I went to China!

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April 14th 2010
Published: April 14th 2010
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Hello, All!

A few weeks ago, I went to China for a long weekend with a friend of mine, Lauren, and we had an incredible time! We visited Beijing for 4 days and in that brief time we did WAY more than I would have thought possible. Let me break it down for you:

Peking Acrobats show - incredible. A similar troupe of artists visited Miami in 2008 and it was quite a show! These young adults were doing flips on a slack rope, fitting 20 people on one bicycle, and bending in ways I didn't know possible while juggling, balancing, lifting, and somehow surviving! No photos were allowed, but suffice it to say I was thoroughly impressed!

Jade factory - A few people working in a glass-walled sweatshop to demonstrate how jade is carved and made to be so stinking gorgeous. It's quite a process! Just outside that area was a MASSIVE showroom full of everything jade. It was too pricey for me - I'll stick to the jade earrings Aunt Mary bought me in Chinatown, San Fransisco.

Great Wall - All I can say is Wow!!! An incredible experience - one I'm glad I got to have while young enough to actually climb the thing. The stairs were at a pretty steep incline and covered in ice, so it was a little tricky and pretty scary. Coming down was much scarier than going up. The coolest part for me, though, was the sense of community. Helping people from all over the world who speak every language climb down while we climb up, and then reversing those roles was the real experience. It was one of those moments where you just think, "If all of life were like this - people just helping people without a second thought - life would be so much simpler." The views were spectacular and I loved feeling like I was going to die from exhaustion. No way to be sure you're alive until you nearly kill yourself!

Silk factory - We were rushed through a showing of the process of making silk from silkworms and directly into a showroom of stuff to sell. All of it was beautiful and I would have killed for a new bedspread... but it was expensive and I had to think logically. It wasn't expensive by USA standards, but certainly by Chinese standards. Instead, Lauren and I lived vicariously through a Canadian guy in our tour group by helping him coordinate a set for his bedroom at home.

Ming Tomb - This is an expanse of land comprised of red buildings with hand-painted ceilings for the emperor and his 30 concubine sacrifices, emporess, and 300 concubine extras. hidden somewhere under a giant man-made hill is the emperor's body and his riches. Quite the scene.

Enameled vase factory - I finally got to see the process for putting together those giant paint-by-number vases that I've always found so beautiful. I'll have to explain it in person since I talk better with my hands than without them. Ask me sometime. In any case, we were rushed through that explanation as well and pushed into another showroom full of stuff to buy.

Tea house - This was a really cool experience. We got to sample 5 different kinds of traditional teas, each of them explained as having different advantages and purposes. They were delicious! Afterwards, we were locked in a room with our hostess who tried to bully several of us into buying something - anything - before we were allowed to leave. Poor Canada tried to console her, telling her what an amazing entertainer she was. She responded with false tears, claiming, "No I'm not. I didn't sell anything!" Canada promptly purchased $100 worth of tea and a little clay man who pees if filled with cold water and then immersed in hot. Sucker. 😊

Olympic Stadium - Considering that all of the above (with the exception of the acrobats) was accomplished in one grueling day, we were offered free foot massages at the Beijing Olympic stadium. This was one of the most uncomfortable situations of the day. After being hit on by the Chinese men roughly massaging our very ticklish feet, we were visited by a Chinese medicine man who proclaimed to the tour group that I have liver problems evidenced by the yellow tint to my palms and soles of my feet and citing some rather embarassing issues. He then tried to force me to buy $200 worth of medication to solve these problems. I told him I'd rather just exercise and eat better, thanks very much.

Forbidden City - This was a MASSIVE expanse of land comprised of dozens of temples and buildings that all look exactly the same as the Ming Tomb buildings. Red walls, hand-painted ceilings, amazing... but still the same. It was really cool to see the pottery artifacts and so forth in the mini-museum there. we walked around for a few hours and took a bunch of photos, striking silly poses and having general fun in what appeared to be a very stoic setting. We purchased a GPS-tracking personal guide, which was a great help in providing all the history and purposes of all the buildings we were seeing as well as pointing out finer details about the construction of imperial walkways and the like. Interesting stuff and I learned quite a bit!

Beijing Zoo - Naturally, the central focus of the zoo was panda bears, which are undoubtedly adorable. I got a few good shots of cuddling pandas, but the crowd was pretty thick. It brought flashbacks of the Tokyo Motor Show and having to kill a few dozen people to get a decent shot. I think I took out a toddler with a Spongebob toy to get my favorite shot. I'm not proud, but I would do it again. (I'm kidding, of course. About taking out a toddler. But not about doing it again. I totally would.) There was some pretty amazing stuff, including my new favorite, Red Pandas, but the exhibit that hit me hardest was the jungle cats. These amazing creatures, so beautiful and deadly and sad, were kept in concrete blocks 10' by 10' where I know they don't see daylight for days at a time. It was depressing and touching enough that I started to cry like a baby right then and there. I'm a total sucker for animals. I told Lauren that I had to leave at that point. Fortunately, on the way out, we passed a monkey exhibit that lifted my spirits. They seemed much happier and their habitat was far more suitable.

Tienanmen Square - Talk about impressively oppressive. The giant picture of Mao outside and the stark orderliness of everything within left quite the impression. We even got to see a guard change and marching! We didn't go see Mao's waxy body since it was snowing really hard our last day and we had to get on a plane home. However, we had a good time there with snowy photos of silly poses. Leave it to me and my friends to make a dark, gloomy experience into a light-hearted one!

Shopping - We got to experience the infamous alley of shopping displays and shouting proprietors and offers coming from all directions. I even got to haggle for the first time, getting Lauren a pretty sweet deal on a guardian lion statuette, a paper lantern, and a huge fan to hang on a wall. Go me! In our brief, albeit intense stay in China, I saw very little proof of communism there. Okay, being told that Obama is evil and that Taiwan IS PART OF CHINA, OKAY?!?! was a little scary. Still, we couldn't take a step out the front door of our hotel without people trying to sell us something.

Hotel - We stayed at the Redwall Hotel just outside the Forbidden City. It was great! Okay, not the cleanest carpet in the world, but everything else was very nice. The staff was extremely kind and helpful. The bellhop even walked us down the road and helped us find ice cream. It was very reasonably priced and Lauren and I couldn't have been happier with our stay there.


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