Wednesday, January 10, 2018

I'd love to get you on a slow boat to China

Our last full day in China was a bit more low-key. Our hotel was quite close to the Beijing Zoo and that’s where we started - just to see the pandas. They have two panda houses and they are rather close to the main gate, so they were truly the only animal we saw that day.

Our guide has only ever seen six pandas in one day at the Beijing Zoo. Together, we saw eight! That brings our grand total for this trip to 64! He said we were very lucky to have seen 8 that day and I completely agree.
Blake captioned this photo: "Hello? Yes, I have a brought a pizza. Please let me in."

Height marker

Eventually, I tore myself away and we went to the Hutong area - a older, more traditional neighborhood where you can get a glimpse of what residential life used to look like. Our guide had arranged a bicycle rickshaw ride around the neighborhood, which was a neat and efficient way to get around.

At some point, our driver stopped, got off his bike, rummaged through what looked like a pile of garbage or a homeless person’s stash, pulled out a bottle of anti-freeze, put it on the rickshaw at our feet, then got back on the bike and carried on. A little bit later, we stopped at a nice place on the river for photos and when Blake and I returned the rickshaw, the driver was pouring the antifreeze into some other container. We drove a short ways, then the driver got off, took the antifreeze bottle and placed it behind a short fence into what looked like someone’s yard.

So whether it was foraging or stealing, we don’t know. Was it really antifreeze? Or is there some sort of rickshaw driver moonshine trade happening? We will probably never know the answer to these questions.
Spending time on the frozen river - picnics, speed skating, and more!
After our ride and a quick jaunt through the Lotus Market (which was pretty much all closed up, possibly permanently) we were taken to a pearl market. I wasn’t planning to get anything, but once I was told that pink and purple pearls are only found in China, I changed my mind.
Lotus Market

Lunch was hot pot. We had so much food and we at least tried it all. At some point, a staff member came over and corrected Blake on how to use his chopsticks (they are longer and thicker in China than Japan). We both tried it their way for a few minutes with some success but went back to ours soon enough.
We couldn't possibly eat all this food, but we at least tried it all.
I'd like to pretend this was right after the server corrected Blake's chopstick form, but it was probably just poorly timed on my part.

Our last stop for the day was the Temple of Heaven. The building is gorgeous, but the grounds were also quite lovely and very popular for recreation, even in the cold.

The 70-year-old door - Built by an aging emperor who need a closer way to enter the Temple of Heaven. To prevent his progeny from being lazy, he proclaimed it to be the 70-year-old Door and only to be used once the emperor reached that age.

We were done for the day as contracted with our driver and guide relatively early (mid-afternoon), so we were taken back to our hotel. Theoretically, we could have rested and then gone out for some night time exploring, but after a week of adventuring and not having had to navigate ourselves in Beijing yet (and some not feeling well on my part), we ended up staying in for the rest of the day - napping, playing games, watching movies, and ordering surprisingly reasonably priced room service. It was, for us, the perfect way to wind down. 
Room service!

In Beijing, they try to reduce traffic congestion by restricting what days certain cars drive on certain days. During the week, the last number on the license plate is banned from driving one day a week. Our guide can’t drive his personal car on Mondays and our driver can’t drive the van we’d been taking on Wednesdays. So, our guide took us to the airport himself. On the way, we stopped for a quick look at 2008’s most prominent Olympic venues - the bird’s nest and the water cube.
Water Cube and Bird's Nest!

Our fantastic guide - Tristan - If you're heading to China, we highly recommend his services and can get you in contact with him.

Our flight and train home was quick and we were home and reunited with Malcolm by dinner.
You're home! Let me sing you the song of my people!

It was a wonderful and dream come true kind of a week. We aren’t sure how we will top this for any future anniversaries, or if we will even try. Blake continues to be the best adventure partner I could ask for though, so I know that whatever is next, it will be amazing!