Background: I would have never foreseen a trip to China in my future. But when my husband entered the Executive MBA program through Washington University in St. Louis, going to China was mandatory. We’ve always desired for our family to travel internationally and this was our chance to really get our foot in that door. So here is a journal of my travels and my thoughts of Beijing, China.
Days 1&2 – October 18-19, 2013: The Journey Begins
Locations: KCMO, Las Vegas, NV, Seattle, WA, Beijing, China
I wake 15 minutes prior to my alarm that was set for 3am. Everything is in bags except toothbrushes, everyone was bathed the night before. There was no struggle getting out of bed this morning because there was no way I was missing this flight. Deep down inside I feared that my tardiness, my being pregnant or some uncontrollable thing would keep us on American soil. I spend about 30 minutes getting last minute things together and then wake up the boys, who are oober excited about this trip. We get a little breakfast, I throw the last few things in bags, and pack the car. Our neighbor and fellow church member has volunteered to take us to the airport and this prompted me the night before to chose the cleanest of the cars to take to the airport as I’d hate for her to see the child-made mess in our other car. I give her a call to let her know we’d be at her house shortly, and she harasses me about how I was supposed to be at her house at the time I was calling. “My bad,” is all I can think. So I hustle and bustle the children into the car and pull out of my garage to begin our journey to Beijing China.
We make it to the airport in decent time and I’ve done a good job of organizing our luggage so it won’t be a struggle to move my pregnant self, two small children and all of our luggage through the airports. But after having our passports reviewed by a very pleasant man, and proceeding to security, I realize I was not as organized as I thought when packing. It took me forever to unload the laptop, DS, Leapster, and pharmacy that we chose to bring along. Fortunately we all made it through without a beep or alarm sounding.
The first leg of the trip is from Kansas City to Las Vegas via Southwest, departing at 6am. The boys and I get comfortable in our row of seats. Isaiah begins perusing the beverage list and asks, “Can I have a BudLight”? I proceed to tell him no, and that Bud Light is not a drink for children and that it’s not good for adults to drink either as it is not good for your body. All the while, my darling 4 year old wants to make a fuss about using the Leapster while we’re still sitting at the gate. I try to impress upon him that he’ll have to put it away until we are up in the air. Once I have him convinced of this, I break out my neck pillow. The Facebook post that shortly follows is this:
“I’d like to apologize to my neck for not owning a neck pillow prior to this trip. In love with the pillow”
Wow! My body was totally relaxed. I could lay my head to the side and the pillow was there to provide a comfortable position for my head. I could slide it a little to the left or a little to the right and it fit my head and neck like a glove! What was I thinking not owning one of those with all the travel that we do?! The flight to Vegas included a sleeping 7 year old, an upset 4 year old with a dead Leapster and an “Oh my gosh I forgot the lunchables”! My children have food allergies and the thought of being in a foreign country where I know their foods contain all of their allergens, prompted me to fill one bag with foods I know they can eat. Except lunchables. They are still sitting my fridge.
As we approach Vegas, we admire God’s handiwork of mountains capped with snow and the beautiful sky. Then we get to admire man’s handiwork of the Las Vegas strip. We get off our plane and enter the airport only to be welcomed by slot machines. I don’t know why this took me by surprise but it did. And of course the 7 year old has to stop and inspect the “games”. After a potty break and a long walk, we make it to our gate. We break open some sandwich bags of dry cereal that I prepared before I left the house and enjoyed a second breakfast. Very shortly, we’re lining up in boarding group A (rare occurrence) and making our way onto the plane, for an on-time departure to Seattle.
The flight to Seattle was uneventful. We make the final decent into skies filled with fog, so much so, the tires hitting the runway startled me because you couldn’t see the runway. We made our way to the baggage claim without a wrong turn (as I reviewed the map of the airport earlier that morning as not to get lost). When we got there, our bags were coming around the carousel, with their bright green Worldstrides tags on them ( Worldstrides is the organization that plans and coordinates these trips for the school). I load up our bags onto our cart and head to the ticketing counter. We check in for our flight with Hainan Airlines and proceed to security for the second time today. Seattle is obviously a hub for international travel because the plethora of languages heard between the check in counter and the security line was amazing. While I was intrigued by it, I think it put a little fear in my children’s hearts. The little son began whining and holding onto my leg and the older son says, “Mommy, I want to go back to Missouri”. These were the thoughts I posted to Facebook after that comment:
“And this is exactly why I’m taking you all on this trip. The world is bigger than Missouri”.
Many people were shocked when we told them we were going to China. Many thought it was for my husband’s work only for me to inform that it’s for his school. People thought the school paid for the trip, all I could do was laugh. Paying for this trip was one of the many miracles of this year. People thought I was insane for going with children, but the comment from my son and my corresponding thoughts are the reason we pushed for the whole family to go. And they thought I was ludicrous for going when I was six months pregnant, not knowing that this had been the plan all along, yet another miracle of God. Big things are on the horizon for our family. God has been planting Big into our minds for the last two years, so if He knew we can handle big, trust that the Robertsons are going to do it big.
We get to the beginning of the security line and the man looks at my passport and points me to premium line. A guy behind us tries to go through the premium line and he’s rejected and sent to the long line that everyone else must use. I’m not sure if it was the pregnant belly and two kids or the passport with international boarding passes that got us into this line, but all I can say is, favor ain’t fair! This premium security line breaks all airline security rules. No removal of shoes, no removal of liquids from your bag, no removal of the laptop, DS and Leapster. Praise Jehovah! As we go through the metal detector, I expect our usual smooth walkthrough only to be serenaded by the sound of alarms when my 7 year old walks through the machine. They send him back through to me and I go through his pockets and confiscate two HotWheels. I throw them on the belt and we go through without a peep this time. I gather all of our things and find the nearest seat to gather myself. The 4 year old begins whining and the 7 year old reports that we left his cars at security. At this point my patience is running thin, but I have to hold it together so I don’t get arrested for alleged child abuse in the Seattle airport.
After getting passed up by at least 4 TSA employees, I get a guy to go look for our two missing cars. While we wait there’s an Asian couple arguing with a TSA employee over a wrapped gift that had to be confiscated. They were informed that they could check the box but that it couldn’t be carried on. The wife continued to argue with the TSA employee while the husband pulled her away shouting they didn’t have time to check the box and go through security all over again. As they went away shouting angrily, I’m given my two HotWheels with a smile from my TSA guy. I get myself and my agitated children to our gate and I go to the nearest restaurant. Food was the answer to our woes, but the fuel energized them to the point of play, which only further agitated me, as their play was disruptive to others. We all were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the calvary, and by calvary I mean, Uncle TJ. The boys were excited to see their uncle, I was excited to see help. I asked my brother months ago to go on this trip with us because I didn’t want to make the long flight overseas by myself with the boys. He agreed those many months ago and now he comes walking down the corridor to meet us at the gate.
Having small children in the case of flying gives you the upper hand when it comes to boarding. We were the last in a small group of families that are privileged to travel with small children. Escaping the ridiculously long line of people without small children that had formed to board the plane. Once in our seats on Hainan Airlines flight 496, I get the familiar pleas to play electronic devices prior to departure with the same whiny response to my “No”. I’m not in the mood for this. We’re about to spend 11 hours in the air, I’m not trying to hear this! Luckily there is a TV screen with choices of entertainment that I’m able to occupy my children with. The crew goes over their normal spill about safety and we pull away from the gate, bound for Beijing China. By 2:30pm we leave the ground, the dense fog had given way to sunlight. Something that would be with us for the next 11hours.
The 11 hour plane ride was not filled with as much sleep as I thought it would be. It consisted of sporadic sleep, a 7 year old determined to not go to sleep at all, 2 full meals of which I had portions remaining on my clothes in an effort to make sure the children didn’t spill anything on themselves. And the crowning moment of this 11 hour ride were my swollen ankles. I must admit, the flight was smooth and the crew very attentive, but watching the little plane go across the map on the screen was like watching the clock on a day you don’t want to be at work.
When we finally land, we climb down some stairs and board a shuttle bus that takes us to a terminal under renovation. After a quarter mile walk and hiking up 2 extremely long flights of stairs, we make it to the customs area. We were fortunate to be second in our line and we had no issues getting through. In American airports there are these large carts you can rent to carry all of your luggage. Well, I saw all these people with the carts and they were moving fast. I mentioned to my brother, that they must be free! Much to my delight, they were! We waited patiently at the carousel for our bags while corralling the children, as they found a way to wrestle and play with each other regardless of how many times we told them to stop. We retrieved all of our bags and headed to the security exit. It was here that we would get our first glimpse of the total disregard for lines or personal space. The crowd began to form and people began cutting in front us. We moved as a cluster toward the machines that would scan our luggage then spit them out on the floor on the other side, where again, people simply reach over you for their things rather than waiting their turn.
