On the Other Side of the World
A magical thing happened this year in Korea.
Children’s Day, which is always on May 5th, fell on a Thursday. Buddha’s birthday, which changes in relation to the Lunar calendar, fell on Tuesday, May 10th. Both of these days are Korean national holidays. Our principal, lovable little man that he is, called the Friday and the Monday as school holidays.
In summary: two public holidays aligned to give us six consecutive days off.
So we went to China.
I have lived in Asia for nearly nine months now. I am used to getting funny looks, eating with chopsticks, and not understanding most of what people say. This is why China was slow to creep up on me.
Then we were in Tiananmen Square, and I realized, “Holy crap, I am in China!”
For me, China has long defined ‘The Other Side Of The World.’ It was that place on the globe that I couldn’t fully get my brain around, like numbers higher than a million. I knew that lots of people lived there, and that I should eat all of my food because starving children lived there, too, but it almost didn’t really exist for me. Which is fine, because for the 22 million people of Beijing, I didn’t exist, either.
Everything bloomed into color, like Dorothy stepping into Oz. There was the Forbidden City! And the Summer Palace! And the Temple of Heaven, just like in Susan Jane Gilman’s book!
I must now conclude that China is a real place, full (and I mean full) of people going about their daily business. Here’s an overview of what Beijing alone has to offer.
The Great Wall: Jinshanling to Simatai
On the advice of some friends, we caught an early-morning tour to Jinshanling, about a 3 hour journey out of Beijing. This section of wall was rumored to be less crowded and more stunning. While I have nothing to compare it to, I don’t disagree. It was like nothing I will ever see again.
What our friends did not mention is that this section of wall is treacherous. Steep, crumbling stones abound, and, well, it’s like climbing a series of mountains along the highest peaks. I smelled nice afterwards.
Hutong = narrow alleyways, dating back to ancient China. Now there are patches of preserved hutongs all over the city, many of which are designed to be tourist attractions. We stayed in the Nanluoguxiang area north of the Forbidden City.
This guy was there, too:
We discovered that we were within walking distance of the back lakes area of Beijing, which is packed with bars, restaurants, and bicycles. Beijing is cyclist-friendly, with flat roads and cycle paths throughout the city. We joyfully rented bicycles and cruised around the lake. The temperature was balmy, the sun was setting beautifully, and the scenery was aesthetically pleasing. I decided I loved Beijing and everything about it.
Jared and I were so enamored of this form of transportation, we decided to do it again two days later, renting bikes for the whole day. We planned to cycle to the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, stopping as we pleased if something caught our fancy.
It rained. This bike ride was decidedly less fun.
Inclement weather did not prevent us from carrying out our plan. It probably would have, but we were already at the Forbidden City by the time it started raining.