Friday, January 5, 2018

Everybody was kung fu fighting!

At some point while we planned our China trip, we learned about visa-free travel - if you’re on the mainland for less than 72 hours and coming from one country but leaving to another (essentially making China a long layover), you don’t have to get a visa. So we thought we might do that and go to Chengdu and then visit Taiwan or Hong Kong (technically part of China, but not for visa purposes) as well. But considering we’d be pushing it close to those 72 hours and then something might go wrong and keep us longer, we decided to pay the money to get visas. And then, since we were spending that money, we might as well make it worth it and stay on the mainland for the duration of our trip. If we never make it back, we figured Beijing would the best and most interesting city to visit in addition to Chengdu. So, we took our ideas and wishes to the on base travel agency and asked what they might be able to do for us. They quoted us a price that would let us do everything we wanted to do (including a few customizations), stay in a nice hotel, provide us with a driver and English speaking tour guide in Beijing, AND take care of all the visa work (instead of both of us traveling to and from the Chinese embassy in Tokyo at least twice) for around the amount we had budgeted for this trip. Could we have done our own travel and itinerary for less than that? Maybe? We do enjoying planning our own adventures, but considering how foreign and difficult it can be in China, we decided it was absolutely worth the convenience cost. Now that we’ve completed our trip, we still do not regret it. It really helped it feel even more like a vacation to let someone else take care of the details before and during our trip!

Our driver met us in the airport in Beijing, but our guide had been delayed, so we picked him up on the way to the hotel. He spoke great English, was very knowledgeable, and quite thoughtful and kind. We all got along very well and both the driver and the guide made our trip a breeze. We would have been a lot more tired and stressed if we had also been navigating or trying to decide on food. As such, we sat back and enjoyed a more relaxing sort of adventure. They dropped us off at our hotel and we chose to visit one of the hotel restaurants for dinner.
Breakfast was provided at the hotel each morning and featured a variety of local and Western foods.
Our first dinner in Beijing

Sunday morning, we had already decided that we wanted the experience of attending church on mainland China. We don’t usually go out of our way to attend church when we are traveling - it depends on how far away it is, how long we are in the area, how easily we can get there, etc. We like to attend at least the first hour (Sacrament) if we can, but don’t stress about it if it’s going to be much trouble. However, we decided that for this trip it would be interesting to attend church in a country that only recently, and partially, opened up to a freedom of religious beliefs, so we asked the travel agency if we could work it in. A English-speaking, international expat branch meets rather conveniently to the center of the city and, even though we didn’t ask for a specific amount of time, they scheduled the whole morning for it and we got to attend all three hours.

It was a lovely meeting, the lessons and discussions were both interesting and uplifting, and it was a great start to our day. At the very beginning of the meeting, they read a letter about how we must conduct ourselves in China - no interaction with Chinese national members of the church and no proselyting actively or passively to non-members. So, we had to be vague and general when our guide asked about our time at church, but that’s okay. Hopefully, this will help build the relationship of trust that will allow for future opportunities to be more open in that country.

After church, we went to lunch - our guide would order our meals (included in our plan) and then let us eat on our own. This lunch was a soup, peppered beef, sweet and sour pork, vegetables, and watermelon. Quite good!

Then, we went to a silk market. The Chinese have a long history of handicrafts and traditional arts - maybe even one of the longest continuing traditions in the world as it’s such a big country that has seen very little turmoil compared to others. They are making efforts to preserve these traditions despite the changing world around them and this was the first of several stops we made in Beijing to learn about this cultural arts. Here, I picked up a scarf and Blake a tie.
Silk fabric demonstration

Silk mattress demonstration

Following this, we went to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, seat of the Imperial Chinese Dragon Emperor from the Ming Dynasty through the Qing Dynasty, and only opened after the last Emperor’s death. I wrote a paper once - a short story - about the events in Tiananmen Square, but I can’t remember which class or grade I was in or even the contents of my story - just that it existed. It was still interesting to be there and the grounds of the palace, one the largest in on the world, were exquisite.

Then, we went to a tea shop and participated in a tea ceremony and tasting. We jointly agreed that the fruit tea was our favorite. You can even eat the fruit after brewing your tea!

Dinner that night was McDonald’s, due to time. But we made it worth it and got food we would only be able to find in China! Blake got a chicken with chili sandwich on black bun and I got a taco burger, complete with tortilla chips.

The reason we ate when/where we did was so we could get to our evening’s entertainment - a kung fu show! It was great fun, super high energy, and we really enjoyed it.
I got to take a picture with the cast because I had purchased a keychain. Blake was expressly not permitted to join me, so he was the photographer.

Ultimately, Sunday was our longest and most full day, but quite good. Next time - how we celebrated our actual anniversary!


Giggles said...

I think having a driver and interpreter was absolutely the way to go with that trip. Looks amazing!

Heidi said...

I agree with Lisa! Also, I have very vivid memories of the Tienanmen Square incident that will probably never leave my mind. I think, if I ever get there, it would be pretty emotional for me. It's sacred ground, in a way.

Also, my dad went to China in 1987 with a charitable group and took many pictures of places Westerners were just barely able to go. I think, at that time, the Forbidden City was still fairly forbidden.

Also! Silk! How interesting! And how wonderful that all these crafts and skills are being preserved! Take that, cultural revolution!

AmandaStretch said...

I kept thinking about you Heidi, and how much you'd enjoy the silk market!

Lisa, driver and guide are definitely the way to go.