We gather our belongings from the floor and head out to the main terminal. Like clockwork, there’s a woman standing behind a gate with a sign that read Washington University in St. Louis with all of our names on it. I gave her some eye contact and a hand gesture that we were the bunch she was looking for. She introduced herself and began escorting us to the street level where our ride was waiting. She indicated that this ride would be at least an hour due to the traffic and that if the children needed to go to the bathroom, that we should take them. Forget the children, the pregnant lady needed to go. I take the 4 year old with me into the woman’s restroom and the only stall open is one with this urinal looking contraption on the floor with a picture instructing you to put your feet on either side. I push the child forward to pee into this “toilet” and he is pushing back and pleading with me not to push him in. Facing the wrong direction, I just pull his pants down and try to aim for the “toilet” without hitting the wall. I use the “toilet” correctly and then we wash our hands and head to the van for a riding experience that could not be paralleled.
We get on the highway that supports traffic from the airport, and it is crowded. The guide gives us tips about conducting ourselves in Beijing and a glimpse into our itinerary, but we are distracted by the chaos going on around us. There were traffic violations being committed every 5 seconds on this highway. From people cutting into other people’s lane, people driving on the shoulder and when I say driving on the shoulder, I mean multiple cars using it as a 4th lane. To add injury to insult, there’s a police car with lights flashing driving along this road and none of the drivers cease their actions because of his presence. There are even two vehicles that were obviously in a small collision blocking the shoulder/4th lane and the police officer didn’t even stop to address this. So finally I asked what was the purpose for him even being out here if he wasn’t going to do anything. The guide indicated that he was simply scanning the road to make sure there were no accidents that hindered the flow of traffic. There were times during this ride where it seemed the lines on the road had no purpose at all as the cars ignored them and veered into the lane next to them.
Our guide shared with us that her family has been in the lottery for two years trying to get a license plate so that they can drive a car in the city. This apparently is a tactic of the government to control the amount of vehicles on the road. But the way these people were driving, I declared I wouldn’t even want to get my driver’s license and drive in this mess. As we got closer to the hotel, we found that pedestrians were no better off than other vehicles on the road. If you are in the middle of the street when a car is coming, that very well may be your last day on Earth, as pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way. They block the street like they do, but the cars swerve around them like an Indie car does its opponents on the track.
We arrive at the hotel, tired and ready to rest our bones. We check into room 4123 at the Grand Beijing Hotel. It’s a decent hotel room, but it’s a historic hotel and some aspects of it are historic looking, like the carpet and tiles on the floor. Don’t get me wrong, it is a nice room, but I’ve seen better. We decide that no one has the energy to go anywhere for dinner, so the kids and I eat snacks out of my bag and call it a day. My brother decides to crash on one of the full size beds while I decide to bathe the boys and myself. I put one in the shower, the other in the tub and 15 minutes later, I put them boys to bed. I bathe myself only to hear those boys roughhousing and being loud. I’ve had enough. I finish my shower and call one of them to me and issue discipline. I scold the other for participating in the foolishness. With my PJs on and kids in the bed, I decide to lay on the couch to elevate my swollen legs. I fall asleep for a while but then wake up to a cramp in my big toe. After several attempts to stop the cramping I get up to walk on the cramping limb. While I’m up, I might as well pee. Well, in an attempt to be courteous to the sleeping people in the room, I go to the bathroom in the dark. Note to self and others experiencing jet lag: DO NOT GO TO THE BATHROOM IN THE DARK. I position myself to handle my business and halfway through the process, I realize the lid to the toilet is down. Can’t a jet lagged sister catch a break?! I clean up my misfortune and head back to the couch. Welcome to Beijing.
Locations in Beijing: McDonalds, Toy City, Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, Oriental Plaza Mall
Day two started rather early. About 3:00 to be exact. I woke up because I was cold. If you recall, I laid on the couch to elevate my feet, well I didn’t have a blanket. I got up and dug through my bag (in the dark, not good for jetlagged people) for a long sleeve shirt. After about 5 minutes, I gave up and grabbed my jacket from the closet. I laid back on the couch and realized the children were awake as well. They began bickering about who was taking up more space on the bed and the other touching them. Then my brother wakes up. So we’re all up at at the three o’clock hour, bickering, issuing threats, just not able to go back to sleep. Jetlagged. I believe we all made it back to sleep by 4, around 6-7 am, we were up again.
My bro starts looking into the sights we can see while here that weren’t on our tour as we prepare for breakfast. The breakfast buffet was a good spread. Mostly Chinese foods but included staples that anyone can eat, mainly my children with allergies. I enjoyed fried cabbage, French toast, fried potatoes, some kind of wilted salad, fruit, a muffin, pan fried tomato with cheese, and I’m sure there was something else. Sounds a little gluttonous, but it was yummy to my tummy. As we end our meal, one of the attendants brings us a bill. TJ is like, “I thought it was free”. He was right, it’s included with our stay. But I don’t have the brainpower to argue with this attendent. As I’m writing our room number next to the charges, the head hostess rushes over and says, “Your meal is free”. She then grabs the attendant by the arm and pulls him off to the side, like I’d do to one of my children. She totally degraded this dude. Oh well, gotta learn someway. We head back to the room and finalize our morning plans, the afternoon would bring the arrival of the rest of the group and a tour.
We decided to go to the toy market, why not. Cheap toys! (Side bar: While waiting for our taxi we saw a bride and groom come into the hotel, dress was beautiful, I guess it’s rare that you see one that’s not beautiful.) So we get a taxi for ¥26 and head to this toy store. So if you recall, the roads are chaotic. We had the unfortunate experience of witnessing an accident close up on our way to the toy store. We haven’t even been here 24 hrs and boom! A taxi and a car collide leaving the passengers of the taxi with blood streaming from their foreheads. They were well enough to get out of the taxi but that sucks you get injured while paying someone else to drive you. Sucks even more for the taxi driver.
The toy market is set up with 4 rows of booths the length of this four story building. Any toy you can think of was there, maybe not the name brand you’re used to, but it’s there. We walk around scanning for what toys we want from which booth. I even pick up a pair of shoes for the 4 year old (really authentic looking Nikes). Isaiah desires a spinning thing for his Lego man, so a lady quotes me ¥25 and we tell her we’d be back. I spend too many minutes picking through hair bows for the baby and the bro urges me to move on. I make my purchase (with a discount) and we explore the other 4 floors. The 4th floor had what we came for, Beyblades. I almost made the purchase until I noticed the plastic frame of this Beyblade. If I’m not mistaken, and I’m not because my child has a few of these, the frame should be metal and not plastic. Well total letdown, no Beyblades today. So we head back to the one table for the spinning thing and the lady quotes me ¥35. Now, I’m not a haggler, but this chick told me ¥25 and I’m gonna make her stick to it. After a showdown in the toy market with me getting a little firm in the voice, I get what I want for the original price quoted. I win! So the toy market got us for a pair of Nikes (they look really real), a remote control helicopter, a plane, a bus, hairbows and a Lego figure with spinner. All for well under $100. Score!
We hurry out because we’re trying to get back to the hotel and grab lunch before our tour pick up time. So we hail a taxi and hop in. The driver says, “No, meter, ¥80.” My brother is in the back and pipes in that we only paid ¥26 to get here. The driver tries to say he has to go around a different path and can’t go back the way we were brought. This sparks an argument between the bro and the driver. The driver then asks for our offer because we threaten to get out. Of course our offer is ¥26. The driver says ¥50, Brother says get out. He drags the kids out of the back of the car, and I follow. We eventually get a taxi that’s legit and we make our way back to the hotel, for ¥26. Black people always get a reputation for being confrontational, but I don’t think we have anything on the Chinese.
We drop off the toys and head toward food. We find a McDonalds and get the usuals including Happy Meals and a chicken sandwich. Can we say crowded, nothing like you’d see in the states. We headed back to the hotel to prepare for the arrival of the group and our first tour which is Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City. Of course the boys fuss a little about not being able to open the toys until our return to the states, but it was short lived. We promptly go to the lobby a little before our scheduled time to meet the group. There’s still lots of people left over from that wedding reception so there’s no where to sit. We wait and wait and wait some more. Some seats open up and we sit.
A gentleman walks over and introduces himself as Jim. Come to find out, Jim is also waiting for the group. He came on this trip with one of his friends. We chat and worry together about whether we had been forgotten and soon after a lady with a white cat-in-the-hat-looking hat comes over and greets us. Her name is Wendy (actually Wen) and she is our guide for the rest of the trip. She escorts us to the bus where we are welcomed with oohs and ahhs over the boys. My husband has seats for us near the back. The boys are so excited to see him. I am too but the jet lag and mental strain of managing these children has dampened my mood. I did make sure I curled my hair this morning as to look beautiful when making my debut before him and this group. Can’t be looking haggardly in China and my husband hasn’t seen me in over a week.
So the tour begins. Wendy is the mix of a walking Chinese encyclopedia with the humor and spirit of Jackie Chan. She pours out information mixed in with jokes as the bus driver nearly runs people over on our way to Tiananmen square. As we ride I give out the basic info about me and the boys: age, how was the flight to Beijing and how far along are you. The boys get the traditional banter associated with their age and I get the, “wow, you are so brave to come to China pregnant with 2 kids”. Later I responded to a lady that the last 2 years of my life have required bravery. If only she knew.
