Hi there! It is currently Saturday morning, July 11th here, so I think Friday night you time? I don’t know, I’ve lost it all. :).
Yesterday, we went to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. And when I say we, I mean my travel group and most of the rest of China. It was CROWDED. We started in the Square and noticed there was a huge line of Chinese (no foreigners) queuing up through barricades for miles. Our guide told us that was people who were waiting to see Chairman Mao’s preserved body and that people essentially come and pilgrimage here. July is the one month that Chinese kids are out of schools, so many families come from all over China to Beijing to see the sites and see his body. There aren’t any building you can go into or anything, so it’s pretty much just looking at the buildings and walking through the square. That in itself is pretty neat though.
Then we went through to the Forbidden City. I hate to point you to Wikipedia, but it does a far better job of explaining about the different rooms and what they were used for then I can ever do. So check this out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forbidden_City. I didn’t realize how big it was, and how many little buildings there were. So many of them were used very infrequently, maybe only once, and the amount of time and the number of resources used to make each building is a mind blower.
I would liken visiting the Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City to visiting the monuments in Washington DC, especially if you’re a foreigner and haven’t had the benefit of learning all the history of what they mean. It was an amazing experience, and I’m glad we did it, but it was a lot to take in all at once.
After that, we went to find rickshaws, and took a rickshaw tour of Old Beijing. The streets are NARROW and shared by rickshaws, cars, motor bikes and regular bikes, and it’s a miracle anyone survives the traffic, but they do! It was amazing to see and so interesting. I’ll try to upload a video of it so you can get an idea. We also had lunch at the house of a local family and it was delicious! Meatballs, rice, spicy peppers, zucchini, peanuts, and a lot more… so yummy. That was the highlight of the day for me.
So once we left Old Beijing, we went back to the hotel and rested for a little while, and then we has planned to meet up with our group to walk to dinner, but first, Snack Street. Our guide has told us that we should go, but warned us over and over, do not eat anything. You will get sick, sick, sick. So Snack Street is a row, maybe a quarter mile long, of food stalls, and they sell some bizarre stuff. I mean, bugs, spiders, snakes, testicles, you name it. I was walking past one stall and the guys inside said “I have some delicious lambs balls…” and then holds up another stick “…. Or perhaps you want lambs penis instead?”. I’m sure you’re shocked to learn that I turned him down. Our group made it through with no snack eaten on Snack Street, in large part because of the smell. I don’t know if it was a specific type of food or a mix of the food and sewer system, but there were parts of the street that smelled atrocious. So while Snack Street was fascinating and I am so glad we went, it took a long time before my appetite came back.
One other thing I want to talk about is culture shock. There are a few things specifically that have been interesting for me. First, especially because there are so many visitors to Beijing right now, we get stared at A LOT because non-Asians are very rare here. The kids are especially funny because they just don’t know what to make of us, and you can see their little brains just putting it all together and figuring out what’s what.
Secondly, there are TONS of people and very different understandings of personal space. People think absolutely nothing of bumping into you, pushing you out of the way, there are very few orderly lines, and paying for things is basically just whoever shoves money to the front first. This has been really challenging for me, because I am a person who deeply loves order and rules and there just aren’t the ones I’m used to here. And I have a lot of anxiety in large crowds, which is basically all China is. In the US, I can do crowds because I know the rules, and usually can then go home, to my comfy house and familiar food and there just isn’t that option here. So I’ve been having a hard time with figuring out of to decompress from the intensity.
One other thing I didn’t account for is how much not speaking or understanding the language would bother me. I am a word person and I love communicating with people, and not being able to is really throwing me off. I can’t do the polite midwestern “hi how are you beautiful weather” small talk and I never realized how much I liked it until I couldn’t do it.
So, those are a few of the hard things interspersed with a lot of really amazing things. One amazing thing is our travel group and how awesome they all are. We have 5 families, adopting 5 kids, 2 boys, 3 girls, ranging in age from 2-4. One family on their third adoption to make 5 kids at home, us, first adoption, second kid, and the other three, first adoption, first kid. We’ve all meshed really well and they are just lovely people. I’m incredibly thankful for that.
And on that note, I need to go shower to get ready to tackle the Great Wall of China. Then we’re going to do lunch and the jade factory, so let the buying begin. Miss you guys lots already!