The last half of our trip was spent in and around the Bejing area - and I loved it! We arrived on the train (our second overnight train experience - much better the second time with newer and cleaner rooms and a shorter travel time) and again headed to a hotel for a buffet breakfast. I looked SO forward to these and really got spoiled with them. This time we ate at the "Railway Hotel" in Beijing. The decor was immaculate and the variety of food was glorious. I especially loved all of the fresh fruit juices available, as well as the dumplings. Who knew I would love eating Chinese dumplings for breakfast?
After breakfast, we were back on a new tour bus, complete with a new tour guide, "Jackie" who would be with us for the remainder of our trip. Can I just mention how impressed I was with the amount of English these tour guides had to know? Not only did he (and others we worked with) have to explain, in detail, what we were seeing, and where we were going...but he had to be able to understand our questions and answer them on the fly. I have so much respect for people who learn to speak a second language fluently.
We enjoyed the "scenic route" through Beijing on our way out to Mutianyu (where we would be seeing the Great Wall). We passed by the Olympic buildings (which I really want to see next time) and enjoyed more of the unique architecture of China. I really loved the variety of buildings everywhere we went! The kids entertained themselves with playing, drawing, chatting, and fun. Some adults (who maybe didn't sleep well on the train) caught a few Zzzz's as well :)
We arrived shortly at Mutianyu. Our guide (as well as Blaine) explained that there are several points along the Great Wall that tourists (and locals) can visit. Mutianyu is one of the slightly less-touristy sections of the wall - one where many of the local people like to go to visit. It is close to Beijing, very scenic (I mean, VERY scenic) and less crowded - though the term "less crowded" is subjective while anywhere in China :) We got off the bus and walked up a long (and steep) pathway, lined with booths and people selling their wares, too the base of the mountain, at which point we boarded onto a gondola to travel up to the wall itself. If you are athletic and want to have a more authentic experience - you can hike up to the base of the wall. But, with 11 children, we thought we'd save our hiking for the wall itself :)
The ride up is short, and soon were ON the Great wall!! You can see in the small photo, bottom center, that even when you get up to the base of the wall, it is quite a climb to get to the top of the wall. I think I lost 5 pounds just climbing that day!
The wall was unreal. Surreal. It stretched farther than the eye could see and it was so HIGH and THICK. We were told that every foot of the wall cost one human life too build. That is a sobering thought. This section of the Great wall is located in Huairou County 70 km northeast of Beijing, so it's nice and close. It is also older than the section of the wall that most people visit (the Badaling section). Being springtime, the blossoms were plenty and it just added to the beauty and magic of the place.
We had to capture this once-in-a-lifetime experience with LOTS of pictures. Here is almost our entire group (only Yuan Li is missing as she was busy preparing for the wedding back in Beijing)
The kids did amazingly well considering all of the climbing we were doing. There were sections of the wall that were down-right steep! I can see how this wall successfully protected the Chinese for years. I highly recommend bringing good walking shoes and water when visiting the wall.
More family pics - we each took our turn to document this. The only thing I didn't like was, it was a sort of hazy day - in fact, it rained later on. I wish we could have had slightly clearer skies so we could have seen farther into the distance.
And a few more pics!
I could have spent an entire day just exploring the wall. Blaine and Devon made the trek to the really old, crumbly section of the wall - but we just couldn't manage it with the kids. Maybe next time :) If you go up the gondola that is closest to the "sled" thing, you will be much closer to the old section and won't have to walk as far.
Do I look giddy, or what? We were so excited to be there.
After the wall, we made the trek back down the hill where all of the shopping was. Booth after booth of odds and ends, knick knacks...most of the booths were selling exactly the same things so we got some great deals, including some fun sunglasses, and Panda stuff....LOTS of panda stuff for B.
This was just one of many funny "translation errors" that we came across on signage. I wonder how many of our signs in Canada are saying things wrong in Chinese!
