During fall break, we “escaped” Mongolia for the first time to head to Beijing. John and I had traveled to Hong Kong many, many moons ago but we had not been to other parts of China so why not make use of one of the few direct, non-stop flights out of UB to take in some more world history and a change of cuisine?
So what if the flight was delayed 4 hours and no one bothered to provide updates at the airport or if the only open café ran out of sandwiches 15 minutes after the flight was supposed to take off? Good thing my German genes come in handy during travel days because I was well stocked with snacks – nowadays even more so that our gluten sensitive eater won’t starve. In any case, we made it to Beijing eventually and … had a blast.
Ok, so we were certainly not alone – masses of Chinese and foreign tourists were pushing and elbowing their way around everywhere we went and took no mercy to shoving our kids out of the way. Also, the language barrier was certainly a reality. Fortunately for us, John had studied Mandarin (on his own because why not?) years ago so he knew a few basics like numbers and directions to get around. I was pretty useless other than pointing and gesturing (which is the language I am currently perfecting in Mongolia) and then Luca surprised us all on the taxi ride back to the airport (of course) by blurting out a few greetings and numbers in Mandarin along with an explanation of how the number symbols are written. We looked at him surprised asking him how he knew that and all he said was “from school, there’s a Chinese girl.” Well then ….we suggested that next time he sees us struggle with a foreign language, he should feel free to chime in.
So what did we do? With limited time to spare, we hit the main tourist sights starting with the Forbidden City where we certainly were not alone. Thankfully, we visited during the week; I can’t even begin to imagine what the complex looks like on a weekend during the regular “tourist” season.
But not before we stopped to shop for a vest for Juliana. I had overestimated the weather before we left our hotel so Juliana “needed” an extra layer and I had seen cute Chinese vests that I thought would do the trick; of course, she talked her way into this cute Chinese
dress vest – that she did not take off for the rest of the day, of course. Yes, more than one person stopped to take her picture. I *may* have been a little annoyed at that…
We found a good restaurant and I was so excited to find hot and sour soup on the menu (apparently an authentic Chinese dish, who knew?) that I needed to warm up. When we got it, we couldn’t believe the size of the serving for $3; we estimated it to be about 34 cups of soup. And it was delish!
Also, speaking of Chinese food, if you find yourself traveling with gluten sensitive eaters, China is the place to be: eating out was so much easier here without the tempting basket of breads or other evil gluten products at every table and the ensuing discussion of why Luca cannot eat said things even though they are right there in front of him!
After warming up and re-energizing, we headed to the Pearl Market to do some shopping. I was quickly overwhelmed with not only the crowds but also the vendors who were very much looking for customers by waving items in my hands, shouting, and trying to get the kids to take whatever they were selling. Since that scene wasn’t working for us (and quickly derailed my initial desire to shop for pearl necklaces), we headed behind the building where our travel guide suggested we could find a hidden indoor toy market. It took a little while but we found it very much a surprise for the kids who had no idea what we were looking for. (“See, it sometimes pays off to travel with the parents,” we told them – surely a lesson they will remember).
We browsed for a little while and were thankful that the vendors there were not as aggressive as before. And then we found the ultimate dinosaur lover toy – a walking longneck dinosaur with light-up eyes that not only roars but also (and this is very important) lays eggs. Yes, the dinosaur lays eggs while it walks.
So of course we had to bargain for a good price. And by “we” I mean “me” because that is one of my specialties and joys of shopping (you don’t believe me? Just ask the kids who could not get over the fact that you can barter at markets in China and not pay the initial (crazily high) price; this was a recurring discussion, believe me “but Mom, how did you get him to change his price?” “But how?”).
Let’s just say that for all the items I bought in Beijing, I ended up paying a little less than 30% of the initial (insanely high) asking price (I was applauded by our tour guide the next day for my skills which essentially consisted of me naming my price and then not backing down and in the dinosaur instance walking away much to the initial shock of Luca to whom we needed to explain the tricks of the trade afterwards).
And all the bartering was so worth it! See the kids’ excitement in the taxi ride back to the hotel holding their awesome dinosaur and little pony (another successful barter) treasures?
With the weather still not fully cooperating, we spent some lounging time at the hotel pool after, of course, playing extensively with the new favourite toys, and then headed out for Peking Duck dinner! It was so yummy despite Juliana’s initial hesitation (she ended up loving the duck soup and had a little more than 3 bowls while Luca described himself as a “duck lover” from now on and ate more duck than John and I combined).
On the way home, I decided to hop into a souvenir shop that was selling cute panda kids’ vests I had seen earlier. I honestly just wanted to find out the price to think about if I/we/the kids really wanted them. But then, a bartering game quickly ensued and once I had a better price than I originally thought I would get, I had no choice but to rename my kids “Panda 1” and “Panda 2” – I mean, how awesome are those vests?
The next morning, we had an early start to head to one of the trip highlights – the Great Wall. As we saw our third culture kids climbing around the wall while we were trying to explain the historical significance especially in the China/Mongol relations, John and I both had to take a step back and pinch ourselves because unlike our kids, we had been waiting a bit longer to visit this place.
We visited the Mutianyu stretch of the Great Wall as that had been recommended to us for being the most kid friendly since there is transportation to the top and back down. Let’s just say that the open ski-lift transporting us all the way to the top with just a little hand rail to hold onto and nothing stopping us if we were to slip off our seat as we bumpily rode over the trees up higher and higher was perhaps not so much the highlight (“Juliana, hold onto the hand rail and me” was my constant mantra) – but you certainly couldn’t beat the way down – on a German-built toboggan! So.Much.Fun. There may have been a little shrieking involved.We refreshed at the bottom of the Wall with lunch and the mandatory souvenirs that, again, showed that you should not pay more than 30% of the initial asking price before it was time for a nap in the car as we drove to visit the Summer Palace.
We could not have had more perfect weather day to visit the amazing palace – the sun was shining and had it not been for all the people, it would have been perfect. Also, let me just add that if I see one more person taking a picture with a selfie stick, I may just grab it and start running. There were so many selfie sticks in Beijing and especially the Summer Palace that I started taking pictures of people taking selfies…. see the couple videotaping themselves walking? Seriously – can you please stop recording? Who is going to watch that video?
Back in Beijing, we rounded out our shopping ventures with what the kids had been begging for – matching Mama and Papa Panda hats for us. And so it was decided – excellent bargaining later, we roamed the streets of Beijing looking like this.
We spent our last day exploring a close-by park before meeting up with “old” friends from our pre-foreign service life. Thanks to “uncle” Pete and Stu we had a second delicious Peking Duck feast before we could roll ourselves to take in a fun acrobat show to complete our trip.
Yes, it was quite the trip and we made it back to UB just a few hours before the snow started to come down and the temperatures plummeted, and our second household effects shipment invaded our home.
And, that’s it for now – Panda 1, Panda 2, Mama Panda, and Papa Panda are singing off! China – see you next time!