We get to Tiananmen Square, which is literally a few blocks from our hotel and exit the bus. Wendy has given us headphones so that we can hear her while we are walking. The streets are crowded but Wendy has a red panda umbrella that she proudly holds high above the crowds as not to lose anyone. We walk by the square; taking pics, people watching and listening to Wendy who has gotten very far ahead of us. We eventually catch up with her at the end of the square where she takes a head count. We now cross the street under the road via a large tunnel and come out in front of the Forbidden City.
When we walked through the tunnel I took notice of the stares we were getting from people. I mean rubbernecking, head turning, point and look stares. On the other side of the busy street, the group stops for a potty break, or as Wendy will refer to it, a happy room break. During our break, the severity of this staring/fascination becomes apparent. People are just stopping and pointing, taking pictures of us and the boys. This one man is sitting right in front of me taking my picture with his phone, so I take one of him taking one of me. I’m quickly annoyed. Calvin shared with us that he got the same response in Shanghai and how he was initially offended but then embraced it, and greeted the onlookers. Wendy gets a gentleman to take a group photo and as soon as we all lined up the crowd on the street turned into the paparazzi. Literally. You would have thought our group was the cast of some new blockbuster movie that just hit the screens. Break it up people, break it up!
Our walk into the Forbidden City was filled with even more stares, but I tried to hold my head up and look forward in an effort to quench my annoyance with this phenomenon. The Forbidden City was where the emperor lived and ruled, so it was forbidden to commoners and even ranking officials got denied entrance if they were “small potatoes”, as Wendy calls them. From the street, this structure looks to be a couple of blocks wide, but what we encountered on the inside was amazing. There were huge courtyards with large “temples” at the farthest end of the courtyard. We walked through at least 4 or 5 of these courtyards listening to Wendy describe the function of each temple and the different dynasties that occupied the Forbidden City.
We climb the stairs to cross through one of the many temples and enter one of the last few courtyards in the Forbidden City. A man with his daughter and wife excitedly approach me and the boys and insist that his little girl take a picture with my sons. Titus refuses to get in the picture while Isaiah simply stands there as the man pushes his daughter next to him so that he can get the shot. Apparently the shot wasn’t good because the kids had their backs to the sun, and he proceeds to turn them around so he can get a good pic. The man is so extremely grateful for me allowing him to take the picture, but my tolerance level begins to rapidly decline.
In the last courtyard, I see a bride and groom, again, afar off taking pictures in the courtyard. I stole a pic of them getting their pictures taken, as it was a beautiful sight to see. This ends up being a topic of discussion on day 4. We finally leave the deceivingly large Forbidden City and head back to the bus. We pass beggars on the sidewalk and countless people trying to sell you knickknacks and street foods out of their little wagons, not a food cart, a wagon. There’s even a group of dismembered men with amplifiers and microphones singing along with a tune in an effort to make some money. I didn’t give any but I respected them for making an effort at making money and not just simply begging, like our American panhandlers.
We make our way back to the hotel and Wendy gives us our itinerary for tomorrow. Once at the hotel, the group crowds the front desk to get themselves checked in while TJ, the boys, our new comrade Jim and I head straight for the elevators. Jim and I shared how awesome we thought the Forbidden City was. I interjected how surprised I was that the Chinese people/government hadn’t taken better care of this national treasure and wonder of the world. He explained that this was probably due to the fact that the Forbidden City stood for everything that Communist hated about China and was therefore left to decay with no upkeep until after 1949, when “New China” emerged (this is from one of Wendy’s lessons earlier, signifying the peoples revolution in China). The brief conversation I had with Jim stuck with me and as I type it reminds me of how our history as African Americans was brushed off to the side as well, later to be revived but still lacking all the glory it deserves.
Back in our room, I crash on the couch. As we wait for Calvin to come with the other room key, TJ try’s to find a restaurant for us to have dinner at. He’s unsuccessful as we are too late to make reservations. We go back and forth as to whether we want to walk a few blocks to the food court or pick a restaurant in the hotel. My brother is leaning toward the hotel because he can see my fatigue. Calvin comes back to the room and insists he needs to contact the hotel in Shanghai regarding a tailored suit. At this point we chose to move on without him and he vows to catch up. Once again the children are tired and hungry and the whining commences. After correcting Titus in the middle of a busy sidewalk, he confesses that he’s both tired and hungry. My thoughts are, “Join the club buddy”!
We get to the food court at the Oriental Plaza Mall and walk through trying to find the right restaurant. We make a stop at Burger King for the kids and find a restaurant for ourselves. We’re seated at the Tai Hing Restaurant and get the kids started on their meals as we thumb through the menu. Initially we weren’t being waited on but we made this girl take our order and you could tell she was uncomfortable as she spoke no English. There are all kinds of things on the menu that we chuckle at because the thought of putting that in our mouths was ridiculous. But somebody obviously enjoys these things for them to be served in a restaurant. I finally settle with a curry with beef and vegetables and a fruit tea to drink. TJ orders an appetizer of yam with blueberry sauce and some type of beef and noodle dish for his entree. My tea comes out in this cute little pot with fruit floating in it. I pour myself some and the cares of my day literally float away as the warm, naturally fruit sweetened beverage relaxes my whole body. I strongly encourage TJ to try and he has the same experience. We are big tea drinkers in our family and this was a totally different experience. This tea will forever be engrained in my memory. I respond to a text Calvin sent me 15 minute earlier inquiring where we were, I send him the directions he needs and then commence to eating my curry.
Spot on! Very simple but prepared perfectly with big tender chunks of beef and vibrant veggies. Calvin finally arrives and the first thing TJ and I do is make him try the tea. It gets 10s from all of us. Calvin orders and we all enjoy our meals. We’re all wanting dessert, so we walk back through the food court towards the exit and pick up pastries from this little bakery. (The food court is located in a high end mall, so no wagons in this place). At the bakery, a couple comes through and as I’m ordering, this man keeps touching Isaiah’s ears. Even Isaiah is wondering why this man is touching him. The Chinese have no problem touching other peoples children. In the U.S., you could lose a limb touching someones child. Calvin and I get apple rings which looks like a pretzel ring with apples inside. I need ice cream to go with this and Dairy Queen is on our route toward the exit. In the Dairy Queen line, I guess I wasn’t standing close enough to the person in front of me because this couple cuts in front of me and starts ordering. When I get to order, this other woman literally stands over me and begins to put in her order as well. Calvin is a little peeved by this incident, as this is rude in our country, but their norm. I get my vanilla ice cream and break my apple ring into pieces and add it to my frozen dessert and once again I’m blown away by the flavors in my mouth. Delectable.
TJ heads to his room and we go to ours and prepare ourselves for the next day. I take the time to start typing my daily log and uploading pics to my computer. Everyone else quickly falls asleep and I’m determined to make some headway on my documentary, so I stay awake. When I finally can do no more, I head to bed at 3am.
Day 4 – October 21, 2013: Privacy
Locations in Beijing: The Great Wall of China, a restaurant I can’t recall the name of, the Jade Garden, the Ming Tombs, Temple Restaurant Beijing
So from yesterday’s post, you know that day three actually ended on day four at 3am. So this day’s entry begins at the wonderful hour of 5:45 am. I get the hubby up to get himself ready. The kids and I showered the night before so that we will take less time to prepare. We have to be downstairs by 7 in order to have time to eat breakfast and be in the lobby by 8 for our tours of the Great Wall, a jade market and the Ming tombs. I get my people ready, and ensure that I have all necessary medications and conveniences in my bag. We had a full day of touring and lunch when we took a trip to Mexico, similar to today’s itinerary and I forgot to pack medications only to really need them when we were out and if my mom hadn’t had some medications (for adults, but it did the job in this emergency situation) I don’t know how that day would have progressed. So I have everything. My prompt brother shows up at my door close to 7 and I actually am just about ready. I send him with the boys down to breakfast and leave the hubby in the shower. I’ve had this breakfast buffet on my mind since yesterday and I’m very eager to get busy filling my plate (what can I say, I’m pregnant).
I put my bag down and proceed to take orders from my children. Uncle TJ had already gotten them started with yogurt (he’s a good uncle, so glad I had him here). I prepare their plates, and then finally its my turn. My plate this morning consists of mostly veggies. The potatoes again, the tomato with cheese again, leeks, sweet potato, bacon and toast with grape jelly. And in my cup this morning is espresso, with some milk and sugar. I’m reminded of a few things I forgot in the room and by time I finish my meal the boys are requesting to go the bathroom as well. I reluctantly let my husband finish his meal and I take the boys with me to the room. We wrap up our business there and head down to the lobby. Isaiah looks around and asks, “Mommy where’s Jim? Is he going with us today”? I ease his concerns and let him know I’m sure we’ll see Jim. Wendy is ready to go and ushering us to the bus. One lady in our group is reading the newspaper that’s been delivered to our room daily and comments that we only had to travel 5,000 miles to see the Chiefs in the newspaper. They won against the Broncos and made the top of the sports page in the Chinese newspaper written for us Americans. Go figure.
