Sunday, April 8, 2012

Last Day in Beijing

I had originally composed an introduction to this post that called Doug out for his delay in blogging about the Great Wall; that seems to have done the trick in forcing it out of him, so now I can blog about our last day in Beijing. For me, this was my favorite day of the trip and probably one of my most favorite days of all of our trips for a variety of reasons. There was R&R at the hotel pool in the morning. There was delicious, cheap eats at food court in the local mall. For 6 kuai (a little less than $1), I got my new favorite dish: cold noodles, tossed with some shredded veg (cilantro, cucumbers, some greens) and a dressing of a tahini-like paste, soy sauce, and chili oil. Mmmm.

Then, there was a visit to a traditional Chinese tourist site: the Summer Palace. To be sure, the Summer Palace is on the itinerary of most tours for Westerners, but it’s also a big site for Chinese tourists to visit. Since we made the mistake of visiting Beijing over the Tomb Sweeping holiday, we had the pleasure of seeing the Summer Palace with thousands of other Chinese visitors (the official estimate, helpfully posted at the gate, was 40,000 visitors on Wednesday which was actually less than the 60,000 who visited on Tuesday). Despite the crowds, we all enjoyed the Summer Palace, even more than the Forbidden City. The “palace” is really more of a park, with lakes and trees and walking paths, so we got to spend a good deal of time enjoying a rare warm and clear day in Beijing. Even the fact that the hotel was so cheap as to charge us 20 kuai for a broken glass in our room couldn’t dampen our day as this turned into fodder for Doug and I to have a long and engaging conversation about customer service in China (virtually non-existent – more on that in a future post), the state of China’s economy and political system, and U.S.-Sino relations – all while the boys ran along enjoying the weather and the sights.


After a quick meal of pizza in the university section of town, we headed off to catch our train which left from the main Beijing railway station. Unlike the station we arrived at (Beijing and Shanghai have multiple train stations, one of which in each town is a gleaming and modern station that services the bullet train), the main station was a blast from the past; old wooden doors, old tiles, dim ceiling chandeliers and farmers sleeping on sacks in the corners reminded us that we definitely weren’t in Kansas anymore. It was fun to explore – for the 45 or so minutes we had to kill. We might have felt differently if we had longer as there was not a seat to be found in the joint. Luckily, the boarding call was issued, and we arrived on the platform to find the train itself was great. We had booked soft sleepers (I mean – how can you not take at least one sleeper train while you’re in China?), so the four of us got our own compartment. I was worried the boys would be let down, but my fears were for naught as the boys exclaimed that the train was the best train they had ever seen (note: it wasn’t all that awesome, but they had never seen a sleeper compartment before). As Doug and I sipped a beer while our boys clambered around the compartment like little monkeys, I couldn’t help but smile. While life here in China can be frustrating, even maddening, it can also be magical. I can see why people become enchanted with China and build whole careers around it. It is an enigma, wrapped in a riddle – and riding the rails back to Shanghai that night, I couldn’t help but think how glad I am that we have this chance to experience it.

1 comment:

  1. And I couldn't help but think about how much you have all grown, in so many ways. I can feel the train swaying, the clickedy clack of the wheels, the boys sound asleep, and see your smile. It makes missing you all worth it. Judy