Sunday, November 22, 2009

Journey to Kai – Day 02 (Touring Day)

Well, I went to bed sometime around 9PM the previous night having forced myself to stay away until I was about to die from exhaustion (the trip report had to get written).

But, luck would have it that I woke up wide awake around 1AM. It took a really long time to fall back to sleep. Some complicating factors were that the room is insanely hot and I have no way to control the temperature. China, in general has socialized heat. Everyone gets heat at the same time and has the same thermostatic temperature. Hotels, typically are immune but apparently this one still has a community thermostat. So, everyone’s rooms are the same temperature and from what I’ve been told, Chinese love it to be hot.

So, I’m very dehydrated on top of sleeping in a hot room.

I kept waking up about every 1 to 2 hours but eventually I made it to the 7AM alarm. We had to meet Sindy in the lobby at 9AM so we figured we needed to be down eating breakfast no later than 7:45AM in order to get enough time.

We lounged around a bit, but finally we got out of bed. I fired up the laptop to see if anyone had responded to our e-mails from the previous night since everyone we wrote would’ve still been asleep. Sure enough everyone replied. We also got some Facebook updates and activity on my Twitter account.

We both had showered the previous night so we just got dressed and headed down to breakfast. We got breakfast for free and it was a typical buffet type setup. The thing I’m having a hard time getting used to is the size of glasses to drink out of here. Once again the glasses were only slightly larger than a shot glass. So, I had to go and get 4 or 5 refills of orange juice to equal one glass I’d normally get at home.

I did try the omelet station and found that they like their omelets runny. I made due and scarfed it down. Nancy seemed to stick to breakfast breads and some bacon. She did try the oatmeal but it IMG_2498 was the consistency of soup.

We both did get some of the dragonfuit which our friend Diana introduced us to back in Oklahoma City and it was tasty.

This was the first time we actually got to start meeting some of the other families. I’m going to have to apologize but I’m terrible with names so it’ll take a bit before I can remember them. There was another family, like us, who was coming to adopt their first child. There was another couple who was about our age who had to wait until they were 30 to submit their paperwork (just like Nancy). Most of the other families had much more established families with either another child adopted from China or had several “bio kids” already.

After eating breakfast we ran up to the room real quick to move stuff out of our bags so that we could replace them with what we needed for a day away from the hotel.

I had packed the shoulder bag Nancy bought me at Disneyland in June and put my camera related items in there, plus my gloves and my knit cap. I was going to try and wear my Grumpy baseball cap as long as possible. Nancy and I both were layering. I was wearing my fleece and snowboarding jacket and Nancy was wearing a sweater and her ski jacket.

China_20091120_0002_Day02We met everyone in the lobby at 9AM as requested. This literally was the first time we were all in the same physical location at the same time. There were a lot of people. Roll was taken and then we all piled onto the bus. It was here that Sindy collected the money for the tour. The cost was ¥505 which totals ¥1010 for both of us. This roughly converts to US$149.44 for 2 full days of touring. Even if they took us to all tourist trap locations (which they are) that’s still a good price and that includes lunch both days.

The first place we went was the Forbidden City. I’m sure glad we China_20091120_0004_Day02 were on a small tour bus because I think I’d have died of a heart attack if I was much closer to the action on the road by being in a car. I’ve decided that most stop lights aren’t honored and the biggest vehicle has the right of way. The horn is used liberally and loudly. Also the lanes seem to be mainly a guideline not a rule.

China_20091120_0010_Day02 Once we finally got to where they were going to drop us off for the Forbidden City, we were reminded that we do not have to buy anything from anyone and then we were let out. As soon as feet hit pavement, we were surrounded by street vendors trying to sell us everything from “soldier hats”, gloves, ear muffs, postcards, etc. They were shameless. They’d throw the product in your face, try to get it in your hand, even walk next to you chattering non stop. No was not taken as an answer.

Now, I had run into this similar situation in the years of living in China_20091120_0026_Day02 Singapore and traveling to various locations in and around there. The trick we had been taught was to first never make eye contact if can avoid it. That usually will avoid them tracking onto you in the first place.