My intention is to finish write my day 2 log as Wendy mentions the ride to the Great Wall will take an hour to an hour and a half. Isaiah has been journaling as well and already has five pages worth of experiences to share. He’s so much like his mom. It’s amazing how much of ourselves we see in them. I don’t get very far with the writing. Wendy literally spends the hour and a half dishing out information on Chinese culture in a way that draws you in hook, line and sinker. She talks about the law that restricts them to having one child to control the population and how there are 4 qualifications a man must have in order to marry a woman, the 3 qualifications a woman must have and the meanings of all the Zodiac signs. So the four requirements of the man is that he must have 4 wheels, 3 bedrooms, a good job and he must speak more than one language. The requirements for a good wife were simple: be good at stitchwork, have small feet and be able to cook. Our guide joked about how her husband says she failed in all three areas. Wendy also described how parents carry around cards with their single adult children’s names on them and pass them out in an effort to “fix their personal problem” or get them married.
This sparked several thoughts in my mind, the first being the importance of speaking more than one language. American English, spoken by native and non-native speakers is probably the most commonly spoken language in the world, possibly second to a combination of the Chinese languages (I got this bit of info from the internet). And we as Americans, in my opinion, don’t value foreign languages as much as we should. For example, we’ve known for well over a year that we were going to take this trip and never really took the time to learn any Mandarin because someone told us, “everyone speaks English, you should be fine”. Grant it, we did do fine because many things were translated into English or someone was able to speak the language well enough to assist us. But I honestly could help no one speaking a foreign language that may be visiting my country. We take a few classes in high school, maybe in college just to complete our degree requirements and then forget everything but how to say hello, goodbye, yes and no. All that to say, I’m siding with the Chinese on this requirement. We have always talked about having our boys learn foreign languages, but now the urgency is greater. Knowing more than one language makes you eligible for a wife, lol, well at least in China.
The other thoughts I had centered around the Zodiac signs. Being raised with a Christian belief system, we have always been taught to steer clear of Zodiac signs, horoscopes, and numerology. While I believe this is true, I appreciated the education I received from Wendy today. She spoke of every sign and the type of personality associated with that sign. When she went through all of the animals, and the personality traits associated with them, she went by year. Every 12 years signified a different animal. I was always under the impression that it was determined by the month, you know, Cancer, Libra, Virgo. The Chinese were not the originators of things associated with the Zodiac, so maybe my knowledge of all this is based on another culture. But it was interesting to hear the things that totally describe you and even more interesting to hear who you pair well with. My brother of course points out that the Zodiac associated with my year of birth describes me as someone who looks down on others. All I could do was laugh because I recently wrote a blog about how I unintentionally do this and how I’ve tried to be more mindful of it. We laughed about how that’s the only thing he remembered from the description. Ok, to finish up this poor tutorial on the Zodiac, the Chinese calendar only has 360 days because the number 9 is very sacred in Chinese culture, and 9 divides evenly into 360. So their New Year is never on the same day. And the number 9 is significant because it has the same pronunciation as the word longevity in Chinese.
So the hour and a half ride was filled with that and history about the Great Wall. Which dynasties built it, which countries invaded or tore down portions of the wall, etc, etc. It was too much information for me to retain. As we get further away from the city, mountains appear in the horizon. The capital of China was moved to Beijing because it was surrounded by mountains and water, which is represented in much of their historical architecture, as well as in Feng Shui. The mountains were beautiful, and as we began to drive through, you could see parts of the Great Wall high on the tops of the mountain. We arrived at the most scenic portion of the wall and were instructed to meet at this coffee shop in 2 hours. We of course take this opportunity for everyone to use the happy room before we conquer the Great Wall.
These rooms ain’t so happy. Away from the hotel, all you find are the urinal in the floor setup in every stall. And to make matters worse. There is no toilet paper in the stalls, you grab some from a roll at the entrance of the bathroom and carry it with you to the stall. There is a woman in front of me that speaks English and two behind me that are speaking another language I don’t recognize. A “restroom attendant” (I don’t know what else to call her) must notice that none of us have toilet paper in our hands and she stands near us with this huge roll of toilet paper and begins unrolling portions of the paper, tearing it off the roll and handing it to people. She tried to hand me some paper and I said “No!”, and reached over to the roll and pulled my own toilet paper. I’m thinking, “You must have lost your mind to think I’m going to put the toilet paper you have touched on my goods. And I’m pregnant! Absolutely not!” The English speaking woman in front of me follows my lead, the other 2 behind me just take the paper from the woman. So these ladies behind me all of a sudden begin to speak English. In America, those of us who get our nails done in shops where English is the second language, are always paranoid about what is being said. Totally had that moment right then. Which validates my desire for our family to take up foreign language. When a stall opens up, I run in, squat and run out, as I hate this bathroom setup.
I meet up with the family, highly anticipating walking on the Great Wall. So we walk up this hill to the entrance and Wendy escorts us through the gates and at that point, we’re on our own. I vaguely recall her saying that depending on which direction you go on the wall, it may be steeper. Well, from the entrance it’s hard to tell which way is steeper, and with the crowd being so thick, there wasn’t any time to figure it out so we just went to right. When we actually got onto the wall, the view was beautiful. I was expecting the Great Wall to be amazing and it did not disappoint. But you know what did disappoint? THE PEOPLE! I get it. They are used to hustling and bustling through thousands of people, but where in this hustle and bustle did common courtesy and right of way get lost. They were pushing past you, cutting in front of you, almost knocking you over to pass by. My poor baby girl got bumped a few times. It got so bad, we started bumping and pushing as well, not because it came naturally but because we were angry. We started stiff-arming people and bogarding our way through the crowds. There are long stretches of wall connected by these towers. Every time you come to a tower, there’s this bottleneck trying to get through to the other side. If you lost your footing and fell, there’s a strong chance you’d get trampled or cause everyone around you to fall as well.
We stop at a tower that is not so congested and take pictures. I’m sorry, did I say we took pictures? Everyone took pictures of us taking pictures. People asked if they could take pictures with us. People who didn’t want to stop and take a picture slowed down enough to get peek at the African Americans on the Great Wall. Two attractions for the price of one. I wish there was a way to monetize this, because we would have left the Great Wall of China as thousandaires ( as their currency is weaker than ours and after exchange, we might get a thousand dollars). We walk a little ways from the tower and stop to take another picture. This time TJ is requesting that I take a picture of him. I guess I had been bumped one too many times and had too many unsolicited photographs taken, because as I’m focusing in on TJ, some person approaches my husband about taking pictures of my children. “That’s it!”, I shout. I grab both of the boys and move them along, with Calvin yelling behind me that what I did wasn’t ok. He grabs the camera from me to take TJ’s picture as I pull the boys’ hoods over their heads and swiftly walk from where we were. I’ve had enough. At that moment, it dawned on me why Michael Jackson had his children wear the face blankets. The whole world treated his children like mine were being treated here. No respect for us as humans and our privacy. Many people talk about the lack of respect for personal space. I get that, in this country and others, there is no personal space to respect so this is probably never learned. But taking unwanted pictures and forcing yourself on someone is annoying, sometimes rude and makes you feel like less of a person and more of a spectacle.
My anger from this incident was quickly overshadowed by this next portion of the wall, which would be our last portion to walk. Apparently we chose the steep direction of the wall. Prior to this point, there were some steep areas, but nothing compared to this slightly less that 90 degree trek up this portion of the wall. All you heard around you were people huffing and puffing, people were taking breaks off to the side and some had to take a seat on the steps. Apparently an infant needed a break too as its mother sat on the steps of the Great Wall to breastfeed it. Isaiah was holding my hand during this portion and I had to literally pull him along because he too was feeling the fatigue of hiking this portion of the mountain. There were steps that Isaiah literally had to climb because his legs weren’t long enough to just step up. And I’ll be honest, my body was feeling it as well. My OB said in the beginning that I should continue exercising throughout the pregnancy and as most of you know, I have been. I’ve been working with a trainer since April at least twice a week. And when I reached the tower at the top of this steep portion, I had to thank God for Judd, my trainer. If he hadn’t worked me as hard as he did before and during this pregnancy, I might have gone into labor on the Great Wall. Thanks Judd for all the awesome workouts (and when I say awesome I mean brutal and punishing)! The people that made it to the tower at the end of this steep portion squeezed their way through to the other side. There was this person with medals off to the side, but I just figured it was someone trying to sell us something so I ignored him, only to find out when we got back on the bus that these were free, lol.
Tj, Isaiah and I conquered the steep part together and somewhere along the way, Calvin and Titus got ahead us. My threesome is standing at the top near the tower and we see the duo a little ways down from the tower. We see that Calvin is looking through the crowd for us and our immediate thought is, “Oh no! He’s going to keep walking because he thinks we’re ahead of him.” So we quickly try to catch up to him and we finally get close enough to call out his name and he hear us. The look on his face was priceless. One of exhaustion and relief. We all had a quick laugh about the toll that portion of the wall took on us and how we would have been terribly unhappy if we had to continue walking to catch up to each other. At that point, we all were in agreement that our time on the Great Wall was going to come to an end, and our time was running out, we had to meet back at the coffee shop. Some really bright person made this walkway along the wall so you didn’t have to go back the way you came. An even brighter person put a roller coaster type ride along the wall that takes you to the bottom even quicker. We chose the walkway as the line for the “slide” looked too long. And after speaking with someone in our group who actually took the “slide”, it let you off somewhere far away and was rickety. No loss there. The walkway was an excellent choice. Less people, still great pictures to be taken. When we approached the bottom someone approaches us, eagerly wanting a picture. I escort the children away from the camera while TJ and Calvin pose like superstars.
