Anyone else think it was weird that we’d been in China for 6 weeks and not been to the capital city?? It wasn’t due to a lack of interest in visiting, but rather trying to plan a weekend to meet up with our friend from Beijing. First off, we adore this girl and secondly, you never pass up a chance to see a city through the eyes of a local. She was originally assigned to Bangkok and supposed to have a 3 day holiday weekend, so Jules scheduled a day off. Our friend ended up being moved to Manila last minute and there went her holiday weekend. (They get local holidays off only, which can sometimes be awesome like getting 4 days for Easter and ANZAC day in Australia this year and sometimes really suck- like the year Julie got a whopping 2 holidays all year.) Then Julie was put on a project and ended up having to go through the wringer to keep her vacation day, because there is just too much to see in Beijing in 2 days. So after all the hoopla, we got it all sorted out and finally made it!
It was our last group weekend on the road, but Thursday night it was just me and Jules and enough time for a nightcap before bed. We had big plans for Friday, but woke up to a blinding whiteness outside the window. I initially thought the tales of pollution had been really downplayed, but as Jules walked towards the window she saw it was actually snowing. We knew it was going to be a cold weekend, but snow we had not planned on. We slowed our pace and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast together (such a treat!) before deciding that both Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City were worth getting out in the wet, cold day.
Tiananmen is a very important place for the Chinese people, but I doubt anyone without an emotional attachment would be that impressed with this barren square…
I don’t know, maybe it’s more impressive with nicer weather.
We went across the street and hired a guy to guide us around the Forbidden City. His name was Han and I was happy he actually gave us his Chinese name instead of his made up English one. Of course, some Chinese names are too difficult for us to pronounce (I know this first hand after butchering one of my Chinese friend’s name so much she finally said “please stop trying to say it, you will never say it right”) but I at least like the opportunity to try.
Han’s English was great, he was very knowledgeable and thankfully the snow and ice kept his frantic pace in check. If he hadn’t tried to pressure us to buy some insanely expensive calligraphy at the end of the tour, I’d even recommend his little company. But he did, so my lips are sealed.
The Forbidden City was the home of the last 26 (according to Han) Chinese Emperors. It’s a sprawling complex and when they say “city” they mean it. We saw only a fraction of the buildings, but Han said we were really lucky to see it in the snow…
Although it was pretty, I have to say I wasn’t feeling that lucky for the snow when I was slipping and sliding around trying not to bust my butt on all the icy marble stairs and ramps. China has shared a lot of things with me and in return I would like to share with it the miracle of salt- use it to de-ice public areas instead of just attempting to sweep the ice with a broom made of twigs AND use it to season your food, because although I’m sure you have a very low percentage of high blood pressure around here, your food is some kind of underseasoned. That, China, is what we call killing two birds with one stone. You’re welcome.
It took us over 3 hours to tour the area and upon leaving we began our 40 minute struggle to find a taxi. Apparently, Beijing taxis don’t want to be caught up in rush hour gridlock so they just don’t pick anyone up during those hours. No. One.
We were pretty much popsicles at this point and with each taxi driver that waved me off, I was more and more tempted to beat their car hoods with my umbrella. Did I mention we didn’t eat lunch and our blood sugar was running low?
A guy finally stopped and when he dropped us off we gave him a huge tip. Tipping is not the culture in China and he was so confused and surprised, not realizing how grateful he should be that we weren’t kissing him. Our hero!
Once we were upstairs and I was cradling a hot cup of tea in my frostbitten hands, I knew there was no way in God’s green earth that I was going back outside again. Sorry, kung fu show, I’m sure you would have been cool, but I’m hoping to make it through life with all my toes.
Everyone arrived late that night and we all had a drink together before heading off to bed for our very early wake-up call. One of the old managers had a photo on the Great Wall with just him and the wall- no tourists in the background, no red jacket blights on the wall behind him. It was pretty awesome and the wife and one of her cohorts were determined to get one just like it.
We knew when the ticket office had to call the cable car operators to make sure they were going to be on time to take us up, Jules was going to get her picture…
We climbed all the way up to that first structure up the mountain. It was frigid, but as the sun rose so did the temps. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day, warmer yes, but not anymore beautiful…
It was a pretty awesome day and a pretty cool way to spend what will likely be (never say never right?) our last group weekend in the department. I can’t even comprehend that yet and is really a whole other post for another day…a day that is fast approaching.
Okay, getting a little emotional, so back to the weekend…
We got back into Beijing where we warmed up over a yummy Chinese lunch. Our friend, C, is so great at ordering for us and always seems to choose dishes that we love! Just another reason we adore her.
After lunch we went to the Temple of Heaven. The temple itself was pretty enough…
but the park surrounding it was what I really enjoyed. It was abuzz with Beijingers enjoying their Saturday afternoon- playing sports, singing songs (like huge groups of people singing- more on that later), playing instruments, practicing kung fu, bending over Chinese chess boards and playing cards. It’s these glimpses into other people’s “ordinary” that I usually find the most extraordinary.
Although we had just eaten and were all sufficiently exhausted, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have Peking duck in Beijing. So only a few hours after lunch, we were on our way to our next meal. Thankfully, the metro ride and long wait for a table allowed our appetites to come back a bit and once the golden ducks arrived at our table we were all ready to dig in.
We ended the meal with a birthday cake for one of the guys and then a short walk to the night market for our food challenge. Which I’m going to make you wait to hear about. Listen, I ate a centipede and many other creepy crawlies. That definitely deserves its own post.
After the night market we all went back to the hotel to pass out. It was a 16 hour day, an awesome one, but also long and exhausting.
Some of us slept in and enjoyed a late breakfast together before heading over to a market for a little shopping. We finally found our Chinese tea set and I was so excited that we’d bought it, at least until I realized I’d be carrying it around for 2 days.
When we left the market it was getting pretty foggy and as we made our way to the airport we could barely see the car in front of our taxi. The flight wasn’t even showing as delayed though so we proceeded through check-in and went to a café to grab a bite before the flight. About the time we were supposed to board our flight was still showing as on time. The line to board was already fully formed and then we were delayed- indefinitely.
The airline people don’t speak a whole lot of English and seemed really reluctant to tell us if our flight would be cancelled. When it finally was cancelled we joined the madness that was the ticket offices and many hours later got our flight rescheduled and were headed back to a Beijing hotel.
We got back to the airport the next morning with little change to the weather. Every flight before ours was delayed indefinitely and after a few more hours at the airport we decided to do what we needed to do to get back to Beijing. The guys really couldn’t afford to lose another day in the office, so the vast majority of us headed off for the train station. I felt like we were in an episode of The Amazing Race- trying to get things written in Chinese, trying to explain to taxi drivers where we needed to go and going from airport to train station to another train station- all with a fragile tea set in hand.
It was actually pretty fun thanks to the fact everyone in the group was on the same page and saw the humor in it all. Once we got to the train station we had time to eat lunch together and then enjoyed a really stress-free 4 hour ride to Beijing chatting and watching movies.
So there it is…our last group weekend and our last travel weekend in China. We packed a lot in, saw some amazing sights, ate some great food, shared lots of laughs, embraced adventure and made our way over a couple of humps the travel gods put in front of us…all in all, a perfect group weekend to end all group weekends.
Pics from the weekend…
Special thanks to MMM for not only letting us borrow scarves (we sent all ours home, like morons) but for even planning them out so Jules and I would be coordinated! You’re the best!
Photo credit goes to everyone in the group- thanks for sharing!