If that doesn’t work,then you continue to avoid eye contact, look straight in the direction you are going and keep saying no and just keep walking. If possible pretend like they don’t exist. This last method seemed to China_20091120_0034_Day02 work for me best. This is hard to do when you’ve been programmed your whole life that the moral and righteous person is polite to everyone. But, in this case, polite will most likely pry money from your wallet or at the least get you very bothered.

We made our way to the entrance into the Forbidden City and waited for Sindy to purchase our tickets. Then we moved as a group into the grounds. We all had to have our bags scanned China_20091120_0057_Day02 by an X-Ray machine to get in. The first place we went was the gardens. Mind you, it was down right cold. I eventually had to put one glove on. I couldn’t put my right-hand glove on as well because I couldn’t operate the shutter release on my camera with a glove on. So, one hand froze while the other stayed toasty.

It was so easy to get separated from the group because we weren’t the only tour group there. In fact, as tour groups went, we were downright small. An for me and one other we were always getting cut off from the China_20091120_0081_Day02 group. I was shooting with my Nikon D300 and he was sporting a Canon 50D (which people tell me is the equivalent to my camera). We were always having to run to catch up to the group.

On the positive side we were able to really point out good shots for each other to take.

After the gardens we moved on to the actual structure itself. It China_20091120_0100_Day02 really is hard to describe in words what we encountered. To say this place was huge would not do it justice because I haven’t really seen anything in the United States that compares.

It took us several hours to walk through the entire place and that was keeping a quick pace. There were too many pictures I couldn’t take because the China_20091120_0109_Day02 group was moving faster than I could keep up. Plus, as far as pictures go, the sun was really at an odd angle do to the time of the year. So there were many shots I couldn’t get because they would’ve come out too weirdly shadowed or just silhouettes because the sun was behind the building.

The amount of people that were touring the Forbidden City was insane. Everywhere you looked there were tour groups and some of them were pretty large. Fortunately, being that we were all China_20091120_0122_Day02Caucasians, we kind of stood out in a crowd so it was a bit easier finding our group amongst the thousands of people there.

There were so many people that it was practically impossible to look inside the buildings that housed the Emperor and his family unless you liked being crushed to death by a throng of people all with the same desire. I know people have this stereotype that Chinese people are short, but at 5’3” I was still way to short to even see over the other people’s heads. We often gave up without putting up much of a fight.

There were many side buildings that look like during more peak times (hard to believe it could be more crowded) could be opened up to allow the crowds to meander amongst them.

China_20091120_0141_Day02 On our way out of the Forbidden City there were some Army personnel there for show. We were told it was alright to take pictures of them, but it was not OK to take pictures of any of the police or military that we encountered while out and about.

Once we were done at the Forbidden City, we took an underground pathway that took us the Tian’amen Square. This was an experience as well. You also had to go through security here too. Most of us Americans were waved on China_20091120_0149_Day02 through but many locals were getting bags X-Rayed and wanded. Plus, there was an incredible population of beggars and street vendors here too. At this point, it became pretty clear that the street vendors were going to be ever present.

When we came up on the other side of the street, we were at Tian’anmen Square. We gathered as a group for a China_20091120_0185_Day02 group photo. This was mainly for our guide, Sindy’s,memories, but we would be able to purchase a government issued souvenir guide that contained the group photo for ¥100 (~ USD$14.80).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware that there is some deliberate touristy stuff being thrown at us. The adoption trips really help China_20091120_0228_Day02 their economy in that we all are subjected to these trips. I have been really enjoying what we were seeing so I don’t see it a ripoff like a trip to see the “World’s Largest Ball of Aluminum Foil” and we are under no obligation to buy any souvenirs. We said we wanted the book. If anything, the book is constructed as such that it could be used for scrapbooking purposes.

China_20091120_0239_Day02 Just like the Forbidden City, Tian’anmen Square was too large to describe. It is just a giant open bricked space. There is nothing fancy about it other than it gives a great view of the Forbidden City. Chairman Mao’s tomb borders one of the edges of Tian’anmen and at that time we were there, we were told there was a 2 hour way to get in to see him (his body is actually in the building). The street China_20091120_0267_Day02 vendors here were really trying to get us to by the English Translation of “Mao’s words” (aka the little red book).

After Tian’anmen we had to do a lot of walking to get back to our bus. In the process we got to see the original front “gate” to the city. This wasn’t your China_20091120_0275_Day02 typical gate. It was a huge wall with a huge building on top of it. We were reminded that all these buildings we were seeing were the original buildings. That meant we were seeing stuff that was around when Columbus sailed across the Atlantic.