Here is where we have the conversation involving my picture of the bride and groom at the Forbidden City. So today I got mad about people taking pictures of my children. TJ and Calvin didn’t think it was such a big deal. They equated it to me taking a picture of the bride and groom or a photographer that takes shots of people in their natural environment. For me the key word there was natural environment. Taking pictures of something that occurs naturally is priceless. Taking pictures of, say, a celebrity when they are out grocery shopping is invasion of their privacy. And its not safe for the celebrity, as the picture can be used for unwanted or unintended purposes. I can defend myself, and having pictures taken of me is annoying. But its my job to protect my kids and I can’t afford for pictures of them to be used for unintended purposes. Now, will I use the bride and groom pictures for unintended purposes? Absolutely not. But the truth is, the bride and groom don’t know that and they have no reason to trust me. I don’t know that there is a clear answer from this debate, so I’ll spare you my arguments.
We meet our group at the coffee shop and I ask Wendy why people of color get so much attention. Her answer simply was that we are rarely seen in China. That’s all? Do they not see us on tv either? Wow China. Let your people see the world. This is the privilege of living in the U.S. We are surrounded by people of all nationalities, so none are rare to us. This also made me think of the importance of my children traveling. What goes on in America is not the sum of all things that go on in the world. By a long shot. I want my children to see how other people live and what they see. The beauty of their homelands and respect for our own.
On the bus Wendy continues teaching us the history and culture of China. She spoke of the importance of planting trees in that region. She talked about how farmers are no longer able to grow rice in Beijing because it took up too much land and water. This came as a surprise to me. If you aren’t making our rice, who is? If the world’s biggest producer of a product used by the entire globe begins to cut back due to water usage, we might end up with a problem.
We arrive at our lunch spot for the day which is a traditional style Chinese restaurant. We get seated at this table with a glass Lazy Susan in the middle. There’s an acrobatic show going on on the stage in front of us. After we are served our drinks, the food starts flooding in. Prawns, spicy beef, sweet and sour chicken, cashew chicken, tofu, and a host of other things goes spinning around the middle of the table. I’m blown away by Isaiah and his chopstick skills, they’re amazing. I don’t even think he used a fork. I was so concerned about the boys not being able to eat a lot of the foods but I was very wrong. Isaiah loved the sweet and sour chicken and devoured one of beef dishes. Titus was sleep and had no intention of waking. He did drink some but didn’t eat. We have had trouble with him not eating enough. Even when he has food choices that he likes, he won’t eat enough, but will say he’s hungry later. Everyone else enjoyed their meal, Titus will just have to eat later. I brought along snacks, but we may have eaten them all at the Great Wall.
After lunch we head off to the Jade Garden, a jewelry store that specializes in jade. In China, jade is like the diamond. It is not as pricey as a diamond but still a beautiful gem. The man that gives us the tour of the store including the area where they shape and polish the jade, is very serious about this gem. If you’ve ever watched a kung fu movie, you know, the ones with the subtitles and the characters have so much emphasis and drama in their speech, this guy did the voice overs for that movie. He passionately describes the different types of jade and how to tell if they are authentic. He asks for a volunteer to wear a necklace made of the most expensive type of jade which is called jadeite. I of course volunteer, in the event he wants to give it away at the end of the presentation. I begin modeling and he tells me I’m overdoing it! So I pipe down and walk through our group showing off the necklace. He continues his lesson which includes that this particular store was chosen to prepare the jade that was used in the medals from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Each medal had some form of jade in them, representing the Nation of China.
We of course are then escorted to the showroom to buy jade. My brother and I decide to buy a piece for our mother. We looked into some cufflinks for dad, but the selection was fair. The one thing about China, even in the Jade Garden where portions of the 2008 Olympic medals were made, everything is negotiable. The full prices are listed but there’s always a “special price for you” (in my asian accent, which is probably poor). We walk out with a jadite piece for my mom and a free gift for spending money. Outside of the store, the group is showing signs of fatigue, and there’s still one more place to visit. We sit on the step waiting for the others that are still shopping. The boys have been the attention of both the Chinese and our group the entire time. Which is understandable. They’re both good looking, well behaved (I’m still trying to figure out the qualifications of well behaved), and can engage you in very interesting conversations. A few people in the group take pics of our family and chat with the boys about school and other things. As we wait, the boys of course begin roughhousing with their dad and Isaiah ends up falling down a few stairs. Forgive me for laughing but I found it a little humorous. We told him to get up and assured him he was ok.
Our last stop of the day is the Ming Tombs. They are actually scattered over a large area but we visit the place of one of the more prominent Emperors. The setup is very similar to the Forbidden City but smaller. I guess when the emperor dies, his resting place should resemble the Forbidden City. I don’t think I mentioned this in the post that discussed the Forbidden City but every gate and threshold had this huge lip you have to step over in order to enter, and this was thought to keep evil spirits from entering, something to do with them not having knees, I don’t know. Don’t quote me on that. When we made it through the courtyards, we came to the building where the emperor’s spirit would reside. A steep ramp followed by stairs. I really have no desire to see or climb another one of those today. But once at the top the view was amazing. You could see the mountains on every side and it was a refreshing end to the day.
A few of the group members had bought panda hats with little tassels that covered the ears prior to going to the Ming Tombs. On the way in, they bought more and took pics as “Pandas in the Wild”. Our good friend Jim even had one. To be honest, they had had a little too much to drink. As we are leaving the tombs, the Panda group decides the whole bus should have panda hats. So they buy the little lady selling the hats completely out of the panda hats. Everyone/family gets a hat and everyone poses with the panda hats on the bus. Since the panda hats were sold out, one guy bought 2 angry bird hats and of course photo bombed the pandas on the bus picture.
We happened to be sitting in the area of the bus with the bunch that initiated all this, and they discussed how buying all of those hats made that lady’s day. They counted it as a good deed and recalled the gratitude on the woman’s face. I’m not a believer that God works in mysterious ways. I believe his ways are evident, sometimes before, a lot of times after they’ve been implemented, and they frequently involve human intervention. It doesn’t matter what nationality, what belief system you embrace or your blood alcohol level, God can use anyone to meet a need or desire. Go pandas!
My brother has spent much time investigating the restaurant scene in Beijing and we decided on two 5 star restaurants to try while in Beijing. We go back to the hotel to quickly recover from our day’s excursions and we get a taxi to this restaurant called Temple Restaurant Beijing. First mishap, all of us can’t ride in one cab, the limit is 4. So Calvin takes a second cab on his own to the same address. The boys, TJ and I ride to the address, only to get dropped of a few blocks away. We get out and look around, with no sign of this restaurant. Fortunately there was a hotel on the corner and the service manager (concierge) was able to point us in the right direction. Mishap number 2, the direction he pointed us in was a 3 minute walk down an alley and its already dark out. Here are the thoughts crossing my mind as we begin trekking down this unfamiliar alley in Beijing China after dark.
1. Thank God I know how to fight, and I will fight someone tonight in this alley if I have to, pregnant and all.
2. If we were in the U.S. you couldn’t pay me to walk down this alley.
3. My husband is going to flip out when he realizes we walked down this alley.
4. What kind of 5 star restaurant is located at the end of an impoverished alley!
All of my thoughts are calmed by Wendy’s voice in my mind. She informed us at the beginning of the trip that Chinese people are very friendly and that we should have no trouble being out at night. I let her thoughts and the peace of Jesus calm me as we made our 3 minute walk down the alley. And sure enough, at the end of the alley was this beautiful contemporary restaurant located inside of a 600 year old temple with a small art museum on the other side of the restaurant. My brother gave them our name and told them we had a reservation and they escorted us to our seats. The boys were done. We sat down at the table and their first reaction was to lay down in the booth. I let them, we had been out all day. We were given the menu and the waiter took the drink orders for the boys, TJ and I. All I keep thinking about is Calvin and whether he’ll be able to find the restaurant. TJ goes back out to the alley to see if he can find him. I tell TJ to make sure he comes back alive. They both come back in a short period of time and thought number 3 listed above was in fact accurate. My hubby was furious that his wife and children were walking alleys at night in Beijing. But the fact that we made it to our destination and that it was worth the walk through the alley calmed him.
Not too long after we were settled, bread was brought to our table. This is customary for most restaurants, but wait there’s more. Some guy who appeared to be higher than the head waiter came over asked if they could prepare something for the children as this restaurant had no kids menu. I requested pasta for both boys and he quickly went off to begin preparations for the pasta. We made our selections from the menu and were served something we didn’t order. They looked like small Tiramisus but they had a beautiful array of colors. My brother tries first and its got a cream cheese mixture within, salmon on top, and some type of cracker between the layers. Yum.The boys’ food arrived and I had to wake them up to eat. Isaiah ate all of his and when the higher than the head waiter guy came back around, he asked if Isaiah wanted more, Isaiah said yes, and off he went again to get pasta.
