Beijing: Strong Winds Brought Clear Skies
It felt like we were riding a roller coaster when we were trying to land in Beijing. The plane kept on swaying and dropping quickly in altitude. I hate the feeling of weightlessness and falling, so both of my hands were clutching the armrests as we descended…
Because of the strong winds, the air quality was excellent! We saw blue sky as we took a quick walking tour of the Olympic Park. There was an equestrian masters being held at the Bird’s Nest- it’s nice to know that it’s still in use. People were flying kites (so high they were out of sight!), so Marcia bought Fred a 15m long panda kite. Marcia and Fred started singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” from “Mary Poppins.” Alex and I had recently watched “Saving Mr. Banks” so we knew some of the lyrics too. “Let’s go fly a kite, up to the highest height. Let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring!” I hope they have fun with the kite in Kansas!
MuTianYu great wall: We’re glad our driver recommended this more secluded place instead of the BaDaLing section, which is where Alex and I went before. The drive to MuTianYu was very scenic, and we drove by many plum and peach orchards. Fred, who’s afraid of heights, didn’t enjoy the cable car ride, but we were all happy to have made it to the top. Just a few steps and we were ON the great wall! (It’s still not exactly clear to me why a WALL was needed when the mountain peaks seem daunting enough!) Alex and I went on a hike (stopping short of one section that was almost a vertical ascent of roughly 15 stories), while Marcia and Fred people-watched. Later, on the way down, we saw that one of the cable cars had a label indicating that Michelle Obama and her daughters sat in that specific cable car just a couple months ago. We saw a bunch of “Maobama” t-shirts (President Obama in Chairman Mao’s uniform) but apparently those were hidden away when Michelle was visiting.
Houhai Park and dinner with my mom’s students: Alex loves Houhai Park, for its atmosphere (cool bars with outdoor seating), even though we were told that only foreigners (including non Beijing-ers) frequent the area. We enjoyed a delicious dinner before walking along the water and having a beer at a cozy, dive bar in an old hutong alleyway.
Dinner with my uncles and aunt (on my dad’s side): Before dinner, we had a chance to see my grandma’s old apartment. The outside looked the same, but the inside was completely renovated (about time!). My uncle gave Fred a head message, which he said would “clear up” Fred’s nasal passages… Fred wasn’t convinced it worked, but it was funny for the rest of us to watch. During dinner, my relatives asked Fred and Marcia a ton of questions about the U.S., and the topics of conversation ranged everywhere from politics to retirement. They never asked Alex and me that many questions! I got to be the translator. After a few hours, I started getting confused (speaking Chinese to Marcia and Fred, and English to my Chinese relatives).
- Dinner with my uncle and aunt (on my mother’s side): When my uncle and aunt came to Maryland last summer, we took them to all-you-can-eat steamed Maryland crab (covered in Old Bay seasoning). They STILL talk about how delicious the crab was, and how my uncle has been in search of crab everywhere in China, and has yet to find any that are as tasty as what we had in Baltimore. (Alex and I really think that the Old Bay was what made the crabs good… we’re going to send him a can of seasoning.)
- EVERYTHING WAS DELICIOUS. And Alex and I scarfed down things that are harder to find/more expensive in Seoul, such as greens, fruits, and meat.
We had Peking roast duck twice, once at Da Dong Duck Restaurant in Wang Fu Jing area. Unbeknownst to us, Da Dong is one of the three most famous Peking duck restaurants (recommended in guidebooks). I didn’t know that you are supposed to dip the duck meat into the black bean sauce, but dip the crisp duck skin into granulated sugar. It sounds weird, but the crispy, fatty, salty duck skin tasted wonderful with the sugar. And I normally don’t like savory and sweet mixed together!
- Cumin lamb skewers (need I say more?)
- My aunt made my favorite zha jiang mian noodles. 🙂 Marcia enjoyed it too!
Temple of Heaven: We saw more than half a dozen couples in their wedding attire posing for pictures around the Temple of Heaven. Most of the girls were wearing dazzling, bright red dresses with long trains. I told Alex we should have shot our wedding photos there as well!
Forbidden City (we originally went on a Monday, but it’s now closed on Mondays except for the summer months) and Tiananmen Square. The Forbidden City makes the palaces in Seoul look TINY in comparison. My aunt insisted that Marcia get an audio guidebook, because every time Marcia would ask us a question, we wouldn’t know the answer. I’m really bad with history, and even though my aunt learned all about the Forbidden City in grade school, she couldn’t remember much of it… haha. We learned that one of the pieces of stone (used for the emperor’s walkway) was so heavy that the workmen had to spray water in front of the path and wait for it to turn into ice before hauling the massive stone forward!