We met Christine and our driver at 9:30 that morning just outside the hotel. Christine took the bus and then walked the rest of the way each morning to meet us. She told us that it takes her 1 hour and a half one way each morning to get to work as she walks and rides a bus. The traffic in Beijing was, well, amazing and a little anxiety-producing. The pedestrians, bicycles, buses, taxi's and cars all seem to flow smoothly. It is like watching fish in a pond, they dart here and there unpredictably, yet gracefully. I never felt afraid and had a lot of confidence in our driver. We headed to the Summer Palace as our first tourist destination.
Breakfast at The Prime Hotel
No need to worry about being meeting Christine by 9 AM. Our first morning in China, and the following several mornings, I woke up at 4:00 AM. I was wide awake every day early due to jetlag and because the sky became light between 4 and 4:30 each morning. Our first daylight view of Beijing was from our hotel window (below) and it was glorious! This is China!! Yippee, we made it!! We gazed out and watched the sun come up - well, sort of - we really could not see it with all the haze.
Later we would find that the tall rooftops we were seeing were those of the Forbidden City! I called home this first morning and talked to my best friend, Steff, my dad (my mom had gone to town and I knew she was going to freak when she learned I had called!) Also, I called to check on Emma at Kathy's. She was doing GREAT and did not even seem to miss us! (Wish I could have said the same for me)
Our first view of Beijing in daylight from our room at the Prime Hotel
At the Summer Palace, it was quite warm and there were alot of people. This is the place where the emperors would escape the heat of summer from The Forbidden City. The Summer Palace is full of trees and a beautiful lake. There are walkways all decorated with ornate wooden carvings and colorful painting. I was constantly amazed at the workmanship at every place we visited. We really did not have time to explore every detail but tried to take pictures to capture the beauty.
As we neared the marble boat that is on one end of the palace, there was an older Chinese man who approached Donnie and asked him "what country are you from?" Well, openly, Donnie replied that we were from the United States. Then the man said "pen?" to which Donnie quickly offered the man his writing pen. Well, this gentleman began to make a carving into the pen...our guide tried to stop him and then told us that this man would want one yuan (approx $1.25) for his services of carving a dragon into the pen. Well, the surface was too slick or something so he carved D O N and then accepted the money! Boy, were we suckers! We now have our "dragon pen" to remind us of our first day in China at The Summer Palace.
Often on this trip, I would ask myself if I was really here -- in China -- just a few days from meeting our daughter. It is a little surreal. The tourist areas were educational and enjoyable but my favorite part of the trip (other than the REAL reason for the trip, our daughter!) was seeing how the Chinese live and work. Our bus rides from one destination to the next I enjoyed the most.
The Summer Palace was really beautiful, but as with many of the places we would visit in China, there was too much beauty, history and detail to take in with the short amount of time we had available. Also, there were still lots of things on mind at this point...one of us getting sick, Emma having a meltdown, potential paperwork issues, getting to Elizabeth safely. None of those fears came to pass.
In front of the Marble Boat just after our encounter with "Dragon Man"
The Wall was everything I knew it would be. However, I disappointed myself when I did not have much stamina. It was really hot and humid, something I am used to; however, I really needed to eat (I was blessed with a fast metabolism) and was still fighting a little jetlag. I only went to one of the first towers (?). The steps are very steep and tall. Going down is quite difficult, I held on to the railing. Donnie kept climbing, he went quite high. Below is one of the shots I got from my highest climb.
Little did I know that I was about to embarrass the #$%^ out of myself with the vendors as I made my descent. Just before we left, I made a deal to buy a panda quilt for $8 dollars...that required a 100 yuan bill. For some reason I was thinking $10 and brought back 10 yuan. When I handed that bill to the vendor, he and all 50 of the others started laughing and pointing!! Christine told me what a huge boo-boo I had made; however harmless. I asked her what they were saying and she said they just thought it was funny! Sure! I wonder what I D I O T sounds like in Mandarin...I am sure I would recognize it!
Well, I did not do ANY shopping at the Wall other than the quilt, because I was with two MEN who do not like to shop! They never said anything, but their vibes did. (This seems to become a theme in my story.)
After getting back into the city, we went to a retail store (like a Wal-Mart). This is another place where I would have loved to spend some time and cash...again, those pesky "Don's" were with me. So, quickly I grabbed some snacks and bottled water and we were gone. That night we had dinner at the hotel and went to bed fairly early. I prepared the camera and was trying to be organized for our visit to CCAA coming up tomorrow!
After the Summer Palace, we headed northeast of the city, towards the Great Wall. On the way, we stopped at a "Friendship Store" for lunch and shopping! The food was excellent, although, I could have used some ice water rather than the hot tea - I love tea but really needed something cold.
Let the shopping begin! Off to the Cloissone counter I went with my trusty bargainer at my side - Christine was the most wonderful bargainer ever! Of course, I was awful since it is really not a part of our culture (just give me a sale rack at TJ Maxx and I am happy). She had those clerks running in circles, I appreciated how wisely she was spending my money. One of my big, huge mistakes...I did not buy enough!!
Travel tip: Buy your Cloissone in Beijing!!!
I bought the usual, those meditation balls, pearl bracelets for my girls, some Cloissone ornaments, Cloissone jewelry, etc. Since this was the beginning of the trip, I was hesitant to buy things. "Never knew what I was going to find later!" Bad logic. Papa Don bought some pearls for my MIL and Donnie just walked around checking everything out.
While here, there was a wonderful group of Canadian families with their daughters!! How exciting it was for us to see them! Once done with lunch and some shopping, we headed for The Great Wall, Badaling section. The highway was very nice. It was new with four lanes, beautiful tree lines on either side. When I commented that the highway was nicer than many we use in the states, our driver was amazed and chuckled as most of the roads there are in poor condition it seems. Our driver was such a nice man, he was quite a trooper, always waiting for us in the heat.
We kept our eyes peeled for that first glance of the wall...it was breathtaking, a moment in your life when you have to sit in amazement. We pulled up and parked... the vendors were screaming at us to come buy from them. I fully intended to buy a quilt but thought we would do so after the big climb.
The Summer Palace Lake
We went to breakfast. The buffet was very nice and something I looked forward to each morning. They had both Chinese and Western foods. Give me bacon and hashbrowns and I am a happy camper!! There was a huge spread, cereals, juices, pastries, congee, meats, veggies, bean soup, french toast, hashbrowns (with a strange seasoning added, very Chinese) a fresh omelet table where they made your omelet while you waited. Oh, yes, and some dish with cooked duck heads! I lifted the lid and s-l-o-w-l-y put it back down...now, where was that toast I saw. The coffee and tea were great.