TJ ordered a 4 course meal so his appetizer showed up to the table. But much to our surprise, three of his appetizers showed up on our table. It was crabmeat on top of a biscuit with pumpkin soup poured all around it. Before they could pour Calvin’s, we informed them of his shellfish allergy and they apologized and ran off to get him something else. We intentionally only got the main course as we weren’t that hungry and we weren’t trying to break the bank. We discussed amongst ourselves why we were getting all this extra food that we didn’t order. When the waiter came back with Calvin’s starter, we inquired why we were getting something we didn’t order. The waiter simply said it was complimentary. They brought Calvin this beautiful stack of heirloom tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and a pesto drizzle. He makes this dissatisfied face, as he does not like tomatoes, but decides to keep the dish anyway. Apparently he’s never had tomatoes prepared just right because he ate everything in that bowl. As well as TJ and I. That was the best pumpkin soup I’d ever tasted.
We couldn’t help but notice the type of crowd in this restaurant. We were terribly underdressed, as we only had time to go to the hotel and drop off bags and then get a taxi to make our reservation time. Directly beside us there was a nicely dressed couple, I don’t believe they were english speaking. Across from us on the other side was an Asian couple. The guy was wearing a navy jersey with the word ‘PERVERT’ across the back. So random. Then behind us was obviously a group of business people. In this group was an African American lady with an ugly sweater on with a collared shirt underneath. Way to represent Sis, way to represent. And all throughout the restaurant there were people speaking a variety of languages, most of whom were Caucasian. The guy with the PERVERT jersey made us feel less awkward about being underdressed, because his threads were just inappropriate.
Yet another complementary dish comes out. This time its a lobster mousse with caviar on top. Wasn’t my favorite bite of the night. I had never had caviar before and was glad to say that I have so I don’t have to try it again. I bit into the caviar and it was as if a fish exploded in my mouth. Too fishy for me. Our meals finally start hitting the table, and coincidently everyone around us begins to get their food as well. My theory on the complimentary food was that the kitchen was running behind and they wanted to keep the customers happy. The men at the table argued that this was just how French cuisine is done. I stand my ground on the slow kitchen. Slow or not the food was good. Calvin had salmon with a horseradish crust, dill cucumbers, fennel and whole grain mustard sauce, I had suckling pig, pumpkin puree, brussel sprouts and a bacon maple shallot glace. In addition to the pumpkin soup with crab, TJ had risotto with shrimp, asparagus, and chives, rice flake crusted lobster with bok choy, coconut curry and chili garlic oil. Somewhere between the main course and that third appetizer, a blanket had been placed over one the children. Now that’s service. We all commented on how this restaurant would be getting an amazing review on Tripadvisor.
As we completed our main courses, we were again served something we did not order. Which we all ended up agreeing that this was a palate cleanser. A small bowl of lemon sorbet. The guys both got Tiramisu and I got salted caramel ice cream. We all couldn’t say enough about this meal and the service. We started to ask about transportation back to the hotel and they were already on it. We inquired about the transportation being for all of us and they assured us that was taken care of. We settled our bill, picked up our children and a gentleman escorted us to our taxi. As we approach the taxi, he hands me four boxes, each with complementary jams made fresh at the restaurant. Wow! Definitely one of the best dining experiences we’ve had.
The taxi was able to meet us at the restaurant so we did not have to go back through the alley. All 5 of us rode back to the hotel and crashed. I think this was the only night I slept more than 4 hours.
Day 5 – October 22, 2013: Polluted and tired
Beijing Locations: The Summer palace, the Tube Station Pizza Shop, the Temple of Heaven, the Pearl market, The Red Theatre
Today began with the alarm clock. We had an extra 30 minutes before we had to be in the lobby, so I let everyone sleep a little later. We bathed, dressed, and hit the buffet. We’re in the lobby on time and when we step out to begin our last day of touring, we’re immediately hit with the reason why you see people wearing masks in this city. With every breath you could feel your lungs crying out for help because the air quality today, was below poor. A few people in the group must have watched the news prior to coming out of the hotel because they were prepared with masks.
We start our day of touring by driving by the 2008 Olympic Village located in the heart of Beijing. We saw the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube, the Olympic torch and building that held nothing but the computer systems necessary to make the olympics available to the world. We weren’t able to get up close as the streets were blocked off around the Olympic Village, but we got decent shots from the bus. Wendy explained how Chinese designers in conjunction with other companies from other nations came up with the award winning designs for the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube.
The first attraction today is the Summer Palace. This where the emperor spent 3 months out of the year, away from the Forbidden City. It covers a huge amount of land, most of which is a man made lake. The emperor initially thought to use the lake as training ground for the Chinese Navy, but the depth of the lake is only about 5 feet. Wouldn’t be too much of a Navy if that’s all the water you were trained in.
When we arrive, there are hundreds of elementary age children all in blue sweatsuits waiting to enter the Summer Palace gates. Wendy of course gets us in first. She points the way to the happy room and instructs us to get in line at the dock, as we will take the boat across the lake to the historic buildings. The boys are excited about riding the boat. They are also captivated by this huge 20 foot rubber duck floating in the water off to our left. Apparently there was some type of festival, similar to the Duck Derby we have here in Kansas City.
As I mentioned before, the Summer Palace was used 3 months out of the year by the emperor. But there was a woman, Dowager Cixi, who was a concubine of an emperor that gave birth to his only surviving son, who became emperor upon his father’s death. She was able to unofficially rule the country because her son became emperor at a young age. Unfortunately her son died as well, so she appointed a nephew to be emperor, but continued to rule despite the nephew’s title. This ruler enjoyed the Summer Palace so much, she spent 6 months out of the year there. Shortly before the emperor died, the Summer Palace was burned to the ground by the British and Dowager Cixi was instrumental in rebuilding it.
At this point of touring, you start to notice all of the buildings looking alike, with similar paint colors and courtyards. It’s very beautiful but begins to get monotonous. The only saving grace for these historical monuments are the intriguing stories Wendy is giving. She gives the history but also the scandal that goes along with it. She takes us by this one building that happened to be the quarters of Dowager Cixi’s favorite Eunuch. This guy apparently grew up with his mom who was a prostitute and was very talented in how to dress and groom a woman. So the Dowager was taken with him. This guy ends up being the point person for corruption. If you wanted to buy your way to the top under Cixi’s rule, you had to talk to this guy first.
About three-fourths of the way through the tour, we realize that we’ve lost our good friend Jim and the friend he came with (both are happily married with children, no funny business between these two). We happen to be near a Happy Room so I reluctantly take advantage of this stop. I wait in line. Yes there is actually a line. But in true Chinese fashion, some woman cuts past everyone in line and goes knocking on doors looking for an empty stall, and as soon as one opens, she heads right in. I couldn’t understand the words coming out of the mouth of the lady standing at the front of the line, but they were words of disgust with her fellow countryman’s actions. Upon entering the stall, my hatred for these toilets rises again. What if someone couldn’t control their pee and I have no choice but to step in it? I quickly finish up, head to the sinks, and push my way through the exit.
Wendy decides to move along as someone was able to get in touch with the lost duo by phone and locate their whereabouts. We take a few more pictures and head to the exit. I cannot explain how horrible the air quality was today. I spent most of the day with my scarf over my face as breathing in that air was unbearable. All I could think about was my child with respiratory issues, but he seemed fine. We made our way to the bus, along with the lost duo and the scout that went out to find them. We boarded the bus and headed to a pizza place for lunch. Wendy compared it to Pizza Hut and someone in the back of the bus comments that the bar wasn’t set very high. Everyone begins to joke about how Wendy must be getting kickbacks from all these places she’s taking us where we are spending money. We were taken to a room on the upper level where I assume all the Americans go because they had all written on the walls. The walls were full of names of schools and people written in vibrant chalk colors. Our drink orders were taken prior to arriving so the first order of business is distributing drinks. The drinkers on the bus complained about being served warm beer while we were giving our orders on the bus. I don’t think this was an issue when the beers arrived.
The pizza begins coming to the table, pepperoni, meatlovers, or mushroom. Fries also came to the table but there weren’t enough to go around. The pizza was decent. I’m a Papa John’s lover, so thin crust pizzas are not my favorite, which this pizza was. Toward the end of the meal people begin writing on the walls. My husband takes the honor of drawing the school’s logo and his class number on the wall, with Isaiah close by mimicking his father’s strokes. The only spot available for Calvin to do this is near the ceiling, so he stands on top of the table to create his masterpiece. As he finishes, the group applaudes and praises him for his artwork and many pictures are taken of the artist.
As we exit the restaurant, a few members of the group express their fatigue and desire to take a taxi back to the hotel. Others expressed their fatigue as well. So when we got on the bus, Wendy announced that we would shorten our tour of the next location, The Temple of Heaven, and spend only 45 minutes shopping at the Pearl Market (any kind of knockoff that can be made can be found here). The group is pleased with this decision. We leave a few behind to go back to the hotel and the rest of us head out The Temple of Heaven, whose actual name is the Temple of Prayers for Good Harvest.
