The pictures are uploaded, but I don't have time to put many into the body of this posting, so look for them in the gallery... Katie sent me LOTS of Great Wall pictures, so enjoy! I'm about to head to the train station to catch the night train from Sukhothai to Bangkok. Will try to update soon!
The final stop on our whirlwind tour was Beijing. We planned to have the most days in Beijing because of the amount of things to see, and the 4 ½ days we had barely allowed us to scratch the surface. Our flight from Xi'an wasn’t the most fun for Katie – who fell victim to something in the water, food, etc. So, she remained in the hotel for the rest of the night while Carl, Marlee and Ryan went to one of the many ‘fake markets’ in which you can find anything you want – including a tailor to custom make a sport coat in 3 days, one day for fitting. That’s exactly what they did to find a coat for Carl that looks ironically identical to one of his favorite, and worn out coats from home.
After getting fitted, they came back to the room where all of us proceeded to find a Chinese pharmacist to cure Katie. With the help of a Chinese-English medical dictionary, we were in luck. While Katie went back to the hotel, the rest had dinner at about 11:30 at a small family owned restaurant that shared the same alley as our hotel. Luckily the medicine worked and all 4 Dutlis were off for a day of sightseeing in Beijing. We started at the Forbidden City, where we found John, an English speaking tour guide who gave us a very quick 2 ½ hour tour of the Forbidden City – which is where the Chinese Emperors lived and held court in Ancient Beijing.
Understandably, there was a ton of history in the Forbidden City; but many of it required a very strong sense of Chinese history and dynasty designations. It seems as if we didn’t do enough research about China before getting to Beijing – although it was impressive nonetheless. After we saw enough of the Forbidden City, we made it over to Tiananmen Square, which sits right across the street. Entering Tiananmen was interesting, the security incredibly tight for a public square, everyone required to go through metal detectors and undergo bag searches for possible political protest materials. We walked South through the square on to more hutongs (traditional neighborhoods) for lunch. We found a spot for lunch, ordered, but were surprised when one of our dishes was very pungent and turned out to be pig intestines. Only this one time did Ryan’s knowledge of a Chinese menu steer us wrong. We kindly asked them to take the dish away. We continued walking through the hutongs, saw more of the famous Chinese construction, and made out way to the metro towards the Olympic Village where we saw the Birds' Nest and Water Cube - which are just as impressive in person as they are on TV.
We were looking for a particular restaurant where we were planning on having Peking Duck, but the restaurant wasn’t where the book said it was. We finally found our way thanks to a very helpful friendly taxi driver (who was listening to English tapes while we were in the car), and had the famous and incredibly tender and tasty Peking Duck – in which they carved the duck at our table and gave us a lesson on how to eat it. This was also the only meal where we had Western silverware (which tells you something about the places we ate most of the time…)
The next day we went on an adventure to buy tickets to an acrobat show and wandered through the Temple of Heaven, which is another temple that has significant meaning in Chinese history.
After walking through the park around the Temple of Heaven, we started on an adventure to find the cloisonné factory, which mom was really looking forward to. After it started raining, we ducked into a restaurant to wait out the storm. We eventually stumbled upon the factory, only to give ourselves a tour (we sort of figured out the process), and watch the workers hand paint the designs that get fired onto the decorative objects they sell to tourists in the gift shop. We then made our way to get dad’s jacket fitted and spent a bit too much time shopping at the fake market. Because of the rain, we couldn’t get a cab and had to make sure our acrobat tickets would work for another night as we weren't going to be able to make the show that night. Luckily, they don’t sell specific seats or have different tickets for different days, so it didn’t matter what night we used them. We went searching for another restaurant recommended by our guide book, but it wasn’t there either. So, we found a hot-pot (Chinese fondue) restaurant and headed back to the hotel to arrange for a car to take us to the Great Wall the next day. We lucked out and found a car to meet us at the hotel very early and got ready to hike the next day.
We woke up early and got comfortable in the VW Jetta that was going to drive us 3 hours each way to a more secluded area of the wall where the car dropped us off and picked us up in another town 6 miles (and 7 hours) later. The hike started off with some locals hiking with us, telling us we were going too fast for them, as apparently they wanted to walk with us. Well, we soon discovered that they were walking with us so that they could sell us souvenirs and water. We apparently looked like suckers, because although there were only 4 of us walking, we apparently warranted 4 ‘helpers’. Because mom was so cautious of her ankle (apparently she didn’t want another broken ankle on vacation), she appreciated the help and bought a souvenir book atop the wall from one of them (which then Carl and Ryan had to carry the rest of the way). You could see the wall snaking for miles across the mountains, and there were times when you couldn’t even see another person in the distance. It was the one time in China when it was peaceful. While I could write for paragraphs about the wall, it’s much better through pictures.
After we made it to our final destination of Simatai, we had a drink and snack at a hostel, with a beautiful view of the wall we had just conquered. We crammed back into our small car and made it back to Beijing in time for some more shopping at another fake market (the true China experience). We went to the famous night market in Beijing where they were selling all sorts of odd things that Westerners expect to find at a night market, including: cockroaches, snakes, stinky tofu, starfish, cat, dog, etc. We wandered in the market until it closed and found a small restaurant for dinner that met our two criteria: wine and no smoking. After a day of hiking the Great Wall of China, one has the right to be picky about the restaurant they eat their victory meal in. Luckily we finally found one – except the wine was terrible and we didn’t drink it.
On our last full day in China, we headed to the Summer palace – which is outside the city a bit and where the Royal family would spend the hot summer days in Beijing. It was another impressive collection of buildings, gardens and temples – all built for the sole pleasure of the royal family.
After wandering around the palace and climbing more stairs (the hike on the wall was catching up with us…), we made our way to a lunch place and then again to the fake market where we picked up dad’s completed jacket and bartered for all of the things we would be taking back with us as a reminder of Chinese commercialism. After wheeling our purchases away (an additional suitcase was one of the purchases), we made our way to the acrobat show where we saw first-hand the flexibility, strength and young age of the famous Chinese acrobats. We wandered back towards our hotel, stopping for our last dumpling meal in China, eventually making it to Tiananmen Square , which was closed to the public, guards posted at every corner, ensuring nothing out of the ordinary was happening.
We made our way back to our hotel to pack for the long day of traveling ahead, our unpacked bags representing the reality that our Chinese adventure had essentially come to an end. It was a whirlwind of a trip, in which we merely scratched the surface for one of the most fascinating and complex countries I have ever been to. China had never been on the top of my ‘must see’ destinations, but it now ranks as one of the most exotic places I have been. If you ever get the chance to take your own Chinese adventure, I say go for it.