We made it to China! As expected the trip was long and exhausting. I think people in our family have an immunity to sleeping on airplanes. We had been awake for about 26 hours by the time we could finally collapse into our beds at the hotel. Vincent did well on the plane. I think he watched the first half of every movie on the kid’s menu of the in flight entertainment system. He also requested Sprite at every opportunity. Once we landed in Beijing we still had to go through customs, be cleared to enter the country (we appreciated that families with children were moved to the express lane), and claim our baggage. At that point we were finally able to meet our guide Nancy. She told us that she now works in the office rather than as a tour guide but she had agreed to be our guide again because she likes to see previous families. We had transported a suitcase of medical supplies for New Hope Foundation in Beijing and she helped us to meet up with their representative to hand over the suitcase.
Nancy got checked in at our hotel, then told us what time she would meet us on Sunday morning. We are staying at the same hotel as our last trip but we will be in Beijing for a week this time. The hotel is a French chain so the staff at the front desk speak excellent French but only moderately good English. Bus loads of Air France employees are dropped off at regular intervals from the airport. The hotel has a European feel. The pastry selection at the breakfast buffet is amazing and I appreciate the cold meat and cheese area. We could live without the European style shower though, which is a handheld model attached to the wall at waist height.
That’s pretty much our Friday and Saturday. This morning we were up bright and early due to jet lag. We decided to attend the 6:15 Mass at St. Joseph’s Cathedral which is very close to our hotel. Then we ate breakfast on our way back in. We still had an hour to video chat with the children back home before meeting Nancy. Then we headed to the Summer Palace. We did pack masks to wear because the pollution index is so much higher than on our previous trip. You can feel the pollution as a burning in your nose, sinuses, and the back of your throat.
Although it’s cold, it was a great day to walk around there. The lake was frozen and people were ice skating, ice biking, pretty much ice-anythinging. The architecture is beautiful and the mountain view picturesque. We liked it better than the Forbidden City which was more austere. We spent probably two hours there, walking around. As always, Nancy did a great job telling us about the history. Nancy was so tickled that Vincent has been learning Chinese. She would quiz him on characters. We came to one place where a man was writing characters on the pavement with water using a giant sponge paintbrush. When he asked if anyone wanted to try, Nancy (standing behind Vincent in the photo below) immediately volunteered Vincent. The whole crowd was delighted when he wrote the characters for China and the number one.
From the Summer Palace we went for the obligatory sales visit to the silk factory, then got to eat lunch. Nancy took us to a place which specialized in “old Beijing food.” We had a sour beef and egg dish as well as hand pulled noodles with soy bean sauce which are native Beijing dishes. Another dish was a breaded and fried chicken cut into pieces but arranged on the plate with the head in front. Nancy teased me, asking if I could eat the chicken while it looked at me but I replied that I was raised on a farm so it didn’t bother me at all. I don’t think she had met an American before who had eaten rabbit, pig tongue, and frog legs as a child. She asked hopefully if I had tried donkey too but I told her that isn’t a common farm animal where I’m from.
After lunch we went to the Temple of Heaven. Like the Summer Palace, it seems to be visited by locals more for the public park than for the historical site. I really wish our public parks had the same sense of community and camaraderie that you feel in parks in China. We passed older women dancing to music, a men’s group singing old Red party songs, a line of people playing cards or chess, and individuals singing or playing the traditional Chinese erhu. Where the playground would be in an American park there was an area full of exercise and agility/massage equipment filled with older Chinese citizens earnestly getting in their daily activity. We eventually made it up to the Temple of Heaven, then headed back to the hotel where we said goodbye to Nancy. We will have a different guide for our adoption trips the rest of the week. We will leave at 6:30 am tomorrow to meet August.