Monday, June 15, 2015

finally...the end!

My last China post is all about downtown Beijing!  the sights and the food.  Have I mentioned how much I really loved Beijing????

I have to start out with some pictures of some pretty fabulous people along with a big thanks to them. Even though none of them will ever read it because they can't get on facebook :) 

My mom works in international publishing for the company Franklin Covey.  She has a friend, David (Liu Wei), in China who runs a publishing company there.  When he heard we were coming to Beijing for a week he insisted on helping us see the city! I have never met him. He simply works with my mom to publish Covey's books in China.  And he was ridiculously generous to us!  from our arrival when he sent a driver and translator to pick us up at the airport,  to treating us to the most delicious food imaginable, to having a driver, car, and translator with us in Beijing and paying for us to sightsee all day, and finally to returning us and our baggage to the airport for our departure! we were so well taken care of and even spoiled!!

thank-you, David and China Youth Publishing! Our experience in Beijing could not have been better!!

Our translator, Mylie, was probably the kindest and most fun Chinese girl you could ever meet. She spoke flawless English and was just great.  She told us that she didn't even feel like she was working when she was with us- she was just having fun 'hanging out with friends'!  I think we talked her into getting a sneaky facebook account.  She told us there are ways to 'climb the wall' (referencing both firewalls and the Great Wall as a play on China's strict internet policies!) and use banned social media apps.  I hope so- because I'd really like to see her again!!  Our driver Gus- in the background- was also pretty great.  We gave him the American name 'Gus' because he'd never needed one before.  Most Chinese give themselves American names when working closely with Americans because their names are so difficult to pronounce! 

After our first early morning visit to the Hutongs- we walked to Tiananmen Square to begin our Beijing History lesson!  it was a warm, muggy, and very dirty day!  I can't imagine Beijing in the peak of summer! It must be stifling and brown and miserable. Tiananmen square was so vast.  All day as we toured the square and Forbidden city- I could not believe the amount of space. Tokyo is so tightly packed!!!  this part of Beijing was so open.

I'm not going lie- I love living in and touring Asia.  I always feel a little bit like a celebrity!  people always want pictures with us and love to wave and smile to us.  It's pretty fun. We were quite the hit out on the square.

there's something pretty breathtaking about seeing in real life the sights I've seen in pictures and books growing up.  Traveling truly opens your eyes in ways not possible through other means.  Seeing and experiencing unique culture, history, and people is one of my favorite things ever.

isn't this so China? and communistic???

we entered the forbidden city and walked and walked and walked.  It was humongous.  Unbelievably large and spacious. This place housed emperors and the chinese government for 500 years during the Ming and Qing dynasty.  The US is such a baby in terms of country age and yet so ethnocentric.  We are an infant nation!! Other cultures and countries have existed for thousands of years!!  It is so fascinating to me.

If I lived in China, I'd be a bike rider transporting something around the city.

seriously, we just kept walking and walking.  and there was always another layer of buildings in the Forbidden city.

I need a giant lion dragon guarding our house.

or this turtle dragon.

this view would give you an idea of the magnitude of The Forbidden City- but the smog that day was too atrocious. You'll have to take my word for it. It was HUMONGOUS.

it rained for just a little bit one day we were there and this is what all the cars looked like after a SHORT rainfall. It's for real.  You could really scrape the dirt off the cars after the rainstorm.  I can't imagine how it must wear on you after long periods of time!!!!

and this was like the 'back yard' of the Forbidden City.  they made the kids stay over here.
there's also an actual rock garden on the grounds that was pretty impressive.  they hauled rocks from somewhere far away and created amazing rock walls and features.  they were also ginormous.

we spent some time wandering a park near the Forbidden city and found large groups of older Chinese singing communist songs about Mao and the greatness of government! It was crazy!!   Mylie told us it's common for the older Chinese to gather to talk, play games, sing, etc. We'd obviously already seen it all over the place.  In this same park there were older people doing old chinese folk dancing! and at the Temple of Heaven they were all playing ping pong and hacky sack out front. I think I'd love being an old person in China!!

The Temple of Heaven was a little blah to me. Only because I've seen A LOT of temples in the last year! and we had to walk a lot to get to this one! It was cool- but not overly impressive :) I guess I'm a temple snob now.

However, there happened to be several new brides taking the equivalent of Chinese 'bridals' while we were there! and that was fabulous!
I could have taken pictures of them all day. Miley told us they would have several costume changes- but we couldn't stay long enough to watch.

I'm standing behind this lady because this dress had a long long train to the side! 
oh, and we found this adorable Chinese baby with the fattest cheeks you've ever seen.   I don't know how Asians are such small people yet produce such incredibly chubby babies!
this is a wonderful picture I took outside our car window while we were driving about.  I wonder how many biker and pedestrian fatalities they have in Beijing every year!  the bike riding is INSANE.  and it's pure chaos.  with no helmets or protective gear. plus- the bikes are all motorized adding to the speed and chaos.

