that plans change—constantly. With the meal out of the way we met our driver and headed to the station.
Hongqiao train station, in Shanghai, is quite nice. Clean, secure and by Chinese standards, orderly. We had about an hour to wait and explore the station a bit before we were due to depart. We even found seats to sit in while we waited. I have to admit I was very nervous as to how crowded the station would be but it wasn’t bad…until it was time to “line up” which I am using quite loosely here. We joined the crowd pushing to get through the gate to file onto the escalator and board the train. I’ve learned waiting your turn is not a strong suit of the Chinese, but we are learning to hold our own and stick together. With much excitement, we climbed aboard the train and found our two private compartments. Yes, two…we were quite happy we would have the space to spread out even if we would be sleeping most of the time. The rooms were very clean and pleasant, not as soft as our beds at home but passable for this exciting adventure.
Settling the kids in for bed was another matter, but after trips to the bathroom (because what kid can pass up checking out yet another type of toilet) we all got comfortable and attempted to sleep. The kids slept well, Wendell and I at least were rested somewhat. Wendell and I did manage to wake early and enjoy some coffee while watching the scenery pass by as we drew closer to Beijing. Thinking I had plenty of time to wash my face and brush my teeth, I was taken a back at the line of people at the sinks waiting to do the same, less than hour before arriving. Needless to say our sightseeing that day was done with fuzzy hair and teeth!
Departing the train was even more exciting than squeezing through the gates at the Hongqiao station. With firm stares and stiff shoulders, I manage to keep the kids behind Wendell with only a couple people sneaking in amongst us. The station was packed!!! We made it through yet another turnstile because though culturally lining up is unheard of, there are many attempts to enforce it. After making it out into the open portion of the station (if you can call standing amongst 100s of people open) we located our tour guide and joined the mass exodus from the station. Exiting stations and airports all seem alike, we wait in a long line at the elevators because no one wants to carry luggage up or down stairs. We tried to insist we didn’t mind, but of course we give up because the persistence required to accomplish it wasn’t worth it. Fortunately we all squeezed into one elevator and didn’t have to wait for another.
This is about the time we realized we would be heading straight for our first tourist hot spot rather than the hotel…ugh!!! I so regretted not making sure I had time to use the sink! Oh, well, we were off to see the Summer Palace and another Buddhist temple (China’s full of them). Summer Palace was beautiful and we really wished we had taken more time to just walk around enjoy the views. The boat ride felt like a trap. Perfect for all those who wanted pictures of this unusually large family. Sights were great when we were not blinded by camera flashes or answering questions. Fortunately it was a short boat ride and it gave our tour guide a chance to witness the scrutiny we endure when we are out as a family. Then we just requested to head back to our hotel to clean up and explore a bit on our own.
Back at the hotel, we cleaned up and headed back out to find a park and supper. It didn’t take too long (an hour) to realize the park was a little farther than we thought and dinner was not nearly close enough. With a lot of childish tears (I told Wendell to get a hold of himself!) we made our way back towards our hotel, grasping at the familiar we settled for Starbucks sandwiches and luckily found a dairy queen too. We also found an interesting international market that happened to have a copy of Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers in Chinese! I was stunned and it was only 32 RMB which roughly translates to about $5 USD. Very cool…at least I thought it was.
Now I must take the time to describe the hotel rooms. Adjoining rooms were apparently not an option. So Wendell and I divided and conquered again! This was a very nice hotel, live music in the lobby slash bar area and a beautiful aquarium tank with ample seating for the free wi-fi, in the lobby. To experience wi-fi in our rooms however, would cost us an additional $8 USD a day, and if we got a craving and succumbed to the mini bar we could buy a $4 package of M&Ms or maybe some expensive juice or water….so I found myself turning into the Nazi Mama and keeping kids away from the beautiful basket of goodies which would cost us an arm and a leg, or was it my first born. Not worth it! It was then that we decided to check the cost of the additional breakfasts since the room only came with 2 each. Once again to buy breakfast was so outrageous, we put on our walking shoes and sought the first McDonald’s we could find (which was just past the closest one).
The wonderfully cheap McDonald’s breakfast we enjoyed gave us just the energy we needed to make it through one of the longest most interesting days in our lives. We visited Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Hutong, Wangfujing Street, an acrobat show, and for the grand finale Peking Duck at a beautiful restaurant. Whewww! What a day! We arrived back at the hotel thoroughly exhausted and very happy to have a mature enough son to sit with his siblings (mostly sleeping) while we snuck down to the lobby and checked out the free wi-fi.
