I went to China. What this means right now is my eyes are heavy and I know if I lie down I’ll fall asleep. Which means I won’t sleep tonight. I know this because I haven’t slept for a couple of nights now. This morning, I asked my husband if he thought our bodies would ever figure out the time difference, and he said, “I slept great.” Which was a total lie. I know this because he woke me up at 3 a.m. and we talked about how he couldn’t sleep.
So this blog post is more about staying awake on a California afternoon than anything else.
We went to Korea first. Luckily for us, it was Buddha’s birthday and the celebration lasts the entire month of May. Lanterns lined the streets. Giant paper statues floated in the streams, and booths handing out candles, paper flowers filled a town square. A few days before our arrival, a ferry carrying students capsized and hundreds drowned. In honor of the victims and their families, thousands offered prayers written on yellow ribbons. They were everywhere.
The next day we went to Beijing. My favorite site was the Great Wall, but for me, the Summer Palace was a close second. Larry’s favorite place was the Forbidden City, and since all three of these are in, or near Beijing, Beijing was for us, our favorite.
We hired a driver named Tony to take us to the Great Wall. “I’ll take where there are more white people,” Tony said. “This is where President Obama comes when he visits.” Fortunately, President Obama wasn’t there. We rode cable cars up to the top of the mountain ridge. Pictures best describe the wall.
We hiked up and down the wall, climbed to the top of towers. At one point, the way became rugged as the wall was less cared for. We kept on, just the three of us, and met very few other travelers, as we headed for our destination at “the top.” Of course, the Great Wall is 8,000 miles long, so “the top” is all relative. But we made it to where we said we would go and felt very good about ourselves until on our way back, we discovered we had passed a sign that read, stop here.
I rode the cable the car down the mountain, but Larry and Jared slid down on toboggans.
The Summer Palace, like the Forbidden City, is an enormous complex of houses, temples, courtyards, gardens and squares. The Forbidden City is in the heart of Beijing, but the Summer Palace is more out of the way and it surrounds a lake. A marble boat built in the 1700s floats (really, truly floats) in the lake. The emperor built it for his wife, and sacrificed his navy to do so. Nothing says true love like a boat built of stone.
Our first night in Beijing, we went to dinner at a nice restaurant featuring Peking duck. The experience scarred us, and from then on we ate at hole-in-walls and generally, the food was great. I hated the thought of spending a lot on something I didn’t know if I would like, so from then on most of our meals cost less than $5.
The Forbidden City is huge. Jared said that once he walked through it from one end to the other without stopping to look at anything and it took him an hour. It had numerous courtyards, but I thought the most entertaining one was the Hall of Mental Cultivation, which housed a snack bar.
Hong Kong is built on islands. We stayed at a beach resort and travelled to Hong Kong via ferry, which was, I think, I great way to see the city. Hong Kong is an enormous city with soaring sky scrapers, but a few miles outside of the city, oxen wander the streets.
We spent the next three days in Taiwan, where Jared served his mission. The amazing thing about Taiwan is it was largely unpopulated until after the Second World War and now it’s (mostly) a bustling, busy metropolis over-run with people on scooters. (Even more amazing—the day after we returned from our trip, Natalie opened her mission call. She’s going to Taipei, Taiwan. But that’s another story.)
Shanghai was our last stop. It is a gorgeous city, despite the smog that burns my eyes and throat. Maybe I liked it because the people there made me feel beautiful. While I was sitting on a bench for Larry, a woman approaches and asks, "Will you take a picture for me?" I stand and say yes. But instead of handing me her camera, she puts her arm around my waist. I'm surrounded by her family and become the center of several photos.
I think one of my favorite things about China was the squares where people danced. Every evening, almost every town square is full of the young and old dancing. There’s break dancing competitions, line dancing, and Tai Chi. School kids, middle-aged business men in suits and grandmas all dance together. Whenever I think of China, I’ll always remember a crowd shimmying to an Asian rendition of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance in front of an old Catholic cathedral.