Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Today we visited the Great Wall of China and the Summer Palace. On the plus side, the weather was so much nicer than yesterday. It rained most of last night and the temperature was moderate all day. The bad part was that both places were incredibly crowded.
We arrived at the Great Wall in late morning, visiting a spot outside of Beijing. Our guide told us that the spot we were visiting was the most beautiful spot around. She told us that while the climb was steeper there, that there were many fewer people than at another nearby location where the train serviced. The climb was a bit steep, but the steepness itself wasn't the problem. Most of the time it was wide enough for two or three people; one lane going up, one going down and a "passing lane". There was a solid line of people going up and down the wall. Often people walking up would get tired and stop to rest. Unfortunately they often didn't wait until they came to a wider spot. They just stopped and the line backed up.
Tim, Jacob and I walked up to the fourth tower, while the tour guide stayed back with Aleena and Nalin at the third tower. The guide told us that the highest that she ever had people go was the second tower. To be sure, there were other people at the fourth tower, and some even went higher, but it was much less crowded and much more pleasant the farther we went up.
In the afternoon we visited the Summer Palace. My hope that it would be less crowded than the Great Wall was quickly dashed as there were people every where. To add to the fun of the crowd, there were merchants selling annoying whistles that both vendors and customers seem to enjoy blowing very loudly. At the end we took a boat over to another part of the palace that was less crowded. That was much more pleasant.
Taking photos in crowds like these presents some challenges. There are spots where you can wait your turn and take a photo. Other times you have to just wait until everyone has moved out of the background and quickly take the photo. The kids did a really nice job of posing quickly, at least most of the time. One good thing is that I knew going in that I wasn't going to get a great photo of the Great Wall, Forbidden City or any of the other sites that we would see. I'm on a family vacation. We usually visit places when the light isn't at it's best. In most places, putting a tripod down would be very difficult as it would get bumped or trip people. Even if I did claim a space, getting a shot without masses of people would hardly be possible. If I wanted to do a real photo trip, it would have to be without the kids, and I'd probably travel in the off season and arrive early in the morning. Maybe some day, but I'm not sure I'm up for another trip to China for a long time.
Tomorrow we are visiting Heaven's Gate Temple and then flying to Inner Mongolia. I hope it is less crowded there. Truthfully, while I know how lucky I am to get to see so much of the world, a good part of today was not enjoyable. There are just people around you everywhere, and the truth is that Chinese views on politeness and personal space are very much different than those in the U.S. or even Thailand. I guess that means that I get to experience the culture very close up.
Aleena lost another tooth yesterday. She has now lost a tooth in three different countries: Thailand, the U.S. and China. While I cannot be certain, I am pretty sure that I lost all of my baby teeth in the town where I was born. Such a different life.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
The hammer and sickle statue in the background was erected earlier this month to celebrate the 90th anniversary of communism in China.
One thing about our trip so far that I've really been happy about is the food. The hotel breakfast is not spectacular, but the lunch and dinners that we've had so far have been really good. We booked the trip through a travel agency, and the price included flights, hotels and all the meals. Our tour guide told us that we must have paid a bit more for our package because we were eating at nicer restaurants than usual. We weren't stopping at the restaurants that the tour buses generally stop at.
Two of my favorite dishes so far have actually been vegetable dishes. Last night we had some green beans than had been pan friend and sautéed with garlic. They were so good we ordered a second bowl. At dinner this evening, they served a mushroom dish that thought was some kind of shell fish. It was really good. Hopefully the good food continues.
Tim asked our tour guide today if they had a Chinatown in Beijing. Almost immediately after she said it, she realized what she had asked and started laughing. I guess it was a day of strange questions, because Nalin asked if she had cheek bones.
We just finished our second day of our week long trip to China. Yesterday was largely spent traveling. Our flight arrived at 3:30 p.m. Beijing time, and by the time we cleared immigration, customs, and collected our baggage, it was time to go to dinner and then to the hotel.
This morning we visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Tim and I had visited both in our trip in January, and this trip was very different. The first difference was the temperature. In January, the temperature was below zero Fahrenheit, while today it was over 90 degrees. The crowds were a lot bigger today. While neither Tiananmen Square nor the Forbidden City were empty in January, the crowds were probably a quarter of the size. I don't remember noticing the line to see Mao's Mausoleum on our last trip, while today it stretched the length of the square, twisting on itself. The guide said that the wait was probably more than ninety minutes.
The girls weren't really having a great time with the crowds and heat. At their age, I'm not sure if I enjoyed seeing sites as much either. I'm not sure if Jacob was having a great time, but he was really making an effort to not complain and to make the best of a hot day.
After lunch we visited the Lama Temple and then took a break at the hotel for an hour before we went to dinner. After dinner, we saw a dance show of the history of Beijing. Tim and I saw it during our January trip, but the kids hadn't. Interestingly, the show had been full when we came in January, but tonight less than a quarter of the tables were occupied. The girls really enjoyed the show which at least ended the day on a positive note.
Tomorrow we are visiting the Great Wall, which is something that all three kids are looking forward to doing.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Originally, our Hawaii family vacation was scheduled from June 23rd through July 5th. A few days before we were to return, Tim and I decided to extend it and stay in Oahu another week. When we get back to Thailand, I'll update the blog with some words and photos.