The grounds of this site were much more modernized and pretty, much like a monument you’d see in the States. Like the Summer Palace, it too had been burned down at one point. We walk through beautiful Gardens and arrive at the Temple. It is the only one we’ve seen that is round in architecture. The roof of this structure is held up by 3 pillars and has three tiers. The highest tier representing God, the middle tier representing the emperor and the bottom tier representing the people. It has the characteristic 9 steps between each landing signifying longevity and the dragon like statues that have their own meanings as well. The inside of the temple had the characteristic throne or yellow chair.
There are 3 buildings in this large courtyard and after taking pics of the Temple we swing by one more of the buildings and then head to meet the group. There’s a woman dressed in this beautiful gold gown afar off with a whole crew of photographers. I try to get a picture but wasn’t able to get a good one. The group is all present and we head to the bus for our final stop of the day, the Pearl Market. They sell pearls there, but anything else you can think of can be found there too. Apparently there is a scale on which you can grade knockoffs. And according to Wendy, this place has higher level of knockoffs. We didn’t have an actual list of things we needed to buy, but we did end up with real jade (as the guy from Jade Garden taught us how to tell if they are real) and some wifi speakers, which we gave a test run in the store.
Unfortunately today’s story doesn’t end just yet. We signed up to take the kids to a kung fu show. So when we get to the hotel, we have an hour or less to drop off bags and then head back to the bus. TJ isn’t feeling well so he decides to stay in tonight. We chose not to do dinner before the show because the time window was too small. We agreed to feed the kids after the show. We board the bus, again, and head to the theatre. Once we get seated I decide to go use the happy room. This had to be the worst of them all. It stunk, there was no toilet paper and I had the unfortunate experience of watching someone go in and come out without washing their hands. Technically, the only thing you have to touch is the door, because the handle to flush is a pedal that you push with your foot. But still, door handles are notorious for harboring germs. I couldn’t move fast enough in the happy room. I washed my hands without soap as there wasn’t any and headed back to my seat, trying to erase that experience from my mind.
The kung fu show was good, at least the parts I saw. I was dozing in and out the entire show. But the kids said they enjoyed it! That’s the only reason we went. Success. Back at the hotel, we decide that it’s too late to go out and get something, so we boil some water and make oatmeal for the boys. They have Pop Tarts for dessert. Calvin sits down at the desk to test out the speakers and discovers that the sound cuts in and out on one of them and that the latency with the sound and picture from a video is horrible. Tomorrow will include a trip back to the Pearl Market.
Day 6 – October 23, 2013: Mamma said knock you out
Beijing Locations: Silk Street, the Pearl Market, Made in China Restaurant, Snack Street
We sleep in a little as there’s no schedule to keep today. We come up with a game plan for the day as we get ready to go down for breakfast. It includes the Silk Street Market (an even bigger Pearl Market), the aquarium (per TJs request), the Pearl Market (to make a return), Snack Street (all kinds of things you should not eat fried on a stick) and the other 5 star restaurant, Made in China. We plan to take the subway to all of these spots. Breakfast is good as usual. I think I’ve had more coffee this week than I typically drink in a month. Calvin and I agree that if we want to shop today, we need to get some more cash. The hotel will only exchange cash for cash, so others in the group told us where to find an ATM.
Our hotel is attached to two other hotels with all three taking up an entire block. We begin walking through the hotels and come to the lobby of the hotel next to ours and are met with a huge crowd of official looking people with badges on. As we try to walk across to the next hotel, we are redirected out the front door. As we leave the building I notice a banner that reads ‘Beijing Hong Kong Economic Cooperation’. Oh snap! We should not have been there. But if they really wanted it to be for official people only they should have done a better job securing the area. We go outside and enter through the last hotel, where we find the ATM.
The ATM accepted my card but wouldn’t allow me to choose the English version, so we went back and forth with the machine, unable to make a transaction. We move to the machine next to it, only to have the same issues. By this time the children are roughhousing, Calvin and I are tense with each other and TJ is just annoyed. We finally decide to walk across the street to a bank. The teller instructs us to use the ATM. This ATM works, but now Calvin is questioning how much we should get out. I’ve had enough, and I let him know it right there in front of the Chinese ATM. He walks away, I get some cash, let’s move on with the day.
First stop is the subway station. Silk Street is the furthest out so we route ourselves to go there first. After several minutes of making sure we are going in the right direction we board the first train of the day. It’s pretty crowded, which is to be expected, but we successfully make our way to our first stop. Silk Street made the Pearl Market look like a dump. It had the feel of a mall with the setup of the Pearl Market. Each booth was like a large plastic cubicle with merchandise from floor to ceiling and at least 2 people urging you to come into their store. We decided to split up and meet back at the entrance in 30 minutes as not to slow TJ down. We went our separate ways and the children were asking for food. Needless to say our 30 minutes was spent feeding the children. While they ate Chinese KFC, we tried to compile a list of gifts we wanted to buy for others, but our time had run out. We meet back up with TJ empty handed. He on the other hand had at least 2 bags. We decide that staying together would be more efficient.
Once again the children are the center of attention and Calvin makes them put on their hoods and put their hands in their pockets. People were touching their hair, their faces, and one even got past Calvin and kissed Titus on the forehead and had the nerve to ask Titus to give her a kiss. Calvin jumped in between them with a stern “No!”. The lady looked shocked asking why not. We moved along. Calvin was ready to give that woman an uppercut.
TJ was living the dream in this place. Every store we stopped in, he snuck off and came back with a bag or two. We hit up a few shops selling men’s clothing as my father asked us to look for a specific type of dress shirt for him. The guys go into this one shop and I go take a peek in a few others. When I come back, I see TJ, but I don’t see Calvin. Apparently he’s in the back room of this store negotiating a price on a watch. I find a seat and wait for him to come out. When he comes, he’s empty handed, but determined he can go back and get the watch for the price he wants. We refer back to our list and decided to look into buying some purses. Here is where I see the difference in knockoffs. So I look at one ourse because I like the make of it and it looks somewhat authentic. The lady informs me that it’s a Hermes. I’m not into purses, so I could care less who the designer is, I just want a nice looking piece that can pass for a real designer purse. So I notice that this purse has the metal buckle with no name on it and no tags on the inside stating the brand. I can overlook this. I find another purse that I may be interested in buying. I talk to one of the ladies about it and then decide I want to look around some more. Of course she starts asking what I will pay for it and that she has the best price. I manage to get out without buying. I hit up a few more shops and they all have the same stuff, so I go back to the store I started at with the intention to buy. Calvin is much better at haggling than me so I put him in charge of that. As soon as we get to the shop, one of the boys has to go to happy room and Calvin leaves me there to fend for myself.
One hundred U.S. dollars gets you about ￥600. So I pick out the same purses and tell the lady I want them both for ￥100. The lady practically laughs at me and tells me I need to go higher. I guess I don’t go high enough because she says no sell, and walks away. My haggler pride is hurt and I go looking for Calvin and the boys. I find them and we go together to a different shop. This one has the same purses but this time the purse actually had Hermes on the buckle. I tell her the price I want to pay and she shows me a purse very similar that she would sell me for that price. This purse had the same structure but was obviously not made of leather. I tell her I want the leather purse but I want it in red. She doesn’t have it, but she can go get it if I lock in a price with her. I don’t have time for this foolishness so I leave and I can tell she’s angry. I’m done haggling and I’m done looking for purses. I don’t have a problem giving a knockoff purse, but I’d feel comfortable with a tag on the inside with the name in addition to the name on the outside. Well, if those are my requirements maybe I do have a problem giving a knockoff purse. I’ve been given a designer purse and someone inspect it for its authenticity (it checked out), and having had that experience, I’d hate for someone to put my giftee on the spot for having a fake designer bag. Some people don’t care, but I do.
My husband is a little peeved with me for giving up but I don’t care. Haggling isn’t my thing. As we walk around looking for TJ, trying to avoid the beckoning calls of people trying to lure you into their shops, from the corner of my eye I can see someone run up and grab one of the boys. I quickly turn to see TJ laughing, holding one of the boys in his arms and Calvin in attack mode. He knew how much we were trying to guard the boys and decided this would be funny. Definitely not funny as Calvin was prepared to drive him through one of those plastic booths. We laughed it off and kept moving, before anyone else that saw it got any ideas.
Calvin is still set on this watch so we head back up to this shop with the back room. He and TJ head into the back room and I take a seat in the same place I sat the first time we were here. This young lady working in the shop comes over to admire the boys. Here we go. She talks to them, touches their faces, hair, hands. And she sits with us for an extended period of time. She then starts conversing with me about pregnancy and asking if I know anything about having the baby in water. I share with her that I have not done that but I’ve read about. As soon as she moves away, I break out the wipes and do the best I can cleaning them up and I sit Titus on my lap. This kid draws too much attention from the ladies. Which is nothing new, it happens at home all the time, but people don’t touch! The guys finally come out, empty handed again and looking like they got their feelings hurt. No watch today.
We have a housewarming coming up and need a nice bedspread, so we stop in a store and find one that we like. Calvin gets the price down to something reasonable and we tell the lady we have other shopping to do and that we’d be back. We peruse some more and with each stop we make, TJ comes back with 1-2 additional items. Calvin attempts to get some prescription sunglasses but they won’t be thin enough for his liking. We pick up a personalized gift for his brother and decide to wrap up this shopping trip. We head back down to the shop where we negotiated the price for the duvet set and made that purchase. While we were doing that,TJ went back to the shop with the back room and bought the watch. All he could do was apologize to Calvin. And Calvin is bummed, one because he really wanted the watch and two because TJ got a good price off of his negotiation. And with that we say goodbye to Silk Street. At this point, our time has gotten away from us, so the Aquarium gets crossed of the list.
