OCTOBER HOLIDAY - BEIJING AND QINGDAO
Last week China celebrated its 59th National Day, and we took advantage of the nine days we had off to visit Beijing and Qingdao. October Holiday is one of China's two "Golden Weeks" and is characterized by an increased number of tourists jamming a traveling system that is made less accessible "just for the holiday." Beijing was listed as the top city to visit so, naturally, that was where we needed to be. I had been in China for two years already and had somehow failed to visit Beijing even once. That needed to change. So six of us Shiyaners (Jessica, John, Megan, Trent, Finn and I) left on Friday for the capital of China - along with 18 million other Chinese people. As there is no possible way to express just how smooth and fantasmagorical (thank you, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) our time in Beijing was, I'm going to just list some personal highlights. It's a crudely insufficient way to relate our experience, but it's all I can do. Greatness can never be expressed adequately with words; it must be experienced. We arrived in Beijing on Saturday morning and left there for Qingdao on Tuesday afternoon. Qingdao is a coastal city south of Beijing. It's safe to say I was more excited about Qingdao than Beijing. Qingdao has been my "white whale" for the past two years. For a brief period of Chinese history, Qingdao (Tsingtao) was ruled by Germany whose western influence can still be seen today in its architecture, atmosphere and beer. Now, for the sake of simplicity and orderliness, I've compiled the following list of "top fives" about this vacation:
TOP FIVE BEIJING EXPERIENCES
1) Camping on the Great Wall of China - After doing some research, John had discovered that it was, indeed, possible to camp on the Great Wall of China. We could either book a trip through a tour guide OR we could just bring our camping gear and avoid anyone that would kick us off the wall until closing time and camp out then. We chose option number two. The six of us ascended that iconic man-made creation Sunday afternoon, spent several hours walking from tower to tower until we reached the last one, and then waited. Turns out no guards patrolled that area (or the entire wall, it would appear) so we had no opposition to setting up our tents on tower number 19. It was the greatest experience in the history of everything (or nearly). Although the rock wall hardly made for a comfortable bed, and the temperature lowered significantly after dark making for a chilly night for those not blessed with good sleeping bags or a hot sleeping buddy, it was arguably the best camping experience of my life.
2) Summer Palace - Minus the tense 30 minutes spent searching for John (who, incidentally, blames us for the separation), the Summer Palace was surprisingly more interesting than I had anticipated. The architecture was slightly different than the typical Chinese style (though still very "Chinese"), and it was quite possible to just wander about appreciating the tranquility of being lost while simultaneously avoiding the stream of people that we were later to encounter.
3) Temple of Heaven - We, appropriately, visited the Temple of Heaven on Sunday morning. After passing through the various tourist sites within this compound and contemplating on the difference between the gods they worshipped with their animal sacrifices and the God we worship with whom we enjoy a personal relationship, we plopped down at a small, closed entryway and worshipped our awesome Father. It was beautiful.
4) Mexican Food and Old Friends - Monday evening we met Andrew and Jaime Hill, former Shiyan teachers who recently moved to Beijing, for dinner at Peter's Tex Mex. Food, good. Atmosphere, good. Old friends, GOOOOD.
5) Tiananmen Square - While I don't have much personally invested in this location, it's fame incited me to at least appreciate the history wrapped up in it. Seeing Mao's portrait and gazing out over the square left me with strange competing feelings of awe and sadness. Then again, I often experience emotional dissonance when trying to contemplate China - then and now.
TOP FIVE "BU HAO YISI" (SHAMEFUL) MOMENTS
1) Me slapping the hand of a Chinese man who dared to infringe on our attempt (successful, I might add) to acquire subway tickets.
2) John sniffing a pleasant smelling teenage girl on the subway and then discovering that she could see him doing this in the reflection of the door's windows.
3) Jessica yelling at a taxi driver for starting the meter at a base price of 10 yuan, then jumping out of the taxi, yelling some more, and ultimately storming away from the cab (only to find out later that 10 yuan is the correct base price for ALL taxis in Beijing).
4) John, Jessica and Finn secretly eating at Papa John's while Megan, Trent and I trekked through Beijing to buy bus tickets for all of us (all the while starving from having no lunch and, yet, refusing to stop and eat while the others were "waiting" for us).
5) Us telling the suspicious nark of a van driver at the Great Wall that we would, indeed, return at 6 P.M. for him to take us back to Beijing all the while planning to spend the night on the Wall and not descend until the next morning.
TOP FIVE QINGDAO EXPERIENCES
1) Qingdao Christian Church - Qingdao has several European styled churches which are always fun to see in China. This particular one is known for its bell/clock tower. We decided to tour it for seven yuan (apparently, they don't offer discounts to Christians; we tried). After visiting the auditorium and the tower, John, Megan, the Xiangfan crew who we met up with while in Qingdao (Will, Brittany, and Carie), and I sat in the little room you must pass through to reach the bell tower and sang church songs for about an hour. It was such a blessing to be able to worship our Father so conspicuously and be met by appreciation and wonder from the other Chinese tourists.
2) Laissez-faire Wandering Through Qingdao - After our whirlwind trip through Beijing, it was nice to just wander through the streets of Qingdao with no specific plan or agenda. There were times when we felt as if we had entered the heart of Europe, and there were times that we were unmistakably in China, and it was frequent that we experienced this drastic change simply by moving from one street to another.
3) Swimming in the Yellow Sea - Slightly worried after our first beach experience in Qingdao where we saw more rocks and people than sand, we did finally find a beach that really is something to write home about. The sand was unique and sparkled in the sunlight, the water was warm and inviting, and the sunbathing was a welcome sensation on my embarrassingly white skin.
4) Napoli Italian Restaurant - Possibly one of the most enjoyable eating experiences of my life, I'd like to send out a HUGE thanks to Carie's mom for treating us to some fantastic Italian food and some sweet Liza Manelli serenading.
5) Good Talks - Traveling with people I don't know well allows for interesting conversations and ample opportunities for meaningful discussions. This trip was no different. I appreciated getting to know better the people from Xiangfan AND the people from Shiyan.
TOP FIVE "SAD DAY" MOMENTS
1) I lost my camera after descending the Great Wall. I hope it serves its next owner as well as it served me.
2) Trent's cellphone was pick-pocketed at the Feeling Club. No one blames him for not noticing that one of the many hands on his person had ulterior motives.
3) Kat's cellphone sadly fell into a squatty potty never to be reclaimed. So, she did only what a person can do in such a situation: she marked her territory and went on.
4) John left his awesome Old Navy jacket in a taxi cab and another shirt elsewhere.
5) Jessica and I lost three games of spades in a row to Trent and Finn. Loss of face.
I honestly can't remember a smoother China vacation than this one. Group dynamics were amazing, even when we grew from six people in Beijing to eleven people in Qingdao. It's hard to meet the needs, desires and agendas of so many people without suppressed annoyance or even open frustration at times. But there wasn't a single incident that I'm aware of in which personalities seriously conflicted. We also had no problems securing the train and bus tickets we needed to go from place to place. This is a feat indescribable to anyone who has never traveled in China during one of the "Golden Weeks." We give total and complete praise to our Father for his hand in everything we did. We saw Him so often during this trip making things a little easier for us, and we won't cease to remember Him when we talk about our October Holiday 2008.