Monday, July 26, 2010

Adventures in China - part 3

"You want to change the world. Travel the world and it will change you." Palmer Chinchen

The remainder of my China visit ran quite smooth. We had a day of workshops with the staff of EF and we heard from several teachers who have led many trips to various locations over the years. It was very helpful to hear details from teachers who organized and ran successful tours in their schools. I came away with a lot of great ideas and I finally feel equipped to take kids and parents to Europe and have the confidence that, even though organizing travel abroad is way more complex than it sounds, my trips with our school will be all I am hoping for.

(Here is a picture of our group - other teachers who are running programs for the first time at their schools and many of the EF staff. )

I must applaud China for their many helpful signs. Here are just a few:

If you visit Beijing you too can enjoy a little snack in the park. In America we might find signs for corn dogs or nachos, but not here.

After my exciting day at the Forbidden City, I rejoined my group for some shopping and dinner. The shopping was quite interesting.

This is Bruce. Bruce is a wild and crazy guy. He is a professor at Liberty University and one of the experienced group leaders who spoke to us during the training time. I appreciated Bruce a lot on this trip. We searched for mugs with pictures of China for Bruce to take back home. While we looked for mugs we got distracted by the local culinary treats.

Unidentified food for sale.

Identified food for sale. Several teachers on our group tried these. I was not one them.

Teachers are fun people:

We attended a very impressive Kung Fu show.

I don't really know Kung Fu.
Sometimes we weren't really sure what we were eating.

Welcome to the Temple of Heaven Park. This park is located in the heart of Beijing. It is 4 times the size of the Forbidden City - which is staggering to consider. You better be sure I kept my eyes on my guide the whole time we were here.
This park was recently featured in The Amazing Race. It was really fun to be at the same place!

We enjoyed more shopping. I know this shirt is in poor taste. But it is my story.

This is a squatty potty in China. If you ever visit China it is helpful to know in advance that this is what you will need to familiarize yourself with. Consider this a public service announcement. You're welcome.

There is a Disneyfied version of Chinese shopping. It was pretty and clean. And very expensive and caters to foreigners, primarily American.

One street down I came across this. This is where I'd rather shop any day. It was full of mostly locals and felt more authentic than the touristy version.Starbucks is truly everywhere. I'm not complaining. I was thankful for a carmel machiato. I actually bought a mug and am now officially starting a Starbucks mug collection from all over the world. Don't ask me why. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

More shopping. One of the things I really love about China is the color of their buildings.

I think this kitty is on life #9.

Here I am on the last evening with our local guide, Daniel.

The air quality is so poor. I know I mentioned this in an earlier post but I did a little research and learned that China leads the world in carbon emissions and that more than one third of the air pollution affecting California originates in China. That's shocking when you consider China is 4,000 miles from California. Part of the problem is what lies 50 miles from Beijing: the Gobi Desert. Every year the dust storms dump more than a million tons of sand on Beijing. One report I recently read claimed 700,000 people die each year in China, from simply breathing the air.
The author made a point of noting that this is roughly the population of San Francisco. I think we'd take notice if the population of San Francisco disappeared, but in China air pollution statistics are not made public.

Also, and this is just my observation, everyone smokes. Our taxi cab driver smoked, people in elevators smoke, and clearly whoever stayed in our room before we arrived, smoked.

Which brings to my next observation. You must be careful where you walk if you visit China. It appears kleenex is missing a market share here. Maybe the company should set up shop and introduce themselves. A morning in China is routinely greeted by residents purging mucus from their bodies onto the sidewalks. Some might call this spitting.

I wouldn't.

Young children do not wear diapers in China. It is common to observe them piddling or more in the street. This certainly saves landfills, but unfortunately creates other problems, mainly for tourists wishing to avoid SARS.

Truly you have to watch where you walk because between dodging the traffic, rogue cyclists, toilet training toddlers and the flying phlegm you've got your work cut out for you.