After shopping and resting, we headed to a nearby cafe for an amazing lunch. This restaurant "The Schoolhouse" was created out of an old school house, which made it even cooler. The food was mouth watering, and not only because we had just worked up an insane appetite. We enjoy some of the best cream of mushroom soup I have EVER tasted, as well as several traditional Chinese dishes. They are also known for their homemade ice cream which is delish! Oh, and we had cheesecake...music for the tastebuds!"The Brickyard" and it is all about being eco-friendly. It is owned and operated by the same people as "The Schoolhouse". It took some manuevering to get there, though. We even had to have our guide, Jackie, get out and lift up some power lines for the bus to fit underneath. I give major props to the bus drivers in China - they are miracle workers! I still do not understand HOW our driver got back out of the steep and narrow driveway after dropping us off!
|Photo Courtesy of Devon G.|
The rooms were very interesting - again, no doors on the bathroom, which made showering ... fun. There was a rustic elegance about this place, and the BEST part of it all was, laying on your bed in your room, you can look out the wall of windows and see...The Great Wall! Amazing.
We enjoyed a fantastic BBQ supper (complete with steak, which is something we just didn't see a lot of on this trip), and more cheesecake! I was one happy camper :)
We said our goodbyes to our hosts at "The Brickyard" and loaded back onto our tour bus and back into Beijing. Always so much activity going on, so many interesting things to see in EVERY direction!
We arrived at our final hotel...and this one was maybe the most extravagant of all. It was the "Raffles Beijing" and it is located just a short walk from The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Perfect! I was awestruck when I walked in - it was glorious!
After getting settled into our rooms (I wanted to just pass out right then and there on our king sized bed). We met back down in the lobby and headed onto the bus for another fabulous site... The Temple of Heaven!
This is where the Emperors would go to worship and offer sacrifice. It is an incredible structure that is so ornately decorated. It was gorgeous. The blue tiles were on all of the buildings, representing Heaven. I loved the vibrancy of it. There is actually a smaller replica of this same temple in downtown Calgary, Alberta - so it was like a taste of home. A must see!
BUT, my favorite part of the Temple of Heaven was the people who would gather in the park to play games, play music, craft, or just relax.
I loved just watching the people enjoying each other's company, playing Chinese chess, and just "being". There were so many interesting people to see and I started getting bold with photographing them.
I was starting to feel sick during this visit, however, so I sat down to rest outside of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, and enjoyed some people watching. Just a personal note - I know that the Lord blessed me HUGE on this trip. I have CFS, and I was really worried about how I would do with all of the "go, go, go!" but I only experienced 3 migraines, and 2 of them were relatively short-lived. This was one of those times. BLESSINGS!!!
Lunch was at a "Hot Pot" restaurant. Have you heard of this? Each person gets a personal pot filled with water and some seasoning. Then an oil lamp type thing is lit underneath to heat the water (thus, the "hot pot" name). Then you are given an array of different raw meats, noodles, and veggies that you cook in your own hot pot! It wasn't just a meal...it was an experience!
I don't think I did mine correctly, though - mine didn't have a lot of flavor. And poor Baylie got a little burned when a fleck of hot water splashed onto her arm. The staff were right on it, though, with a cold cloth, some ointment, and lots of love :) She was fine...not even a tiny mark!
After lunch we drove a little ways to the Hutongs of Beijing. These are little narrow alleyways that connect siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences. We were led through the hutongs to a really cool old residence so that we could learn about how these traditional people live.
We met this man whose family had lived in this small home for generations. He is a kung fu master, as was his father, as is his son. He played a neat musical instrument (that I can't remember the name of) which resembled a violin, but only had a couple of strings. He was amazing at it! A very disciplined and down to earth person. He helped us see how much we take for granted and how much joy there can be found in the simple things of life, but a life rich in culture and tradition. I loved his presentation!
After visiting in his home, we headed out the door and were treated to a fun rickshaw ride through the hutongs of Beijing. This is also an experience that I would love to do again when we go back (someday). This was a great way to see regular people living regular lives...doing business, visiting, living life!
I loved witnessing their culture and every day living. I wanted to spend all day here!
This was one of my favorite people that we saw. So much life experience in that face, so much character. I just had to snap a photo of him. I would love to sit down and have a conversation with him!
After our rickshaw ride, we were led to a nearby outdoor shopping center. There were a lot of nice shops here, with nice things to buy. My favorite was the leather shop where I bought a small purse, wallet, and book cover. By far my favorite purchase while in China. The girls also found some treasures here. Another spot I would love to revisit.
We didn't stay here long, however, because a wonderful treat was waiting for us for dinner~ Beijing Duck! (aka Peking duck)
This was maybe the fanciest place we dined at. I loved the attendants lined up in their traditional dresses and the chef who brought out the duck to carve in front of us. We had a private dining room and the food was amazing. We ate the duck meat rolled in a sort of "soft taco" shell with veggies and sauce. Not how I pictured eating duck! The meat was a little more rich and oily than most poultry that I have eaten - it was good, though. I just couldn't eat a lot of it. To be honest, I can't really remember the other dishes at this place besides the duck and this amazing sweet and spicy breaded shrimp - to DIE for!
