Sunday, 20 April 2014
After traveling halfway around the world, we finally made it to Beijing!!! We also flew right over Anchorage, making us groan over the fact we had to fly for 7 hours and do a long layover in LA, JUST to go right past our house.
Once we made it through customs, I said hello to my screaming, adoring fans.
This was our first time ever doing a tour group, so we were a bit nervous. Would the other people be our age? Would it be fun? We were put at ease immediately when we saw and met our tour guide Michael (that’s his english name). There was a total of 27 people in our tour group: all from America, but from all over. There were people from Detroit, Atlanta, Florida, Las Vegas, etc.
Since it was 8 in the morning, we couldn’t check into our hotel so our guide rearranged the itinerary a bit and we headed over to Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City.
We didn’t get to fully go onto the square because of an awesome event: The Spring Running Festival! I’m pretty certain it was a marathon, half-marathon, 10k, and 5k race but as there are only 3 things I can say in Chinese (Hello, Thank you, Let’s take a break and kiss) I can’t be certain that I understood everything exactly.
I know we had no way of being able to participate since we were on a tour group, but the whole time we saw runners going across the bridge and leaving the square, I kept wishing we were able to at least have done the 5k. How cool would it be to say you ran a race in another country?!
Once we made it to the entrance to The Forbidden City, we were shuffled with what felt like 5,000 other people through a small tunnel into the city.
The Forbidden City is MASSIVE, filled with palaces and the Imperial Garden. We wandered with a million other tourists to see where the Emperor lived, where his wife lived, and learned interesting tidbits about his life.
Did you know:
- The emperor had over 3000 concubines! That is crazy! How does he have time for THAT MANY WOMEN when he is supposed to be running a really massive country before cell phones and internet was invented?!
- The marriage to his first wife is strictly political. Usually to help ease tensions with whoever they were about to go to war with (Mongolians)
- The emperor’s wife had ‘boy toys’ that were eunuchs.
- The emperor had over 10,000 body guards. I want to say that seems paranoid, but I guess when you’re leading a massive country and taking the prettiest women from all the towns to be your concubines, you may develop some enemies.
- The Forbidden City is over 178 acres big, right in the middle of Beijing
- It was used by emperors from 1420 – 1911
The Forbidden City would also introduce us to two things we would grow to love and find hilarious about China:
The squat toilets (This is a 5 Star)
And the feeling of being in a zoo.
Our tour guide told us that, just how we came to the big cities for vacation from America, a lot of Chinese countrymen come to the cities for a once-in-a-lifetime trip as well. For a lot of these people it’s their first time seeing white people, aside from magazines and billboards.
The shy ones would just take pictures of our group, or take selfies with us in the background. The brave ones (and typically older people) would actually come up and pose with us for their photos. At the Forbidden City, one lady loved Matt and then wanted a picture with me while she and I held hands. Fingers laced. It was a pretty interesting experience that we eventually grew to find funny.
After a busy morning and afternoon in the The Forbidden City, we made our way to the hotel (Four Points by Sheridan) to check in and relax and prepare for the next day.
We had no idea what an adventure that would be.
The area where the hotel was isn’t a big tourist area, so we didn’t see any other white people when we were wandering on the street. We had a really hard time telling the difference between convenience stores, markets, and restaurants (it sounds weird, but with the doors shut they all looked the same) and since it was 3pm in the afternoon, there wasn’t a lunch rush to follow blindly.
After wandering for a mile, we finally found a restaurant (yay!)
Big problem: no one spoke english and we can’t read chinese.
After a bit of uncomfortable laughing and pointing at pictures from the menu and approaching other diner’s tables, we finally ordered our food! Matt got Hot Pot Chicken while I got some dumplings.
Matt’s chicken meal was really interesting: it was served literally in a hot pot (with a fire burning underneath the whole time he ate) and the chicken was a whole chicken. Literally. Just chopped into bits. So he was eating bone, tendons, meat, everything.Mine was much more boring. Because we all know I am the most boring eater ever.
Our next adventure was ordering a beverage to take down with our food. Matt really wanted a beer, but we didn’t know the word for it. So he got up and pointed at a beer on another diner’s table. The waiter immediately looked frazzled and RAN out of the restaurant. A few minutes later he returned with the exact brand of beer the other guys were drinking: apparently it wasn’t carried at the restaurant so he ran to a store to buy Matt one. Talk about customer service!
Also, beverages aren’t served cold in China. We experienced that in Europe, but I felt like beer was at least cold there. We grew used to drinking barely chilled beers and sodas during the trip, but it was interesting for a first sip.
After we paid (for a super cheap meal!) we wandered the area some more until we came across a really cool park.
This was another place where our whiteness really stood out. The whole time we were wandering in the park people would blatantly stare at us and children would look at us almost in amazement. At first I thought I had something on my face or had spilt something on my shirt, but then we realized it was because they probably weren’t used to seeing people that look like us.
Matt bought me a popsicle for ¥5RMB (the equivalent of $.80USD) that was amazing, and we meandered back to our hotel to prepare for the adventure the next day held.