The next morning we awoke bright and early to find us some Mother’s Day Brunch at what has become our most faithfully trusted Chinese Restaurant, McDonald’s. Of course, because it was Mother’s Day, the family did stop at Starbucks, to get me a wonderful to go mug full of coffee (that’s just what I REALLY needed, really, I’m not kidding). We loaded up all our belongings and took to the road with our tour guide to find the Great Wall of China. First of course we had to fulfill another tourist obligation by checking out one of the Ming tombs and learning that the kids should never step on an ant. (The kids found their first large ant since being here, stared at awhile then one of them stepped on it, it was our shrieking tour guide that clued us in that you should never step on an ant in China). We managed to bury the ant, the kids did feel remorseful to have upset our guide like that, and head to the Great Wall of China.
Finally, the mountains were around us, one last stop for lunch then we would get to stand on The Wall. Lunch was conveniently located just beyond the world’s largest Cloisonne vase factory/tourist trap. Everyone (even Emma) was handed a coupon (which was basically just description of the place) as we toured the cloisonne process and filed into the dining room, only to exit back through the giant sale room. We did fall for it and bought a couple beautiful blue vases, after all, it was Mother’s Day.
Now, finally, we were headed to the Great Wall of China. It was around this time that it really started drizzling. We made it through the gates, in awe of the mountains and stone walls above and around us. But first before we go any farther, the girls insisted we check out the bathrooms. It was the steps leading up to the bathrooms that really should have clued me in on how the rest of the day would be but I naively and hurriedly rushed the kids through the necessities so we could head to the wall. We were on our way!! We got to the wall portions and stood on the first part for photos and decided to keep going, because we really wanted to be on top of the mountain. What were we thinking! This is where our tour guide decided to wait for us, (it became clear she didn’t expect us to climb up any of it) So kids in tow we headed up, wow, that was crazy!
It was a hard climb up to the first tower, the view was amazing….until we looked down the steps we had just trekked up. Dizziness hit, as did the reality that we would have to help our kids back down….in the rain. We took our time chatting with the guards, enjoying some oatmeal raisin cookies we had brought to enjoy. Then we headed back down. These steps are old, uneven and slippery-when-wet. I think this was one of those rare occasions when I felt like the worst parent ever for taking my 4 year old daughter up this cliff! It was at the bottom that our stupidity found it hadn’t hit bottom, because looking at the other side of the river (the Wall went down in a valley and up either side) we decided that the other side didn’t look as steep, and maybe we should check out that side.
Getting to the other side seemed simple, little did we know that we would go up and down old stone stairways through these fortress buildings at the base of the valley. By the time we had crossed the river we had climbed up and down so many flights of stairs our minds had reset and we could look at the steps leading up to the next tower and KNOW that we could not drag the kids up the cliff they called stairs. We did find a path to a newer Pagoda set on the side of the mountain and some comfortably spaced steps (did I mention how uneven the steps were on the wall—some were 4 inch rises and others 18 inches). The view, again, was incredible. By the time we made it back across the river and to the last of the tourist shops, the shop owners were ready to close up and our tour guide was ready for us to hit the road. It definitely did not feel as though we had enough time. An incredible experience that words can not describe.
I have now brought you to our final destination on our trip, the Beijing Train Station. Now that was another interesting experience. Unlike Shanghai’s Hongqiao station, there was not ample seating for us. There was a completely empty roped off portion but that was for a better first class than our first class compartments. Status is everything in this communist world. So with seating at high premium we found a bench to drop our wet bodies upon, and exhaustedly wait the 2 hours until we could board and change out of our wet clothes. Never did a hard bunk feel so good as when we laid down in our clean dry clothes to toss and turn our way home. We were smarter on this train trip and made our ways to the bathrooms earlier so we could step off the train in style, clean teeth and combed hair.
I do not think I have adequately described our adventure but I could not move on posting until I had attempted to recount this amazing moment in our lives. We never dreamed we would have the opportunity to travel with our children as we have, let alone stand on one of the 7 wonder’s of the world. It was on the wall in Beijing I told the kids we should try to see as many of the wonder’s as we could together, what’s life, without a little hope and excitement. We truly have enjoyed our experience and especially having the opportunity to experience them as a family.