Then back to our hotel for some amazing sleep. Oh, and here is a little bit of this and that, to share:
1. the older kids loved sporting their ray bands sunglasses - everywhere.
2. Tyler couldn't get enough of playing with his laser pointer - everywhere.
3. we saw lots of stray dogs in Beijing - everywhere
4. there were colorful things for sale, and fun people selling then - everywhere.
5. kids were nodding off whenever they could - everywhere.
6. we sent out our luandry at the Raffles hotel to be done, and it came back in a gorgeous silk box, folded, labeled, and cleaner than I have ever seen them. Sorry, no "everywhere" in this one :)
Okay, back to our itinerary :) We woke up on Thursday morning, ready for a busy day. This was wedding day! But first, before the fancy schmancy stuff - we had to visit an iconic part of Beijing, and that was Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City!
Tiananmen Square was....enormous. It was a huge square with a few buildings and a LOT of people. It is best known for the 1989 massacres (which, of course, "did not happen" according to all Chinese media outlets). That was really all I knew about this place. There was the mausoleum of Chairman Mau (I believe) as well as the National Museum of Chin, which we didn't get a chance to visit, but I really want to see it when we go back. There were lots of people, mostly Chinese people. I really enjoyed seeing their patronage and national pride.
We were a bit of a spectacle, as usual...especially mister Ty. He was a hot commodity with the teenage girls :) Oh, and his mom, too :)
Next, it was on to the Forbidden City. I thought that Tiananmen square was enormous, but I had no clue how huge this city would be. It really is a CITY! We went through one enormous gate after another before actually entering the city. We started through the South gate, where only the emperor was allowed to enter or exit. Only one woman was ever allowed to use that gate, and that was the Empress, when she entered the city for the first time. She never left after that :)
The city was gorgeous - as usual, very ornate and elaborate. Perfect for the Emperor. You can see a lot of the Forbidden City featured in the film "The Last Emperor". My personal favorite part was the Emperial Garden. I could really relax in a garden like that in my backyard!
There were a LOT of military men everywhere in the Forbidden city, and in Tiananmen square. They were pretty serious, and a lot of them didn't like having their photos taken. I still managed to snap a few shots. I just found them so interesting! I really understand foreigners who visit Canada and just photograph everyone and everything. I was quickly becoming one of "those" tourists :) I wanted to capture it ALL!
We had only about 45 minutes after visiting Tiananmen and the Forbidden city before having to be at the church for the wedding. Rush, rush, rush! I had the girls showered and hair done in record time, as well as getting myself ready. Lyndon was an enormous help, and Aunt TT did an amazing job on JJ's hair. I think we cleaned up pretty nicely!
The church where the wedding was held was only about 6 blocks from the hotel, but it took us almost 45 minutes to drive there with the traffic. It was a gorgeous Catholic cathedral (so unusual to see in China!) and we were ushered through security and lots of paparazzi. They were crazy excited about taking pictures of the gorgeous little girls all dressed in white like little angels.
The inside of the church was decorated beautifully with a lot of candles and chandeliers. It wasn't huge inside, but elegant. There was a Chinese choir singing catholic hymns with thick accents...but it sounded really nice. All of the kids had their own reserved benches in the front because they were in the wedding party. They sat amazingly well all by themselves up there. The rest of us chose our benches and got comfortable!
When Yuan Li arrived, the wedding began! She looked like an angel. Really. She was radiant. And Blaine looked very handsome in his awesome custom suit (which he designed) and a huge smile on his face. I wanted so badly to get a lot of great shots, but it was difficult with the large numbers of paparazzi trying to get their shots in. But, I did manage a couple :)
It was a traditional wedding ceremony, but with a mandarin speaking chinese priest! I think I mostly understood the idea of what they were saying and promising. After the vows, TJ sang her rendition of "Amazing Grace" and did incredibly well. She even received an ovation! I was so proud of her and her preparation really paid off :)
It was a beautiful ceremony, just the right length of time as well. It was wonderful!
After the ceremony, we headed out of the church into a mess of Paparazzi waiting with their cameras. and this was just the ones who were invited into the courtyard. There were many more waiting outside the gates, trying to force their cameras through any little nook or cranny. Some even climbed the trees outside the courtyard, or taking photos from the apartment windows across the street. Crazy! They sure love Yuan Li over there!
