Friday, February 28, 2014

Beijing Day 2

Today was our last full day in Beijing; tomorrow we take the Bullet Train to Jinan, where on Sunday we finally meet our daughter! After another breakfast of noodles, tofu, and steamed buns, we met Angela at 9am and started out on a 2-hour trip to visit The Great Wall of China. Before arriving we stopped and had another great meal for lunch. Angela and our driver - who is very nice but doesn't speak English and whose name we do not know - were quite impressed at our willingness to eat authentic Chinese cuisine. She said that most of the Americans that she has worked with prefer only western fare, or white rice and soy sauce. That's too bad for them, because the food here is wonderful!

After arriving and on our way to the entrance, we walked down a small street of locals selling all kinds of souvenirs and foods. They were very persistent; calling out to use and trying to put items into our hands; but we resisted buying anything as prices were inflated and we didn't want to carry more stuff up to the wall. To get to the wall we took an old-style rickety-sounding ski lift. Only 2 could ride per seat, so Leslie went with Angela and I rode up with Manu. The view was gorgeous, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous as we slowly climbed the hill, dangling high above the rocky terrain below, listening to the cable creak and twang. Once we made it to the top, it was just a short walk and a few stair before we were standing on the wall. It was a surreal experience standing on one of the wonders of the modern world. It's one of those cultural icons that you see countless times in film and print, but never expect actually to see with your own eyes. We walked up and down a good bit of the wall while Angela gave us much of its history and some of its more interesting folk-legends. Unfortunately, the pollution was high again, so it was impossible to get completely clear photos; that haze is not fog, it's smog. By the time we got back to where we started, we were all exhausted from the constant, and sometimes steep, up and down stairways; the wall follows the ridge-line of the mountains, so it's never level for very long. We rode a toboggan down a curvy metal slide back to the bottom of the mountain. It kind of resembled a bobsled course, and at times, Manu and I were sliding at about 30kph. This of course was Manu's favorite part of the entire visit. 

We left the wall and began our return trip home. On the way we stopped at a cloisonne factory. This a place where they create and decorate copper vases and other items in an ancient tradition unique to Beijing. It was interesting to watch each step of the process, especially when they pulled a batch out of a floor furnace and they were glowing hot! Items in the shop were pricey, which is understandable considering the large amount of labor that goes into a single item. Larger pieces easily cost several thousand dollars. We managed to find a small vase that we could afford; we wanted to have something special for Min Jing from China when she's older. 

Back in town we had yet another wonderful meal, which included Peking Duck. It was another one of those, I can't believe I'm eating Peking Duck in Peking (Beijing) moments. We then left and headed back for the room. 

We've had a great time here in Beijing; there are many wonderful things to see and taste here. Angela and our driver have been wonderful, and we'll miss them on the rest of our trip; we'll have a new guide and driver when we arrive in Jinan tomorrow. 

It's been fun, but now on to the real reason we came - to meet our daughter!

Breakfast at the hotel
Manu conquers the wall.
On the steps.
It just keeps going up!
Another view of the wall.
Us just below the wall.
Picture from below the wall.
Dried fruits and nuts for sale nearby.
Copper items just out of the oven; glowing hot!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Beijing Day 1

Today was our first full day in Beijing, and boy was it ever. We started out by waking up at 4:30am - the unfortunate consequence of moving forward 12 time zones. At 7 we headed down to the hotel restaurant for the breakfast buffet: noodles, tofu in chili sauce, beef with sauteed zucchini, and eggs with curried tomatoes were just a few of the good things to eat. There were a few familiar western item there too, but when in Beijing...Then it occurred to me for the first time that we were eating Chinese food in China, and that made me smile.  

Our guide Angela met us in the lobby at 8 and we started on a tedious van ride to downtown Beijing. Traffic crawls as vehicles compete with bicycles, pedestrians, and rickshaws on overcrowded streets. God help you if you need to cross the street; pedestrians do NOT have right-of-way in China. On a positive note, it was a very clear day with much better air than last night thanks to somewhat windy conditions. 

Our first stop was the Temple of Heaven, a large area used by Chinese emperors for annual ceremonies and prayers for a good harvest. This was a beautiful complex of temples, courtyards, and parks. On the way in we watched some older men practicing water calligraphy on a stone pathway. 

After leaving the Temple of Heaven we headed across the street to a local tea shop. We had a demonstration of tea-brewing and sampled several varieties of black, oolong, green, and flower teas. There were some dubious health-claims being made about the benefits of the individual teas, but they all tasted great, though Manu was more interested in the free peanuts they served. We purchased a few canisters of tea and then headed off to a silk factory. This place had a working demonstration of how silk was harvested, spun, and weaved into fabric. In true tourist-trap fashion,after leaving the demonstration we were corralled  through a showroom of their products made from the local silk. We did end up purchasing a silk-filled comforter for our bed back home. The quality was good, the price was fair, and it was made there in their shop, but now we have to pack it through two more destinations and back home.