After boarding onto the bus, we were transported to a “tourist” restaurant for lunch. It was quite obvious this restaurant China_20091120_0288_Day02 was geared toward tourists because of all the trinkets they were selling as you walked in.

The food was your typical “American Chinese” as someone called it. I wasn’t too impressed. But, I’ve been spoiled in that we know how to get “Chinese Chinese” food in Oklahoma City. I ate a lot of rice because it was cooked the way I love it…..sticky.

China_20091120_0311_Day02 After lunch, we were to go tour the Silk Factory. On the way their Sindy told us that because it was so cold, she took us through the Forbidden City a tad faster than usual and cut off about 45 minutes. So, she wanted to know if we wanted to stay an extra 45 minutes at the Silk Factory or go to the Olympic Village. It was pretty unanimous that we wanted to go the Olympic Village.

There wasn’t anything impressive about the Silk Factory. We got a China_20091120_0330_Day02 tour that basically told us how silk is made, but at the end, it became very apparent that it was a giant presentation to hopefully get us to buy their silk duvets and other silk clothing products. Because after the tour was done, we were dumped in a giant show room of products with big boards telling us the prices of things plus the current exchange rates. This facility was the government China_20091120_0341_Day02 run silk factory. Nancy had been informed by friends that there were cheaper places to buy silk in Guangzhou that are of equal quality so we decided to wait. There were a few items we liked though but decided to hold off.

As I said earlier, I don’t fault China for trying to get some tourist dollars out of us. Any country would do the same. Since I’ve never been a foreign tourist China_20091120_0358_Day02 in my home country, I’m sure the same is done to people in the United States as well.

After the Silk Factory, we made our way to the Olympic Village. At times, this seemed like a perilous journey but we eventually made our way there.

As soon as we got off the bus here, we were bombarded with street vendors selling gold replicas of the Bird’s Nest, fake Olympic Gold Medals, and laser etched cubes with holograms of the Water Cube (where Phelps broke the gold medal record) and the Bird’s Nest.

China_20091120_0391_Day02 We powered on through and made our way to the tourist’s entrance to the Olympic Village. In order to gain access, you once again had to get your bag x-rayed and get wanded with a medal detector.

At this time, the sun was really low and the temperature was dropping fast. We got some good pictures (I think) of the Bird’s Nest. We also China_20091120_0395_Day02took a really long walk to try and get a good picture of the Water Cube (which in my opinion looks like a building wrapped in a giant sheet of bubble wrap). At this point, we saw someone from the group waving to us to come on. Apparently, several of the kids in the group weren’t happy with the cold temps and wanted to go so people headed back to the bus. Apparently, those of us who liked taking pictures were the stragglers so we had to make haste to get back.

China_20091120_0408_Day02 Once on the bus we were told that all the apartments buildings that were built to house people for the Olympics now remain unoccupied as the government tries to decide if they were going to rent them out or just flat out sell them.

There was also a cool set of buildings that were designed to look like a dragon where one tower was shaped in such a way to look like the head, a couple were the body, and final building the tail.

After the Olympic Village, it was time to go see an Acrobatic Show at the Beijing Theater. It was really close to the Olympic Village and took no time to get there. This was probably the first time we got off a bus and wasn’t mobbed by vendors.

It appears this building not only housed stage productions but also movies because there were movie posters for such American blockbusters as 2012 as well as Chinese-produced movies with names I couldn’t read because I cannot read Mandarin.

The theater was very old. It was reminiscent of a high school auditorium built in the 70’s. Everything was dusty and worn. You could even see the dust on the stage. It was at this point, I’d like to point out that it is impossible to escape the cigarette smoke. Even if a place is marked as non-smoking, somehow and for some reason, you still smell cigarette smoke. I’m allergic to dust and cigarette smoke triggers that allergy. So, I was a bit miserable in this show.

Now having said that, the show was amazing. I’d say that the performers ranged in ages from 6 to mid-20’s. Their talent was amazing and they performed a lot of the acrobatic feats you see in similar style shows that are performed by “Chinese acrobats”. Examples are the stacking chairs where the person keeps adding chair on top of chair while they climb up to each height, the spinning plates, and martial arts displays. The portion of the show that put a smile on my face was when one of the acrobats performed to the theme from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I doubt many people would recognize it, but being that we are Disney fanatics it was quite apparent to us.

