Kim and me

Kim and me

Thursday, May 24, 2012

An amazing trip to Beijing

Kim and I on the Great Wall of China

Tiled 9 dragon picture in the Forbidden City
At the Forbidden City

Amber with Flora, our tour guide and new friend

 Because I take advantage of my flight benefits from working for a major airline, I've had the opportunity to visit many countries around the globe. Never have I had as much trepidation to leave America as I did the first week of May of this year. When asked where she wanted to go, my twenty year old daughter Amber answered definitevly with "China".
 I said, "Okay, we can do that." but I really wasn't convinced. Yes, my airline had service to Beijing. Yes, I had worked enough overtime to pay for any expenses. Sure, there were lots of cool things to see. But, this was a Communist country that I had read really didn't welcome westerners, let alone Americans because of our views on democracy as well as supporting a free Taiwan and Tibet. Also, I'd already found out you had to jump through hoops to even get a visa to enter.
 Not wanting to disappoint Amber and my wife Kim, I went through the motions of planning and acquiring everything we needed to go.
 After arriving in China, it didn't take long before all three of us were convinced it was well worth the effort. That is not to say that there weren't any difficulties.
 We had reservations at one of the most charming hotels I've ever stayed in. Within the midst of surrounding skyscrapers in the business and shopping center of Beijing, is the nearly hidden oasis known as the Beijing Jingyuan Garden Hotel. More than two centuries old, it was once a large one story house which has since been converted into individual rooms for visitors. Within the midst, is a large, beautifully kept garden with covered walkways and numerous plants. Staying in such a place, helped convert our western way of thinking into a more traditional Chinese cultural attitude. Kim spent every morning and evening listening to the birds sing while sitting under the stars and marveling at the skyscrapers towering above the tiled roof of our little inn.
 Abandoning our western thought was essential for our survival in the busy streets of Beijing. Visitors should keep in mind that the lines on the roads, which we call lanes, are merely guidelines for the Chinese. We also found that crosswalks did not guarantee the right away for pedestrians. More than once we were almost brushed by a city bus and even a police car.
 Another concern we had, was the quality of the air. I remember the news reporting the problem for the athletes health prior to the Beijing Summer Games in 2008 and apparently nothing had changed. Getting enough satisfying breaths of oxygen was similar to my gasping for air in the high altitudes of Cuzco, Peru a few years before.
 One last negative before I hit the magical and amazing aspects of our trip to China. For us, getting a taxi to take us to our destination, was paramount to Chairman Mao parting the East China Sea with a wave of the hand. It's not the cab drivers fault that most Americans can't read or write in Chinese characters. Communicating what we needed, was a major problem but somehow, after time we still managed.
 Chairman Mao once said "If you haven't been to the Great Wall, you aren't a real man." Fortunately for me, visiting the most famous of border structures was on the top of Amber's list of things she wanted to see. I'm pleased to announce my maturation process towards masculinity is complete.
 A couple hours north of Beijing, is the less crowded and touristy section of the wall known as Mutianyu where we boarded a gondola that took us from the valley floor to the wall. Honestly, I have never seen anything as impressive as the Great Wall anywhere in the world; at least not anything that was constructed by man. After walking along the precipice a little way, Kim and I sat down and waited for Amber to run up the incline to a watch tower more than a mile away. We looked around, marveling at just the one section of the 6,000 kilometer long wall. Kim, being a little more in tune to her spiritual side, practically felt and heard the ancient voices of the men guarding the northern border with an occasional dog barking in the distance. For me, I could only imagine what it would have been like centuries before.
 As equally impressive is the Forbidden City right in the heart of Beijing. From the outside, you can't imagine how expansive it is until you buy your ticket and enter. Structure after structure separated by enormous courtyard after courtyard; all having a similar appearance.
 Home of twenty-four emperors between the Ming and Qing dynasties, the once imperial palace is now a thought provoking museum of surviving treasures, thrones, gardens, and incredible tiled art. We walked through the ancient city for an hour looking for a tiled picture of 9 dragons which didn't disappoint. Unfortunately, for the Chinese, most of the artifacts are now on display in Taiwan; a sore spot for the Chinese government.
 During our stay we also visited Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace, the Llama Temple, the Ming Tombs, and even the Beijing Zoo to see a real, live Panda. We sat through a never-ending performance of the Peking Opera as well as an incredible and rewarding acrobatic show the following evening. I highly recommend the latter but the former, well, eh........ During both performances we listened to people talking loudly on their cell phones without even a thought of consideration for the patrons or the performers.
 No matter where we visited during our stay, Kim and I were amused to see family after family ask if they could take a family picture with Amber. We guessed seeing a tall blonde girl in Beijing was not a very common sight.
 Someday we will visit China again. Once you look past the little idiosyncrasies' of China and the differences between east and west. The land of guardian dragons and Tai Chi in the park is a magical place to visit.