Ryan has a bucket list of places he wants to see. This is probably no surprise to you if you know him. Moving to Germany only fed it and made it more doable. Easton's best friend, Henrique a Brazilian whose dad works for Daimler, lived in Beijing before Stuttgart. Ryan got talking to them one day and their love of Beijing rubbed off. Instead of a week's vacation somewhere in Europe this summer, he researched it and found a week in China was comparable. ?!?!
I on the other hand, never ever had China on my bucket list. Do I have a bucket list? Not really, I've always simply tried to keep up with my kids and try to figure out what I'd like to be when I grow up. I think I finally found it, by the way! A family history researcher! We've had an amazing couple of months on that front that I hope to share in the coming months.
How do you prepare for a trip like this? Well, time is definitely a great asset we did not have. We watched the film "The Last Emperor" (three segments that we had to fast forward through) and a documentary from Al Jazeera called "China Rising" that were very interesting looks at recent Chinese history. I've previously read the novels "The Good Earth" and "Snowflower and the Secret Fan" which I recommend on goodreads.
We scrambled to listen to some audiobooks - I liked "China Road" by Rob Gifford and now I'm listening to "Oracle Bones." Our Chinese history is not very deep or broad unfortunately but we still had a good time, trying to access what we learned at BYU in our World Civ and world religions classes. I'd found some good books at the library for the kids. In order of preference - here's a list:
- The Emperor's Silent Army: Terracotta Warriors of Ancient China by Jane O'Connor
- "You wouldn't want to work on the Great Wall of China" by Jacqueline Morly
- "The Great Wall of China" by Leonard Fisher
- "An Ancient Chinese Town" by Penelope Hughes-Stanton
- Newberry mentioned "The House of Sixty Fathers" chapter book by Meindert Dejong
- Eyewitness books "Ancient China"
Back to Beijing! Because our heads were in family history work this spring, we didn't have a lot of time to plan the ins and outs on the ground for Beijing. But luckily we found a great guide service at a very affordable hourly rate that let us plan full and half day tours, some with drivers even.
Overview of our time:
Beijing - guide Helen
Day 1 – Airport pickup, child seats, grocery store stop, drop off at hotel. Half day tour - guide met us in the lobby and we walked from the hotel to Tiananmen Square and then around our hotel neighborhood in Wangfujing to get us acclimated. We stayed at the Marriott Executive Apartments hotel which had a kitchenette and washer/dryer. Great hotel near the heart of the city with a big mall with lots of food options.
Day 2 – Half day tour of the Forbidden City, "Legend of Kung Fu" show at Red Theater
Day 3 – Half day tour – came to our rescue when we got lost trying to find church, tour of Jingsham Park and Beihai Park, Acrobats show at Chaoyang Theater.
Day 4 – Full day tour and driver. Mutianyu portion of the Great Wall, great lunch in Mutianyu, Lama Temple, Drum Tower performance, Hutong by rickshaw and visit traditional home
Day 5 – Summer Palace, drive by Olympic Village, DimSum lunch, Temple of Heaven, Pearl Market
Day 6 – relax. Night train to Xi’an
Xi’an – guide Zoe
Day 1 – Full day tour and driver. Arrive at station and met by guide. Stop at market for some snacks and water. Meet driver to be dropped at the hotel. Go to Terracotta Warriors museum complex. Break for dinner. Tang Dynasty show.
Day 2 – Half day tour and driver. Wild Goose Pagoda and area parks and fountain show. Lama Temple, lunch, Old City Wall, Muslim Quarter street, Drum Tower. Dropped off at the train station for night train to Beijing
If you ever decide you want to go here, look up Catherine Yu tours! Excellent service before, during and after - exactly what we hoped for!
Our flight from Frankfurt was 9 hours through the night on Air China. Ryan had bought our tickets back in December and gotten a good deal. We lucked out getting bulkhead seats and a bassinet for Jake to sleep in although he was a bit big for it. Kids loved having their own screen to watch shows and play games on. My bucket list actually does include flying first class on one of those type flights if I must travel that sort of distance. Regular coach seats are just not comfy for that duration!
So our first day in Beijing. We were definitely fish out of water! We had a driver arranged to pick us up and take us to a big grocery store to buy milk, bread, yogurt and water. We'd packed many boxes of cereal for breakfasts. While Ryan ran in to get groceries, I was with the kids in the nice A/C van. Then McKay said he had to go potty.
