In addition to the previous post I made about the Ss of China, I would like to add a fifth – shoving.
While we were beginning to enter The Forbidden city, a group of us decided to use the restroom. It was too early in the day for the experience we had and there was definitely a bit of culture shock. In Western cultures, you make a nice orderly line (actually in the Thai culture they do as well) but in China, as we had discovered on the trip, it is a free for all. You grab your group of ladies and find a stall. Then everyone waits outside of it, guarding the door and taking turns going to the restroom. As a result it seems like a cattle call, with Chinese women yelling, pushing, shoving, and hoarding their space. We were not expecting to have to fight to use the restroom. I was able to snag a stall though and another lady got a stall as well, so our group of 8 ladies used the restroom Chinese style. I can laugh about the experience now but at the time we were cranky and sleep-deprived having just gotten off our third overnight train.
Remember when I talked about smog in an earlier post, well the Beijing marathon was just held despite calls to cancel it. The US Embassy found that the pollution was at 400 micrograms per cubic meter. The World Health Organization recommends no more than 25 micrograms per cubic meter. Most runners wore masks and ended up dropping out early. You can read an article about it here.
Pregnant women are rarely seen in China. Because of the one child rule (although there is always a way around this when $$ talks), women we protected during their pregnancy and spend most of it at home.
When walking around it was common to see bare-bottomed children due to a slit in their pants up the middle. Traditionally, Chinese children do not wear diapers so the slit allows them to go to the restroom anywhere rather quickly without soiling their clothing.
It is common for men to carry their girlfriend’s purse. It’s to show they are “together.”
In 1974, just outside of the main city of Xi’an, an enormous mausoleum sight was found. Clay parts had been showing up in the area for years but no one actually thought to discover why until archaeologists began digging more than 2,000 years after the mausoleum was built.
The main tomb is a mound built up 70m in the ground. It has yet to be explored but a book from the proceeding dynasty describes it as having a river of mercury, with gems, diamonds, and pearls on the ceiling.
It took one million laborer to construct the main tomb and surrounding outs which were filled with terra cotta warriors, horses, and chariots. The first pit was the most impressive. All of the pits now have roofs (they used to have smaller roofs but these have collapsed in the last two millennia. The terra cotta figures were all painted but as soon as they were exposed to air and light the paint disappeared. There were a few that they were able to preserve in time. (The ones featured were repainted to show what they would have looked like in all of their glory.)
Pingyao is an ancient city with an intact wall. The wall runs for about 6km around the edge of the city. Not a lot of motor vehicles are allowed inside of the hotel.
In the city, one purchases a ticket and it lets you into all of the museums in the town. The city was home to the first bank so most of the museums center around banks and escort service (people who accompany and protect the money). One museum had a vault featuring some of the gold blocks and the molds to make the gold. It was very interesting to see.
1,200 years ago, people sought solitude outside of the city and built a hanging temple. It was built into a rock cliff with narrow passageways and small rooms for prayer. A while back, the river in front of it was creeping higher and higher up the cliff so they dammed it up to preserve the temple.
In the afternoon we went to the Yungang grottos. The grounds were beautiful but most of them were modern facilities. The caves were amazing though and contained enormous Buddha statues. They used to have even more Buddhas in them than they currently do.
A ger is what most westerners would call a yurt. In Inner Mongolia they are quite common. We stayed in one out in the middle of the grasslands in a place that was definitely off of the beaten pass. I felt as though the driver was probably using a GPS system as we didn’t seem to be on a real road half the time.
There was a tall, rocky hill behind the ger site with a small rock piling and prayer flags at the top. There were also some petroglyphs that could be seen on some of the rocks. The only thing surrounding us were grasslands and wind farms.
For dinner we had a wonderful feast. A sheep was killed and used for our dinner. I chose not to watch this process but I heard it was fascinating. Based on what my fellow group members said, the sheep was put on its back and then a small cut was made. The man reached in and pinched a part of the heart. The sheep then simply shut its eyes and took its last breath. I had assumed it would be a throat cutting.
At dinner we were treated to music by our local guide. We were also fortunate to see the eclipse of the moon. It was quite beautiful as there were no lights even remotely visible around us. It was a full moon and at night there was no need for a flashlight to find the outhouse. The only problem with the full moon was you couldn’t see as many stars but it was beautiful nonetheless.
On the way out in Inner Mongolia, we stopped at a rock temple formation at the top of a mountain – Bayin Aobau. It was peaceful but quite windy! We also made an unscheduled stop to a village where we happened to meet a woman who invited us into her home. We saw her dozen sheep (who wouldn’t come near us), a big pig, a piglet, and a barking pug. She lived in the small house with multiple generations and they all slept in the same “bed,” which was a large slab of concrete with mats laid over it. There was a spot to start a fire under it so that it could be warmed up in the winter.
Seeing the Great Wall was amazing. The structure is so magnificent especially when you get away from the crowds (fortunately there weren’t too many people in the area we were at).
We went to Mutianyu. There are two different options to get up to the wall and three to get down.
1) you can hike up or down
2) you can take the cable car up or down (it even notes which cars were used for different heads of state)
3) you can take the toboggan down (just like Michelle Obama and her daughters did)
I went for the adventure and took the cable car up and the toboggan down. Once up on the wall, I climbed as far as the eye could see, including to the highest point in that section of the wall. The steps were quite steep! At some points it felt like I was going straight up. It was a great workout and the weather was perfect – sunny with a breeze.
Once we made it to the highest point (and the end of the restored wall) we sat down in a shaded area and ate Subway sandwiches. A Subway was conveniently located at the foot of the wall and it made it nice for picnicking.
The experience was amazing. You can only imagine how much effort it took to build this wall out in the middle of nowhere.
Have you ever wondered how to spell Starbucks in Mandarin?
Hou Hai is an area of Beijing known for its alleyways and lakes/recreation areas. There are also two enormous towers – the drum tower and the bell tower.
I had lunch up on a rooftop overlooking the lake where I got to watch the boat traffic jams as everyone tried to pass through the narrow part of the lake and under the bridge at the same time. It was quite amusing.
Instead of taking the subway back to my hotel I decided to walk. It was probably a few miles but the sun was out and the air was cool. I bought a ticket to Beihai park and meandered through. I saw more people on the lake boating, groups doing exercise, and of course the amazing White Dagoba on an island in the middle of the lake.
I bet you’ve never seen a McDonald’s like this before.
As you may remember, Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. As an athlete I always get chills when visiting Olympic sites. This one had such iconic stadiums that it was hard to suppress my excitement.
The famous Water Cube is now used as a water park and swim facility. So if you want to swim where the Olympians did go ahead! Tours are available for the Bird’s Nest as well so you can check it out.
The Green features a dragon shaped lake and lots of shopping/food areas.