Tickets were $500 roundtrip, a great price. And over Spring break. So I couldn't resist. We purchased tickets to take the oldest 4 kids to China for 2 weeks. We had to get our visas first, that was an extra $150 each, but they are good for 10 years. Calvin was excited that in 4 years when he fills out his LDS mission papers he will be able to put down that he has a Chinese visa. After doing a little research I came up with a list a cities we could visit and the kids picked 4. We'd start in Beijing, to see the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. Then Xian, with a day stop in Pingyao on the way. In Xian we will see the Terra Cotta Warriors and go to church. Our 3rd stop will be Zhangjiajie, a Chinese National Park, that is the inspiration for the land in the movie Avatar. After visiting the park for a few days we will stay a few days in an ancient farming village 2 hours away from the park, called Shiyanping. And our last stop is Shanghai where we will travel to a town nearby to see the water canals, a Chinese Venice, and explore the city of Shanghai.
We arrived in Beijing at 8pm at night. The kids all did really well on the flight, but I think I slept too much as I had a hard time getting any sleep later. As we passed through immigration area Isabel was stopped by the health officers. We was walking with a blanket wrapped around her, and apparently looked ill. They took her temperature and passport info. She returned a 99F temperature which made them ask for her to give a urine sample and saliva test. They asked if she had the Zika virus. I wanted to laugh, but just smiled and said no. It's too cold in Idaho for mosquitos all winter. We did as they asked and they said they would call us if there were any issues. Off we went through immigration and customs. I was then a little worried they might search our bags and find the antibiotic Isabel is taking because she had strep the week before we left. But we passed through with no issues.
We took the express train from the airport into downtown Beijing, where we then rode the subway to a stop near our Airbnb apartment. We walked through a shopping street which was really quiet with shops closed up at 9pm at night. But there were small red lanterns hanging in the trees, it was a pretty sight.
In the morning we met our Beijing tour guide Sonia. After we were driving down the road a ways she informed us we would today go to the great wall, instead of Forbidden City. This was a change in our itinerary, and while I had all of my stuff, David had been planning to fly a small drone over the Great Wall hike, and Isabel had wanted to wear her Shine shirt for a picture. They were a little disappointed of the itinerary change but came around ready to enjoy the day. Sonia arranged for us to stop at a bakery to pick up some pastry's for breakfast as we had not eaten yet.
It was a 1.5 hour drive to the Huanghuacheng Great Wall Section. Mostly the drive was long because getting out of Beijing, the traffic is terrible. It is pretty aggressive driving with whoever is the bossiest winning. There are street lights that seem to be followed for straight sections, but for turning it seems like a free for all at times. And cars do not stop for pedestrians. And lights do not seem to apply to scooters or bikes.
Once we left the downtown area with it's many tall buildings the traffic cleared and we soon reached the great wall. Here is were we had no choice but to use a squat style toilet. there were 2 of them in the women's bathroom, separated by a divider, no doors or privacy really. Isabel and I braved the squatter so we could pee. It wasn't too hard and we came out without spraying ourselves, so thats a win right?
We hiked up, up, and up the wall. A semi restored area with a few spots very wild. It was beautiful, but I am out of shape! The sun was shining with a light breeze, in the mid 60sF, really a perfect day for a hike. The scenery was so pretty, looking at the wall going up and down peaks through the hills and mountains. The surrounding area had orchards of chestnut trees. It was still March, so nothing was blooming yet. The kids had a great time, but I will be sore! I think Benjamin counted more than 1000 stair steps on our hike.
After our hike we headed back to where we stopped to use the restrooms for a delicious lunch! The sweet and sour pork was a hit with all the kids. The sauce was totally different from the bright red sauce we get in the US, but so good. We also had potatoes cut like noodles, spinach with eggs, vegetarian balls, cauliflower in some kind of tomato based sauce, Chinese pancakes, and pork and mushrooms. It was all so so good, I stuffed myself full. Benjamin was a little concerned. He smelled each item and then did not want to eat anything but rice. We made him try a bite of each item but he was still resistant.
We headed back to downtown Beijing, and once we reached the downtown area, Sonia helped David find a cellular store to purchase a SIM card from for one of our phones to use for data. Then we headed over to Tiananmen Square and the adjacent shopping street. Sonia showed us where the favorite restaurant with Chinese tourists like to eat Peking Duck. Walking around you can see most restaurants, even little ones have ducks hanging and roasting in the windows. It seems to definitely be a favorite here. We still had a little time before dinner so after parting ways with Sonia for the day, we walked over to Tiananmen Square to see the view of the Monuments there. At 6:30 pm, sunset, they have a ceremony to take down the flag for the day. We did not stay for the ceremony, but we did see the flag. Then we headed back towards the restaurant touring the side streets along the way. Being a favorite restaurant among Chinese tourists I hoped it would have a regular toilet. It did not, but the bathroom was very nice and clean. It had a bathroom attendant to assist if needed. And the squatters had auto flush on them, and were in stalls with doors. I did need assistance. The sink auto on did not work as I washed my hands, so the attendant had a little tool to help turn on the water.
