This was a trip of superlatives, especially the time we spent in Beijing. The monuments and structures there (great wall, forbidden city, temple of heaven) are simply bigger, grander, and more exotic than anything I’ve ever seen. We started our trip, along with our grammy (Tera’s mom) in Shanghai, where we visited my brother and his family, who were there studying for his international MBA. We headed up to Beijing, where we hired a tour guide and driver. The activities they planned for us, in addition to the normal China tourist sites, were quite simply awesome (Shadow Puppets, sword Tai-chi in the park. dumpling making in the hutongs, with chinese opera make-up artis, chinese acrobats).
From Beijing, we flew to Chengdu, to visit two Shell families, who had been good friends of ours in Brunei. We also saw the sights, and climbed the sacred mountains, and saw the giant carved Buddhas along the riverside. Add to that some fiery Chengdu chinese food, and it made for a unforgettable trip.
#1 - Great Wall
#2 - Morning in the park, excercising with the local retirees
#3 - Making dumplings with Opera make-up artists
#4 - Forbidden City
#5 - Descending the Sacred Mountain in carried carriages
#6 - Chengdu pepper
#1 - Great Wall - The Great Wall is an experience in itself. The massive nature of the wall is hard to comprehend. What stuck with me was standing on the wall, out in the middle of nowhere, with no real civilization anywhere near, and gazing out on the steep-sided mountains all around, and seeing the wall continue from mountain top to mountain top, without ceasing, literally as far as the eye could see, a massive unbroken line of wall for hundreds and thousands of miles. Why? At what cost? Incredible.
#2 - Morning in the park, excercising with the local retirees - This was an unexpected surprise. We were on our way to the Temple of Heaven, and passed by a park with hundreds of chinese retirees seemingly milling about. The kids were excited to play on the playground equipment, so we stopped for a few minutes to let them run around. Of course, we were the only caucasians around, the chinese love blonde children, so we were the life of the party. But these retirees weren’t just milling around, they were excercising. Pushups, situps, chinese yo-yo, Tai chi, it was all happening. And they were fit! Besting me and the kids in any friendly exercise competition.
#3 - Making dumplings with Opera make-up artists - We spent an evening in the old city of Beijing, rolling dumplings, filling them with special chicken and and vegetable mix, and boiling them, to then eat them with chopsticks. It was delicious, but even better was the face painting that they did with the kids after dinner, and dressing them up in real chinese opera costumes. We took some of our favorite pictures of the kids that night.
#4 - Forbidden City - Like the Great Wall, the sheer scale and size of the forbidden city was like nothing I’ve ever seen. To think about the masses of people who used to live there, all dedicated to serving the child emperor is incredibly interesting.
#5 - Descending the Sacred Mountain in carried carriages - while in Chengdu, we took an overnight trip to visit an enormous carved Buddha, and to take a hike to the top of a sacred buddhist mountain. On our way down, we saw persons being carried in chairs strapped to poles, being carried by two porters, like royalty in a parade.. How could we not take advantage of that perk? Each of the kids got a turn being carried.
#6 - Chengdu pepper - the Chinese food in Chengdu was spicy and flavorful, and the black pepper, when ground fresh was strong enough to actually numb your tongue and lips. We ate at a hot-pot restaurant, and I walked back to the back to wash my hands, and simply stared at all the fantastic and exotic dishes being placed on tables. I remember the Indiana Jones Temple of Doom movie, where they were served monkey brain, freshly cooked within the skull of the dead monkey. I thought this was fantastic beyond belief. And yet, I passed by a table in Chengdu, where the person was about to dip his spoon into steaming brain, cooked within the skull of the monkey. Where else but remote central China!