Also, one of our group was called up on stage to participate in one of the elements of the show. The person was asked to get inside a giant urn and one of the female acrobats turned it with her feet while she lay on her back.

Also, at the acrobatic show, Nancy got her first exposure to the “squatty potty”. She wasn’t too thrilled with the encounter.

After the Acrobatic Show, we went to dinner. Earlier in the day we decided that we’d do a group dinner both nights and that dinner would be at a local establishment of Sindy’s choosing so that we could see what food at a place not frequented by tourists tastes like. The place she was going to take us to tonight sold Peking Duck.

The cost for the 2 dinners was going to be ¥60 per adult (~US$8.88).

I was amazed at this bus driver’s skill because this restaurant wasn’t in a location suited for tour busses. In fact, he got a talking to by the police to move the bus because we were kind of block traffic.

We were on the second floor where some private dining space existed for large groups. Our ¥60 per adult bought 3 tables worth of food served family style. This, unfortunately meant that all of us had to cram ourselves around 3 tables and with me being left-handed meant that Nancy and I were often locking chopsticks.

The food at this meal was far better than the food at lunch. In addition to the duck, we had some other various dishes. I’d tell you what they were but I don’t know. I can tell you one thing, they were all a tad on the spicy side. Once again, I mainly ate rice, but I did try almost everything on the table.

One notable difference in this restaurant was the temperature. It was a bit chilly here. In fact, some people never took their winter coats off. It made the cramped quarters a bit more cozy when you had all that extra bulk.

After dinner we all piled back on the bus to go to the hotel. This felt like a really long drive. Now that the sun was firmly down the jet lag was once again kicking in. I was having a hard time staying awake and knowing I had to come back and finish yesterday’s trip report and write today’s didn’t help. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing these up. I want everyone to feel as if they are with us. But when you are tired you start asking yourself, “Will anyone care if I don’t do it?” But, I know people will care, especially Nancy would takes great pride in these write-ups (plus it helps her scrapbooking).

By the time we got back to the hotel, pretty much every kid on the bus was out cold. Many parents were carrying in their precious cargo.

I did feel sorry for many of the kids. Having once been a child (teenager) who was dragged on these kind of tours by their parents I know how boring and torturous these events can feel like. Plus, add in the temperatures that hovered around freezing and you had the recipe for total meltdown. That never really happened but I was sure once the fatigue set in someone was going to snap. That didn’t happen either. They just went to sleep.

It was also cool to see how several of the like-aged kids started hanging out with each other. That is often the best way for kids to survive these boring tours (they become less boring when you get older). What really surprised me was how many kids had cameras and really wanted to take pictures. A few of them had some really nice high-end point and shoots and were firing away as badly as those of us with the more expensive equipment was doing.

Well, that is the extent of Day 02. Nancy is fast asleep on the bed as I work on this and I’m wrapping it up now. I hear the Sandman knocking on the door and I still need to shower, pull the pictures of my Compact Flash cards and get my batteries charging (not mine but the camera).

I’ll chat with you guys on the next installment of this adventure.


Amanda Tinney said...

So glad you are taking the time to post for us back stateside!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic! Hope you are saving all of this off line as well for Kai's baby book:)

Poppie said...

Wonderful update.Great pictures. Thanks! Your experience with the vendors and aggressive sales approach reminds me of our encounters in Turkey...put it in your hands, chatter, follow you down the street, etc. It does get annoying, but like you, we learned to walk quickly and never look at them and that worked pretty well.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely Love ur blog!! I am so excited for u guys as u r on ur way to parenthood!! I praying for u today as u meet ur son!! Love u both! See ya in a few weeks! Wendy Scott

Kirby said...

Use these two words when you get mobbed by vendors. "Bu Yao!" Say it forcefully. It means "I don't want" and the vendors are not expecting Westerners to use it.

Sounds like you went in the back door (north end) of the Forbidden City. That's unusual.

Steve & Michelle said...

Looking forward to hearing Nancy's account of the "squatty potty!"

Anonymous said...

That is amazing!!! I can't wait to see pictures and meet Kai!!!