We tried to get some shots of the family with the happy couple. Lyndon took a shot of each of the sibling's families with them, but we neglected to get one of us. We are hoping that their photographer got one. We'll see! The afternoon was gorgeous and it was just a happy, happy afternoon!
After photos we had to wait for security to OK us to go through the gates so that the masses wouldn't try to get in. It was definitely an experience!
The happy couple! They were so lovely and patient with everyone wanting their photograph.
More pics of the happy couple and the family.
After the wedding we half rode/ half walked back to the hotel to quickly get some food into the kids. We were worried that the kids wouldn't want to eat a lot of the food at the reception because it would be more of the ultra-gourmet Chinese food. The restaurant wasn't open, but when it was requested - they hopped to it and had chicken fingers and fries ready for the kids in minutes. It was crazy to see and we felt so incredibly grateful that the hotel staff took such great care of us!
We walked over to the restaurant where the reception would be, which was right next to the Forbidden City. I wish I had thought to wear some comfy shoes for the walk because by this point, my feet in my pumps were ready to fall off! But, the walk through the park was gloriously beautiful and I even managed to enjoy it...a little :)
What can I say about the reception? Extravagant. It was amazing. The restaurant was decorated in the traditional colors of red, white, black, and gold. Fancy. That's all I can say. How many glasses do you need? Plus, there was a 13 course gourmet meal - crazy good stuff! I saved the menu card, just to remember the course after crazy course that we enjoyed. Some of the food included "Braised abalone with cordyceps and Matsutske" and "Braised sea cucumber with scallions". My personal favorite (so incredibly yummy) was the "Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish." It's that picture of the fish with the head and the tail still on....major yum factor!
The program was elaborate with a performance by the Chinese opera, a fun magician, a musician, an entertaining MC and speeches from friends and coworkers of both the bride and the groom.
One of Blaine's co workers is Neil Bush, the brother of George W. Bush, and he was an instant fan of TJ's singing. Here she is posing for a picture with him. He gushed and gushed about her, and she felt so great about herself afterward. Thanks, Mr. Bush!
We headed home after a crazy, busy, wonderful day and got some well-deserved rest :)
The next (and sadly, our last) day in China was more slow-paced. We let the kids go swimming at the indoor pool at the hotel in the morning and they loved every minute of it. They needed some good-old-fashioned kid time!
After that we packed up our stuff, which had grown exponentially since arriving there. Thank heavens Grandma and Grandpa had an extra empty suitcase they were bringing back home with them that we made good use of!
We loaded up our luggage into the tour bus for the last time and said goodbye to the awesome Raffles Beijing Hotel.
On our way to the Beijing airport, we stopped by Yuan Li and Blaine's home, which isn't far from the airport. It is a beautiful home in a gated community, with large beautiful trees and nice landscaping. a definite luxury in China, where space comes at a premium! I loved the interior design and the homey feel to their home. It was beautiful!
We rested for a few minutes, and Blaine and Yuan li presented TJ with a gift for singing at their wedding. It was a fun little polaroid camera, complete with packets of film and batteries. She LOVED it! Totally unexpected and greatly appreciated.
What can I say about the trip home? The airport was enormous...truly awe inspiring. We maneuvered through it with Blaine's help as they were also flying out to Shanghai that afternoon. We grabbed something to eat at Burger King before loading the plane. Goodbye 30+ degree celsius heat! We would miss you! Hello, a long 10+ hour flight back to Vancouver. It went very smoothly and didn't feel overly long..unlike the flight to Shanghai. Those couple of hours less really made a difference!
We arrived in Vancouver, then made a mad dash through the airport (after grabbing our luggage, going through insane security, and re-checking our luggage to Regina), and boarded our flight first to Calgary, then back to Regina. Our good friends were at the airport to pick us up, and it was home again, home again.
Phew! I'm exhausted just reading about all of this! We suffered some serious jet lag once we were home...it lasted days and days for us. But, it was an experience of a lifetime, and I highly recommend visiting China if you can! The people are friendly and helpful, the sights are beautiful and stunning, and the food is pretty good, too :) It is a country with a rich history that I can hardly fathom, and a people with traditions and lifestyle that are inspiring. I loved it and I can't wait to make the trip again, to see even more, and experience China all over again :)