Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Belated Travel Diary - Days 1-3

In honor of my very good friend who is landing in China in just a few hours, I decided to finally pick back up the blog and tell about our trip. We flew United through Chicago to Beijing and aside from a six hour delay in Chicago, it was a really enjoyable flight. Child #1 did not drink enough or use the bathroom enough and ended up throwing up in the Beijing airport. It was a really long trip and immigration took a long time, so I totally understood why. Child #2 did surprisingly well. We prepared him ahead of time with YouTube videos of what it looks like in the plane and what the toilet sounds/looks like. We did carry on only on the way there and they all had to lug their own backpacks and carryon suitcases. They did really well. We used David Wang (find him on FB!) for all the Beijing pick ups and touring, and his driver was waiting right there for us.

This was our 1st lesson in Chinese culture, they walk FAST. And they don't check behind them to make sure you are keeping up. And the Beijing airport going to what seemed to be parking was HUGE. This was the second lesson - parking in China is a relative term. There aren't really designated spots that I could tell. Heck, traffic lanes in China are a relative term. Lesson three - the drivers will share lanes, turn together, use the horn liberally, occasionally brush side mirrors with the car, but they are ridiculously talented drivers. Also, they don't get mad. They honk louder but remain completely calm. We had an enormous amount of fun riding around Beijing (and later Wuhan).

The next morning we went on a whirlwind tour with two other families we knew. It started with a

temple just north of the Forbidden City. I really loved it and would have liked to stay there longer. There were seniors doing water painting and grannies square dancing. But we had to get to the Great Wall! We went to the section that has the open gondolas going up and the toboggan going down. This was my favorite stop. We had such a fun time, but it wore me out! Husband and Child #1 made it past the tallest tower, but Child #2 and I were gasping at the second to last. So close but Child #2 refused and sat down. And I did get him one tower further than he said he would go... I cannot describe the view. It was breathtaking. We got a rare sunny and slightly less smoggy day. We had an amazing lunch at the restaurant just down the hill. I don't know what all the foods were, but it was the best food we had during our whole trip. Next we all went to the Summer Palace. I had really been looking forward to this, but it was crazy crowded. Lesson 4 - get used to walking/standing/sitting closely to people. I cannot describe how crowded it was. I kept hold of my teenage boys because we were walking through swarms of people - all of them

Chinese and many staring at us. But we were moving so fast they couldn't stare for long (see lesson 1). I think the Summer Palace was beautiful, at least what little I saw of it. Between the people and fast walking, I really only remember the pretty lake and marble boat and of course, the long walkway. I took photos of them, so I could look better at them later (that statement seems so sad). We finished around six and ate food I had brought with us. Lesson 5 - bringing food in your suitcase is a really good
idea. We were way too tired to find dinner and it was so nice to have tuna sandwiches and oatmeal. I think we found some cup ramen somewhere too.

On Sunday morning, we were picked up by David's niece and taken to the Beijing train station. It was amazing and I loved every minute of the train journey. The station was huge! But it was all well labeled. His niece walked up to our gate which was much appreciated because we were one of the only western families there and nobody spoke English. I had a fun time finding out how much the bananas cost (10 yuan for a bunch of six) and this seemed like a great bargain compared to fast food.
The ladies were so nice and laughing as they first tried showing me on their fingers then with the calculator. Turns out calculators are VERY common for bartering or showing prices when you don't speak the same language. Go figure. (see what I did there ;) When it came time to give our tickets and go through the gate, we were rocks in the stream. Seriously, a stream of people moving quickly and we were bumbling with our suitcases and tickets. A kind man that had kind of talked with us earlier soon disappeared around the corner with his elderly mother. They all had suitcases and tickets too, but they all moved way faster, even the seniors. Nothing like a trip to China to make you realize how slow and overweight you are. Which is odd because I'm not really slow or overweight. Sidenote, there aren't escalators going down to the train, but there is a whole messload of stairs, so you better know how you are getting your suitcase (or your son and his suitcase) down the stairs. Quickly. A very kind man helped my son. He didn't even look at us really, just picked up his suitcase and carried to the bottom of the stairs. Ah the train! We took the bullet train to Wuhan and sat in firs
t class (there is another class even better than first class but why bother, first class was awesome). The seats were huge. They reclined way back! They had fold out tables and fold down footrests and coat hooks! There was hot water in the back of the car for the cup ramen you bought in the train station! There was even train attendants dressed like they did for Pan Am in the 1960s with meal carts. They gave us snacks and drinks and we bought a full meal for 50 or 60 yuan (about $8). Three of us shared it. It was a lot of food. We averaged 300 km per hour. The thing I loved the most was seeing the countryside. Sometimes I would stretch my neck as we got really close to a neighborhood, but then a big wall would pop up. I don't know if that was to protect people or hide ugly buildings. We passed a few of what looked like ghost cities. Great monoliths of apartments and skyscrapers rising in the gray sky with over a dozen cranes for each area, finished roads, finished neighborhoods, but only one or two cars driving down an eight lane road. If you build it, they will come? The rural and agricultural areas were beautiful, but eerie. Everything was in rows or squares as far as the eye could see. Many of the small dirt roads had trees perfectly spaced on each side. Very pretty, but a little... off. Much of the train ride, I kept thinking how much the scenes outside looked like something out of a dystopian novel. Everything was covered in a hazy, smoggy gray, so you couldn't see too far and it was always
overcast. My favorite area was an hour away from Wuhan we started to go through mountains, quite literally through them. There were still terraced rows on the mountains, but the few homes and neighborhoods looked a little more wild, like they hadn't been razzed and renovated yet. I was the only person on our train car looking out the window. Everyone else was on their phones. Although I did see one person with a magazine. And suddenly, we were there - Wuhan, Hubei. We would meet Child #5 tomorrow!