Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Why China?

Why China?  Everyone asked that when we told them we were going to China.  

Our son, Nathan, and his wife, Patricia gave their son, Tyler, an early graduation present, a trip to China.  China was Tyler’s destination of choice.  He has been studying Chinese and has an interest in that culture.  We decided to tag along.  Spoiler Alert: We had so much fun in China, that we have decided to go to Israel in October.

Now that Christmas is over, I will post some of our pictures, thoughts, and memories of our trip to China.This is the first installment.

Beijing: The Adventure Begins

We have free wi-fi in our luxurious room, but there is no Google, no facebook, and no blogger available in China.  The Chinese government doesn’t allow social media. We didn't know about this before we came. Friend-husband sends texts to our family from the hotel and that is our only contact with the outside world.  Our son and his wife facetime their kids at home.  We do not have apple devices so we do not facetime.  We didn’t think to install Skype on this computer.  We could download it here, but the wi-fi is slow.  I don’t know if we will get around to it while we are here.

The weather has been cold as expected. It is 18 degrees here in Beijing. We wear as many layers as we can manage.  Our faces are the coldest, since they are exposed to the wind.  The scarf that I threw in my suitcase at the last minute is my new best friend.  

Many of the Chinese people wear surgical masks on their faces.  Some of them are exactly like the you would see on your surgeon in the hospital, and others are made of bright fabric, patterned or plain.  We see the value in keeping your faces covered.

The air quality is also poor in Beijing.  This is probably another reason they wear the masks.

We saw many beautiful things in Beijing.  The Forbidden City which is part of Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace and the amazing Great Wall of China, were the highlights.  It was unbelievably cold at the Summer Palace and we walked quickly, while absorbing the beauty of this place, and the setting around it. 

It would be hard to describe my feelings as we entered Tiananmen square.  I have a vivid memory of the students who were brutally killed while peacefully demonstrating in that place.  I felt as if I was touching a piece of their history and connecting with them as I stood in the place where they died.

Our companions are delightful.  All ten of us are from the United States.  Our family is half of the group.  Joel and Jeanette, originally from Puerto Rico, live near Philadelphia.  Luis and Marcia Rodrigues, originally from Columbia, live in New York, Ashleigh, originally from Pennsylvania, lives in Renton, Washington.  They are fun and friendly and don’t seem to mind that we don’t drink tea or alcohol.  In fact very little tea or alcohol has been ordered. 

Our guides are perfect.  They speak good English and are careful to attend to our needs and answer our questions.  We have whisper devices that we use when we are sight-seeing.  The guide is able to speak to us while we follow behind.  The devices have a decent range if we wander a bit.

The happy rooms are what we call the restrooms.  As Ahwen, our tour manager explained to us, "if you need one you are happy when you find it even if it is not up to your standards."  Few of the public restrooms have western toilets.  Most have Asian toilets which are on the floor and not very convenient for ladies.  They do flush however.  Toilet paper is seldom available so we carry our own with us.  There is usually only cold water, no paper towels, and no soap.  We are extra happy if we find warm water and soap.  We carry hand sanitizer with us. 

The hotels have lovely bathrooms with western toilets and showers or tubs.  Some have both.  Some of the restaurants have western toilets but not all. 

The food is not like the Chinese food we eat in the US.  There are many vegetable dishes, even at breakfast.  This is great for me.  I love vegetables and they are great for my blood sugar.  There is also rice and noodles served at every meal.  I don't eat rice or noodles, but there are plenty of other choices.

Breakfast is a buffet in the hotels and includes a wide variety of food.
 We go back many times and we wonder if this looks strange to the Chinese people who are watching us.  We do it anyway. We are brave enough to try many unfamiliar things and we sometimes leave it alone after the first bite.  Other times we go back for a second helping.  Dragon fruit, watermelon, and cantaloupe are usually offered and everyone has become a fan of dragon fruit.

No one was brave enough to try the preserved eggs which are almost black in color.  An internet search told us that these eggs are preserved in a mixture of things like ash and ammonia.  In some countries the ammonia is obtained from human urine.  That was all we needed to know to cross these off our list of things to try.

Our lunches are often served family style around a round table for ten.  There is a large lazy Susan in the center of the table and we rotate it until everyone is reached.  We serve ourselves and the dishes keep coming.  Lunch is usually 8 or 9 courses.  The Dumpling Dinner was 18 courses.  There is meat in some of the dishes, but more as a condiment than the main ingredient.  We have eaten eel, jelly fish, pork, chicken, and beef, and duck. There is often a peanut dish as either an appetizer or one of the courses.

The dumplings were some kind of meat or vegetable wrapped in dough and then steamed.  Sometimes the dumplings were made in fun shapes.  The duck shaped dumplings were very cute.  There were sauces for dipping, but I liked them just as well without the sauce.

Our tour guides seldom eat with us, but check on us frequently to see if the food is good or if we need more of anything.  Usually there is a limit of one glass of any beverage including water.  One restaurant had run out of water and so Ahwen went to the store to buy water for us.  

Five of us only drink water and so this was very kind of him.  We are not to drink the water from the tap.  We are told it would make us sick.  The local people also drink bottled water for the most part but may occasionally drink tap water in their own homes.

More next week.

Linda Garner

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