Outside, however, we discovered that there were little Chinese tuktuks for rent at about 2rmb per person (2rmb = .31 cents USD). We were like "Let's do it!" The kids were beyond thrilled. We thought we could make it by splitting up into two, but the truth of it is that tuktuks are WAY smaller than we realized. Still, we’d made a commitment and crammed into the back. It was hysterical as limbs were twisted between suitcases and all of us were practically sitting in part on top of one another. The children thought it was the best thing ever and I couldn't help, but laugh at what we must look like to all the people driving by. It felt like a fitting way to begin our trip to the Chinese capital and a city of over 21 million people. Get ready for the crowds!
THE EXPAT MECCA
To be honest, I don’t know that I had actually ever shopped at an IKEA before this moment, but since moving to China it's all I've heard about. Cities with an IKEA in them are coveted by the entire expat community. I think it is a combination of the plethora of items found in IKEA, whilst being able to read all the signs and labels in English, and the fact that they carry quality Western household items that are difficult to find in China (simple things like fitted sheets or good long-lasting spatulas). Our city of Qingdao actually boasts the IKEA headquarters in China, but surprisingly does not have an official store itself. A great loss to us (so I've been told). Therefore, this first stop into the IKEA in Beijing was a fun experience for the whole gang.
I was surprised to find that store rules and etiquette are very different in China (I mean I was kind of not surprised at the same time. You guys I'm sure have figured out that this is a common theme of living life abroad). I was intrigued and a little shocked to find people taking full-on naps in showroom beds and sitting at desks working on laptops throughout the store! Only in China!
THE "GREATEST" WALL OF CHINA
I recalled that in April of 2017, I went to visit my best friend Molly and her husband in California. We spent a day at Disneyland and California Adventure where she insisted we go on a ride titled “Soarin’ Around the World”. It was a immersive, authentic, "full senses" flight around the globe to some of the world’s most stunning places. I remember being in the air flying with the wind in my hair and my feet dangling below me when we flew through the clouds over ‘The Great Wall’ and I remember that I began to tear up. I felt the wetness rise as I thought, “I am moving to China and pretty soon... someday soon I’ll be seeing The Great Wall in person.” As we rode up to the wall in a ski lift and the solid stone blockade came into view, I realized that the day I had thought about on that ride had now finally arrived.
It is such a grand and imposing sight, a symbol of Chinese strength and history. The section we were at was of course one of the newer and maintained sections, but even just to imagine the centuries of history that had been present through it's existence was humbling. At the same time, The Great Wall is also known as the largest cemetery in the world. Built over the course of three Chinese dynasties – the first section begun in 221 B.C. – and 13,000 miles in length, up to as many as 400,000 people (many slaves and prisoners of war) were killed during the ages of its construction. Most of the bodies of these people were buried in the foundation of the wall itself. It’s sobering and awe-inspiring at the same time to think about the history within these mountains and the stones beneath our feet.
I had to convince myself not to be too bitter or mad at myself for falling into the trap because the truth is these people are just trying to make a living. This one guy just kept telling me (in Mandarin) how pretty he thought I was, in order to try and get me to buy more from him. I at least knew not to fall for that one. Sigh. The good news is I can only get better at bartering the longer I live in China.
THE SUMMER PALACE
The Summer Palace was first built between the Jin and Yuan dynasties (1153-1271). It is known for its beautiful waterways and gardens. The river it sits along once connected to the Emperor’s Forbidden City and four other palaces in the region. This meant that ancient government officials could move between palaces and royal residences without ever going near places occupied by common folk. The Summer Palace is built on Longevity Hill (the theme of longevity and life was displayed throughout the palace grounds). The Palace and many of it's surrounding buildings had to be rebuilt and mended twice throughout history after a French/British invasion during the Second Opium war and later on during the Chinese Boxer Rebellion when it was attacked by military forces made up of Japanese, Russian, British, French, German, Italian, Austria-Hungarian, and American troops.
HUTONGS OF BEIJING
The city of Beijing used to be covered with these hutongs, but many were destroyed to make way for modern highways and high-rise buildings. In a few areas of the city, these streets survive (though very much commercialized now) and give us a glimpse into what life was once like for people. After seeing construction feats such as The Great Wall and the Summer Palace, the Hutong gave us a glimpse of the common person’s “ancient China”.
CHINESE ACROBATIC SHOW
The best part of the show for myself and the kids was when Sarah (their mom) was chosen to help with a funny clown act on stage. She was forced to balance a spinning plate on a thin stick that the clown kept pulling up on to make longer and longer until the plate was almost touching the ceiling of the stage. We were all dying with laughter at the trick, but more so at Sarah's surprised facial expressions.
Overall, the show was fun and the performers extremely skilled and athletic. Sarah and I laughed a couple times at the dramatic excess braided into the acts. Sarah also described the show as being pointedly Chinese in presentation and production. The most memorable part of the show for me, was how into it the children were. From ladies twirling umbrellas on their feet to ten to fifteen fanned dancers on a bicycle pedaled by one girl, every act captured the children’s undivided attention.
TEMPLE OF HEAVEN
However, my prayers were directed toward a King with a very different presence than that of the Taoist deities or ancestral idols of harvest and good fortune. The words of my heart were lifted to the L--D whose kingdom is beyond the limits of this world and its many flaws. Lyrics to a Chris Tomlin song are brought to my mind even now as I write this.
You’re the King of these people.
You’re the hope of this nation.
OTHER FINAL THOUGHTS
First, I have so much more respect 1. For parents in general. 2. For my parents. Watching my friends Sarah and Chris navigate travelling to another city with four kids, I cannot imagine what it was like for my parents to travel to and from AFRICA with four children. I mean how many meltdowns in the middle of the airport must they have dealt with on a regular basis? I cannot imagine. I think I now understand why parents have days where they get to the end of the day and say to themselves, “my child survived today. We’ll call it a success.” Parenthood is hard, man. Kids are a little scary sometimes.
Yet, they bring so much genuine fun and adventure into the world.
I have been blessed by my Father that whereever I hang my hat, I have been gifted families who really makes me feel cared for and love me with a love beyond blood or human capacity. I know that HE is faithful through the hands of HIS people.
Blessings to all!