We then went on a bicycle rickshaw tour of some of the older parts of Beijing. We visited the home of a local Chinese family and admired their dwelling and surroundings. 

Next, Angela took us to a local restaurant off the touristy path - we were the only Caucasians (and Indian) in the place, as far as I could tell. We ordered 5 dished and shared among us, Angela and our driver. The food was amazing. It did bear a slight resemblance to Chinese food back home, but this was definitely stepped-up a notch. We're all getting better at eating with chopsticks, especially Manu, for whom it's becoming second nature.   

After lunch it was off to Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City. These areas are adjacent to one another and lie at the center of Beijing government and politics. The square is basically a very large courtyard full of lots of tourists, hucksters, and locals flying kites and playing games. There are a couple large-screen displays at the center of the square, erected for the 2008 Summer Olympics, that show patriotic images of all of China. It is a very patriotic pro-China environment without a single mention of the more notorious events that occurred her a few years ago. Across the street begins the Forbidden City; a palace for the emperors of old and their families. For most of history, commoners were not allowed inside. The architecture was stunning and you could really get a sense of what this place might have been like hundreds of years ago. 

Lastly we caught an acrobatic show.  It was a nice display of acrobatic feats, done in Chinese style, but by this time we were all dog-tired and only feigned half-interest in what was going on up on stage. We left the show, risked our lives a couple times crossing the street to get back to our van, and opted out of dinner at a restaurant. We instead ordered a pizza from Pizza Hut and ate in the room - total vacation fail, but it was quick and we could go back to the room! I'm the last one standing tonight, and I'm headed to bed soon. Tomorrow we take a 2hr trip to see the Great Wall; should be fun. Talk to you soon. 

Men practicing the art of Water Calligraphy at the entrance to the Temple of Heaven. 

The three of us in front of the Temple of Heaven.

This is really why we came to Beijing :-)

Leslie, Manu, and our guide Angela at the Forbidden City.

One of the Forbidden City buildings.

Daddy and Manu on our Rickshaw. 

We drove by the Bird's Nest; the central stadium of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

The Tea House 

Chairman Mao on the Tienanmen Gate entrance to the Forbidden City, as seen from Tienanmen Square.  

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Made it to Beijing!

Well, we made it! A long flight for sure (14hrs), but no problems to speak of. We flew to Chicago early this morning and had an almost 6-hour layover before our flight to China. We got some breakfast, looked at the shops, and just sat around to pass the time...I might have had a beer or two at the Goose Island pub, for medicinal purposes :-) It was a little disheartening having this long of a wait before an extremely long flight, but soon enough it was over and we were off. We were flying United on a Boeing 777 which, while not as big and nice as the Airbus we flew to India, it was still a pretty big plane with seat-back entertainment, which helped pass the time. It looks like Manu is starting to get a respiratory infection, as he was coughing and hacking toward the end of the flight. At one point we thought he was going to throw up, but thankfully not and we didn't have to use the little barf baggies from the seat pouch. After we got off the plane he seemed to perk up a bit. We have some antibiotics for him if necessary, but we're waiting until morning to see how he is feeling; we'd like to not use them up at the very beginning of the trip if possible.

The one thing I'll say about our short time in China so far is in regards to the pollution: it is awful! As we were landing we throught that we were having trouble seeing out our window due to fog, but as soon as we got off the plane, we realized it was heavy, thick smog. Even indoors there is a stinky haze in the air. Our hotel room, which is about 40 minutes from downtown, isn't any better. You know how some hotels have bottled water, liquor, or toiletries in the room you can purchase just by using them? Well our room has 2 full-head gas mask-styled respirators. For only 180 Yuan each (about $30)  you too can have all the clean-filtered air you desire while making a fashion statement at the same time. No kidding though, this is a real problem, and it doesn't take long to make you appreciate the clean air standards we have in the states.

We met our guide Angela at the airport. She seems very nice. She and a driver took us about 40 minutes from the airport to our hotel. Traffic here is very bad, and only slightly safer/more organized than what we experienced in India. It took us a while to get to our hotel, as we were held up at several train-crossings, and a fender-bender between two sedans than slowed things down; a little bit of real-life experience right off the bat!

So we're turning in early; it's about 9pm here. Leslie is out and Manu is laying beside her playing a game on her phone; I think he's feeling better. I'm calling it quits too. Tomorrow we meet Angela early and visit the Forbidden City, Tienanmen Square, and the Temple of Heaven. Should be fun, especially if the rain tonight clears the air a bit. I'll try to have some pictures for you tomorrow.

Thanks for following!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Meet Min Jing!

Please allow me to introduce our new daughter, and the inspiration for the continuation of this adoption blog, Min Jing. She just turned 5 and is currently in Rizhao City, in the Shandong Province of China. We leave next week for China to meet her and bring her home. We're super excited, as you can probably imagine. Please join us on our adventure as we'll be blogging throughout our journey.