I'd fretted a great deal about our tummies finding food and bathrooms because it seems to rule our existence with this many travelers at these ages. This article armed me with the information I needed to prepare but it was rare that we found western style toilets even at American restaurant chains there. Floor toilets are the public norm in China and I really don't have an opinion about what's best west vs east, we're just different. Bathrooms are always gross and I prefer the western sitting toilets because that's what I'm used to. I wasn't ready to face it yet so luckily, Ryan got back and took McKay in. I'd packed many tissue packs for these scenarios since paper is never to be assumed available.
We were taken to our hotel, our eyes glued to watching the city envelop us as we drove by. Looked like most big cities, just Asian. We were dropped at our hotel and had an hour to settle in before meeting our guide in the lobby.
Helen met us and we were off, walking to Tiananmen Square. We wanted to get acquainted with our neighborhood after that too, particularly where to eat for the duration of our stay. We were immediately noticed by people on the street with four children, two of them very blond and blue-eyed. This is what happened if we paused or stopped moving for the rest of our trip! The kids, particularly Morgan and Jake became local celebrities.
This next little girl did not want to stand next to these foreign strangers and I don't blame her.
Our guide kept trying to get me to remember how to say “four children” in Chinese – sounds like “Seelga”. I don't think it sunk in until the third day! Morgan is patient and endures usually with a smile for them but Jake pushes them away and screams if they got too close. This was all very surreal. The people were genuinely warm so we all just enjoyed it. Morgan did get weary of it by the end.
Here's a great map of Tiananmen Square to show you where we were and what we saw. We entered from the top right and circled the square in front of Mao's mausoleum.
Here's the great statues in front of Mao's mausoleum. It was very interesting to see so many darn surveillance cams everywhere!
Soldier guarding Mao's mausoleum.
Monument to the People's Heros. Guards are on each corner because protests have occurred here such that you can't lay memorial flowers here like people used to.
In front of the Great Hall of the People, their legislature.
The square with tourists like us in front of the Forbidden City.
I love the look on this little tourist boy's face
as his mom made him stand next to Morgan for a photo op!
Is this the male or female lion?
Since it's got a cub under it's paw and not a ball, it's the female.
One of the seven gates into the Imperial / Forbidden City for regular folk. The emperor had his very own large gate.
Lots of guards and plane clothes police to keep foot traffic moving or where they are allowed.
Helen took us to Snack Street where we saw all sorts of "snacks" we hope to never see again!
Roasted baby birds, scorpions, spiders as big as your palm, cicadas (a delicacy that costs more than shrimp), centipedes, squid, and starfish! Much of it still squirming! The smells made Easton and I nauseous! But again, people were friendly.
Want some? They fry them up fresh and crunchy on the spot for ya!
Helen then took us to the Oriental Plaza Mall to show us where to eat.our guide took us to the mall to show us where to eat. The food court place she took us too left us wondering if we'd ever find anything edible! The display dishes were gelatinous and made me lose what was left of my appetite after snack street. MSG heaven, I wanted out. Lots of fish dishes and I just wanted some recognizable roasted chicken, rice, and steamed or stir fried veggies. We watched a guy shave noodles from a big block right into a big vat of boiling water and decided to get some.
This was our first time using chop sticks! McKay's biggest desire of this day and trip was to eat with chopsticks like his friend Erika from school! He got the hang of it pretty quick while the rest of us except Ryan struggled. We've got good video to show it and I'll work on loading that later.
If Jake would have let us, we would have sat and eaten here but he was done with the stroller. We said goodbye to our guide for the day and headed for KFC. The kids were clamoring for something familiar, especially after Snack Street and the food court! At KFC though, the menu was unrecognizable. Lots of sandwiches with mystery fillings and chicken nugget-looking entrees with a volcano of rice and mystery sauces. We got the one familiar item on the menu - a bucket of chicken and some corn on the cob. Then it was back to the Mall for . . .
You see, there's no DQ in Germany. My kids' first Blizzards were last summer with their Papa and my family. They were beyond excited! Blizzards became the daily bribe for good behavior. The Chinese seem to like rum raisin flavors but did have brownie or Oreo mix-ins that did the trick for the kids.
Day One complete! We were so glad to have a guide! We were very happy with the pace of our half day tour. We hoped our food options would improve the next day! Commence baths and showers for all, sleep and the first load of laundry! Next day - a half day tour starting at 1pm of the Forbidden City so we can enjoy a slow morning's recovery.