But we came for the duck, not the potty. And the duck was delicious. They wheel it out to your table on a tray with a cutting board, and they cut it in front of you. We only ordered 1 duck as we were not that hungry after our big lunch. A server comes to show you how to eat the duck. They take a pancake, like a tortilla, and dip the duck in a soy paste and place on the pancake, then add a few bamboo shoots, and roll like a tortilla and eat. We also ordered a dish of fried duck in a pineapple sauce (which Benjamin loved), some sweet cucumbers, which were pickled, some steamed dumplings, and rice. They also bring you some duck soup, which looks like water down milk with a cucumber floating in it. It was all delicious, especially the roast duck. Yum!
After dinner we walked towards our apartment stopping in a few shops along the way. We picked up something for breakfast and the kids picked out some candy or dried fruit to try. The language barrier is hard here. Asia seems to be more difficult than any other countries and areas of the world we have visited. It is just so different, and hard to remember the sounds. We are working on "Hello" and "Thank you" but that's about all, and I am still not sure I am saying "Thank you" right. But the city looks just like any other big city we have been in, and riding the subway is easy with signs and announcements in English, so we are getting by.
In the morning we headed off to the Forbidden City. Sonia picked us up right on time and away we went. After all my research, I was not expecting that the Chinese people would treat us like we were famous. We did not experience that the day before, but Sonia told us it is the Chinese tourists from the country areas, visit the forbidden city, that were interested in us, as they are not used to seeing foreigners. Some would walk right up and take our photo right in front of us, Savannah did not appreciate this. Others would ask first. And a few wanted to have their picture taken with us. Some wanted their kids to have a picture with Benjamin or Isabel. Rock Stars.
The Forbidden City was incredible, beautiful buildings and a huge complex where the Emperors reigned for centuries. After visiting the Forbidden City we walked across the street to Jinglangshing park to climb the hills of the Imperial Gardens for a beautiful view of the Forbidden City. Sonia told us stories of the Emperors and dynasty's that ruled from the Forbidden City. We learned a lot.
From here we stopped for lunch near the Beijing Pearl market. Again the food was delicious. We need better Chinese food in the US, the food they make here is incredible.
After lunch Sonia took us to pick up our Kungfu show tickets so we would know where the theater is, then off to the Temple of Heaven. The Temple of Heaven was built to get closer to God, or to have Heaven on Earth. She said when it was first built the main Pagoda was square, but a dynasty later, they rebuilt it round as it is today. While the pagoda is round, the walls surrounding the temple are square representing the earth, and the circle represents heaven.
We parted ways with Sonia and walked thru the beautiful park around the temple grounds a little passing several groups of men and women chattering away while playing games, mostly some kind of card game. It was fun to watch as we passed by and listen to the noise they all made sitting chatting over their games, maybe placing bets.
We walked over to the Pearl Market to look for souvenirs and try out our bartering skills. The kids had a great time asking for lower prices and picking out gifts they want to take home. The sales people are quite active shouting at us as we walk by, to see what they are selling, that they will give us the best or joyful price. Some even grab arms as you walk by trying to get your to stop. The market is inside a mall like building with 4 floors, very similar to a shopping mall, but all prices are negotiable. They are set up inside with tables like an outdoor market. They sell all kinds of chinese trinkets and items made in factories that are then sent to the US. Brand (or fake brand) purses and wallets, jewelry, makeup, and electronics. Along with China and silk items and pearls from south China. Isabel enjoyed picking some pearl earring for 10rmb, Calvin loves his silk red dragon tie for 60rmb, I paid too much for my silk and cashmere scarves, Benjamin was thrilled to buy a fidget spinner for 10rmb. In the basement is a food court. David and I were still stuffed from Lunch but the kids were hungry so we had McDonald's Sundaes and Subway sandwiches.
This was in the market bathroom, its a machine that dispenses Toilet Paper using facial recognition.
This was on the floor of the bathroom, I don't think this is the translation they mean;)
The Kungfu show was good, the kids enjoyed it, but we were tired. By the end of the show David and I were struggling to stay awake! After the show the brisk walk to the metro station did good to wake me up a little. We were happy to see that the bakery next to the subway stop was still open for the next 5 mins and we could grab some pastries for breakfast. We had a very early train in the morning so we were happy to have breakfast to take with us.