David treated us to lunch after a long morning of walking and seeing.  We went to an amazingly delicious restaurant and tried so many foods I can't remember them all!  The CHinese love to eat 'family style'. It's amazing.  All restaurants in the states should do it this way.  The highlight of the lunch was Peking Duck!  It's Beijing's signature food item.  It did not disappoint.

Here's the little guy sideways and naked :)

and the carving of him!!  Peking duck is divine.  Melt in your mouth delicious!

you eat it like a duck taco! with delectable sweet sauce and sliced melon!! it was to die for.  you can also sprinkle the crunchy skin on top and then add sugar crystals! the sweet and fatty combo dissolves in your mouth. 

we ate so much I thought I'd burst.  and we didn't pay for ANY of it.  I had the best sweet and sour chicken I've ever tasted. and that I'm sure I ever will taste.  We had perfectly sauteed and basted in butter tofu chunks that were absolutely delightful.  The sauces are mouth watering.  And I was surprised how many non spicy options I found! The Chinese really know how to cook.

these amazing sweet potato towers were drizzled in blueberry sauce and edamame.  They were so refreshing.  there's teh duck again in the background.

after fueling up and resting for a bit- we head out to SHOP!!  the shopping in China is unrivaled.  We visited the super touristy silk market- but Mylie also took us to her favorite local market.  It was all Christmas themed, of course.

there were also all sorts of strange animal statues everywhere.
super creepy, huh??

shopping in China is pretty exciting, but also very stressful.   The price they advertise is usually 7-10x's more than they are willing to accept. and you have to be TOUGH.  I was pretty fabulous at it.  Even Mylie said so!  There was so much to see and buy that it got a little overwhelming. luckily I went in with very specific ideas of what I wanted and knew how much I was willing to pay.
Each of the kids got a stuffed animal (we have become THAT family. hundreds of stuffed animals reside in our house!). Ike got Pikachu. Zeb got Totoro, and Metta got Baymax.  At least they are all Asian creatures :)  I found some fun slingshots and other trinkets, too. Oh, and I also got some really awesome magnet sticks/ball set for the kids.  Kent was mortified (pediatric nightmare) but the kids have played with them a ton already!  The set did almost get me into big trouble at the airport.  Security unpacked EVERY item in my entire suitcase.  Stuffed animals, clothes, my underwear :), shoes, and toys strewn all over the beijing airport.  They  held me for almost 30 minutes.  I was starting to get very nervous.

I also happily found every item I wanted for Kent!  I love buying presents!! He got a Kanji tie (I bargained down from 100 to less than 8 dollars for it!) and a Tibetan meditation metal bowl that he can rub with a wooden mallet to create high pitched sounds.  He's great at it.  I am terrible.  He's wanted one since we moved here- but they run 80-100 dollars in Japan.  I got his for less than 20.  Our day was VERY successful.

One of my top three favorite things about the trip was our visit to the wangfujing night market!! It was SO. MUCH. FUN!  just so chinesey.  and I love nightlife in cities.

We actually visited wangfujing the night before our tour of the city of beijing- but this is the best place to fit in the pics!
the street is lined with vendors selling atrocious food items.
Scorpions, starfish, and seahorses.
and snakes alongside other unidentifiable members of the animal kingdom.
giant beetle grubs and crickets, too.
fried and dried critters.
grasshoppers and black scorpions.

I don't know what these are.  I think they are sea creatures of some sort.

I would NOT eat one. I'm sorry, but I have to draw my adventure line somewhere. Luckily we had 3 ladies willing to live on the edge and eat scorpions. although Liz does look absolutely terrified here.
and grasshoppers.  they said they just tasted like salt.  I'll take their word for it.

the lights and colors of china at night are so bright!!
At the end of our ast full day in China-we celebrated with a giant dinner!  This last meal in China was the best.   We ate at quite possibly the most expensive restaurant I've ever been to.  I think our bill came out to well over 1000 dollars. We were treated to the most delicious Sichuan food imaginable. David, from China Youth Press, joined us for dinner this evening and was such a gracious host! He doesn't speak English very well- but Miley- and another of their colleagues, Rita, helped translate.  
all of the entrees were served family style again so we got to try every item!!  they bring it all out on a giant lazy susan in the center of the table.  there was so much food at dinner- they had to rotate dishes off the table to fit new ones!!

we had jellyfish, shrimp, scallops, braised beef, pork ribs, chicken, veggies, dim sum, gyoza, freshly squeezed tropical juices, rolls, wraps, and other fishes!
these pork ribs are the restaurants signature dish,  I think it cost over 100 dollars alone. it was the softest more tender ribs I've ever tasted. I obviously have expensive tastebuds.
the braised beef with roasted potatoes and fresh asian pear in a hot pot was my favorite dish of the evening.
this giant fried sweetly sauced river fish came in a close 2nd. It was scrumptious.
It was the perfect way to finish off our trip in China!  I honestly don't know if I've ever had such delicious food in my life!

I also don't know if I've ever had such an adventurous vacation in all of my life!  China is wonderful.  I can't wait to go back with Kent!!!