The real thrill (other than my Forbidden City experience) came when we traveled to the Great Wall.

We traveled to Mutianyu, approximately 90 minutes from Beijing, to see the Great Wall. This wall winds across China like an earthen serpent, twisting and uncoiling over rugged terrain. Impervious to mountains, it is a symbol of China's strength and isolation.
I read somewhere in a guidebook that you should avoid using a mobile phone in a thunderstorm if you're on the Great wall.

Guidebooks are helpful that way.

We took a gondola up to the Great wall.

I am so happy right now! I can't believe I am standing on this wonder of the world.
Yep - that's me. I'm happy!
Bruce is also happy! A little sweaty, but none the less happy!

There are some more of our group waving to us. This is a picture of me with my roomie - Yolanda.
I learned (after the fact) that you can take a luge down from the top of the Great wall. All I can say is I was thoroughly disappointed to not have this information when I was at the top- I would have loved to toboggan down the mountain. If you travel to the Great Wall - take the sled down - for me. Please!

One of the very interesting things I learned as I climbed several of the steps to the structures on the wall is that the steps are very uneven. Some steps are one or two feet in height and another next to it might be 4 inches. It was very strange. Our guide told us that it was a strategic move when the wall was constructed. It made it much more difficult for invaders to attack when they couldn't move quickly or determine the distance from a far. I thought that was pretty ingenious.
The Great Wall was built in the sixteenth century during the Ming Dynasty. It is believed to have been 4,500 miles long - but no one knows for certain how long it was. That is because sections of this wall are still being found today. Designed to keep the Mongols at bay, the wall was constructed by over 2 million peasants, many of whom were buried inside the wall when they happened to die during their labors. China is fond of walls. It makes sense that they would construct the greatest wall known to man. Over time the wall fell into disrepair. Neighboring villages noticed the stash of unused bricks and figured why waste something that's just sitting around and they took the bricks and used them to build shops and homes. China is not a country to waste anything.

China is an ancient, backward, and yet, often modern country.
(The Bird's Nest)

It is a land of mystery. I find the people of China to be almost as much a mystery as the land itself. Our tour guide mentioned something that I've thought about quite a bit. He said that people in China just want small lives. I have been reflecting on this for a few days now. I think what he meant was that people in China are content with their lot. And yet, the idea of wanting a small life seems so foreign. I can honestly say I would never want a small life. I want to tip my glass back and drink in all that this journey called life has to offer. Because it is a shorter journey than we realize.

And yet, I wonder at Daniel's words. Does a desire for a large life indicate a discontent spirit - one that seeks to be filled with that which can only be satisfied in something greater? or is it a desire to embrace all that God has allowed us to experience while we can? I suppose each traveler has to answer that question for himself. Maybe the answer is in where we find our contentment. Is it in the doing or the Being?

Sometimes the two are blurred and that can be a very dangerous thing.

My trip to China was amazing! I honestly wouldn't change a thing. I've mentioned the good, the bad and the ugly, but I would go back in a heartbeat. And even the uncomfortable situations taught me much about myself and reminded me to trust in the One who watches over me.

That never changes no matter where I am.

It is a marvelous thing to experience a culture so entirely different from one's own. I am left with an appreciation for China and her people that I did not have before, but I am also very appreciative of my own culture. That, I think is a remarkable gift. So for now I say good-bye to China. I hope to one day return.



  1. What an amazing adventure. Certainly doesn't sound like a place where you would want to go barefoot! Your question is well worth pondering ... the being content in the now and yet being open to more.

  2. Very cool blog. I found you on Graceful and hope you win the book!

  3. Wow, what a trip. Amazing pictures and a very cool journey through words here. That potty, my gosh...I had no idea.

  4. Those pictures are wonderful! Looks like you had a great time. I'd love to visit China one day.

  5. Wow, what an amazing trip! Disgusting food and diaperless babies aside...

  6. Some amazing pics and great commentary. Looks like fun.