We head back to the subway to make our way to the Pearl Market to return the speakers. TJ is still high off of haggling so he entertains one of the people on the street selling “stuff”. He negotiates a price on an ultra fake Burberry wallet. Well, because he stops, other people swarm us to buy stuff. I ignore them, but this one dude approaches me, cigarette lit, blowing smoke in my direction asking if I want to buy something. I give him an “angry black woman” No! Head, neck and eye rolls included. I could’ve knocked that dude out right there in the street. How disrespectful to approach me smoking and I’m pregnant! I really could have gotten violent right there in the street.
We get tickets and head down to the train. We take the train to a transfer station and get off. We look on the route map to make sure we are going in the right direction. We have differing thoughts so we pull out the hotel card with our destination on the back and ask a “subway attendant” (she looked pretty official with her badge and speaker around her neck) which direction to take the train. She quickly glances at the card and instructs us to take the train north. Calvin is questioning this but TJ and I are going to side with the lady. She lives here and works in the train station, for sure she knows the direction we should go.
Five stops later on an overcrowded, hot train, we are informed that we went in the wrong direction. Go figure! TJ apologizes as Calvin gloats, and I blame it on the subway attendant. We get pointed in the right direction and ride back 8 stops in order to get to the correct station for the Pearl market. This train ride was much more comfortable. A cute asian lady gets on and stands near TJ. I ask him if she has her personal problems solved, cueing him to look and see if she had a ring. She didn’t. TJ seemed to think she had wrinkles on her face, which I thought was impossible as she looked considerably younger than him and he’s only 31. We get off at the stop we were instructed to get off at. Everyone goes through the turnstiles to exit the station but when I try to go through it won’t let me. I try a few other turnstiles with no luck. An attendant escorts me down to a man with a handheld scanner and he is able to validate my card and let me out of the station. We head up to the street, it was difficult to tell which way to go so we pulled out the map. It wasn’t out long before a young asian woman approached us offering help. We told her we were looking for the Pearl Market and she pointed the way. We all told her thank you in Chinese and hurried toward the market. We quickly found the shop where we bought the speakers. After 30 minutes of dialogue, we get our refund and head back to the street. We all refused to get back on the train, so we hailed a taxi and headed back to the hotel. The first order of business was washing hands and faces.
The decision to be made now is do we head to Snack Street before dinner or be on time for our 8pm reservation at Made in China. We decided to make the reservation. The restaurant was located in the Grand Hyatt which happened to be on the same street as our hotel, just on the other side of the mall we ate at on Sunday. Once there, we ask a gentleman at the desk where the restaurant is and I take the time to ask where Snack Street is. He is gracious enough to draw the way to the destination on a map for me. I join the rest of the group and we are promptly seated at a large table (we invited another student in Calvin’s class to dinner along with his wife).
Once again its the glass Lazy Susan in the middle of the table. The aroma in this restaurant gets me excited. It smells authentic in here. You can see the kitchen in the back of the restaurant. Just like the Temple Restaurant Beijing, there are business people in this restaurant and well dressed couples and friends. Very little Chinese patronizing this place. We go out a few times looking for our guests but don’t see them.
We look through the menu. TJ settles on spicy shrimp dish with noodles. I order a fish dish recommended by the restaurant and Calvin orders a beef dish. Ordering for the boys turned out to be difficult as our waitress’ English wasn’t very good. We ordered a dish that had noodles and meat with the meat on the side. My dish was the first to come out. We waited a little bit to see if the other dishes would come out, but they didn’t. And we were still waiting for our guests.
After quite a while, TJ’s dish came out. Calvin was hungry, so he started eating some of my food. The boy’s pasta still hadn’t come out yet, and it didn’t matter any more, they were both asleep. My dish was good, not spectacular like I was expecting, but it needed a starch. I ordered some rice for all of our dishes. At the traditional restaurant we ate at on Monday, we were served rice with our meal. At this place, we had to pay for rice. Calvin explained that rice is seen as a filler and not served with meals at restaurants like this. His dish finally comes and so do our guests.
Chris (Calvin’s classmate and roommate while in Shanghai) comes up and says, “Man what is your last name, we’ve been waiting for 20 minutes!” My brother made the reservation under his name, Smith. We assumed they weren’t coming, so we quit looking for them. Chris and Kayla brought some life to our table. We were tired, hungry, and ready to leave, as the service wasn’t spectacular. We also noticed that the lady with the ugly sweater from the other restaurant was here as well, sitting behind us. This time there was an older African American lady with her and the business people.
We start chatting about our day as Chris and Kayla begin ordering several dishes off the menu. They went shopping as well today and had transportation issues just like we did. Apparently they took a cab and when they were paying him, they gave him a ￥100 bill and the driver hands it back to him saying it was torn on the corner and that he couldn’t use it, so Chris takes the money back and gives him a different $￥100 bill. Later that day they end up trying to use that ￥100 at the subway station and cause a huge ruckous because the bill is conterfeit!
They talked about the things they bought and their move to Miami. We shared about our shopping and subway experience. Chris pulls out his Burberry wallet and TJ pulls out his knockoff Burberry wallet and we joke about how TJ’s is extremely fake.Their food arrived a little quicker than ours but one dish they ordered didn’t show up until we were ready to leave and Chris insisted it be taken back and removed from the bill. I know that had to piss the restaurant off because it was an expensive dish, but that’s what they get for being slow.
The lady with the ugly sweater is leaving with her group but stops by our table to ask where we are from. We share where we’re from and she’s from California. The older woman with her stops and chats as well and then they are off. The adults at our table chat a little more then we decide to call it a night as the children were sleep and we all had to travel in the morning. We pick up the tab to show our gratitude for Chris picking up one of Calvin’s tabs in Shanghai. We say goodnight to Chris and Kayla and begin gathering up the children. We decide to swing by Snack Street, as this was highly recommended to see.
Its close to 11 pm when we leave the restaurant and we step outside to a chill in the air. Titus is being carried and Isaiah is awake enough to walk. I follow the directions given by the man at the desk only to realize that we exited through the side of the hotel and not the back of the hotel according to the man’s instructions. So we backtrack to the Grand Hyatt and go in the right direction, the whole time second guessing ourselves and speculating where we’ll end up. After several minutes of walking, we make it to Snack Street but everything was already shut down. What a total bummer! I had my heart set on showing these pics to my dad. Oh well. I found out that another member of our group took photos at Snack Street, so I’ll just have to use his.
Calvin’s speculations on where we would end up were correct, the street with the McDonalds. TJ stops in to get a banana pie and a drink (the banana pie is made like our apple pie, TJ said it was good). We get to the corner of hotels connected ours and go inside, as we’ve had enough of the chill in the air. By time we get back to the rooms, it’s midnight. We have energy to do nothing else but get PJs and crawl into the bed.
Day 7 – October 24, 2013: Pig feet
Locations: Beijing, China, Tokyo, Japan
Yesterday technically ended today and here I am laying in bed at 4:30 with my eyes open after my husband wakes me when he gets in our bed, as he fell asleep in the bed with the boys. I’m up, so I continue journaling my trip. When everyone wakes, we make a game plan for the day and prepare ourselves for breakfast. I go down early with the boys and get them and my self fed. TJ and Calvin join us as we finish up. Today’s breakfast consisted of a mixed bun, pork bun, french toast, yams with maple syrup, bacon with toast and jelly, a tomato with cheese, bok choy, and a salad that I can’t name. Afterward we go to the room and commence packing. We make it down to the desk right at noon for check out and settle our ￥13 balance. I try to look up an earlier flight for when we get back in the states while Calvin and TJ go out for food. They come back with McDonalds, which I had no intention of eating (as it didn’t agree with me the first day we arrived in Beijing), so I opt out of lunch. Wendy is in the lobby as well as the rest of the group flying out on afternoon flights. Someone asked us what we did yesterday and I told them we rode the subway. It felt like most of our day was spent there. We board our bus with all of our luggage and head to the airport.
Wendy gives a rundown of what to expect when we arrive at the airport and then asks if anyone has any other questions. Someone in our group asks Wendy what is her favorite dish to prepare at home. The answer is…… Drum Roll Please……. Pig Feet! Yes, Wendy’s favorite and the favorite of her family is pig feet. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself. Something that I thought only African Americans indulged in! I was floored. She also shared how her son enjoys chicken wings cooked in Coke. I would recommend that anyone taking a trip to the Shanghai/Beijing areas use Wendy as their guide. She is phenomenal, extremely personable, and very knowledgable. It’s hard to say goodbye. We drop off the first batch of our group at terminal 2, which I believe is the terminal we arrived in. Wasn’t what I would expect from a country that just recently held the Olympics. But after a 15-20 minute ride to terminal 3, we discovered where they more than likely routed all the Olympics travellers. Terminal 3 was beautiful, high tech, on par with any other airport you might see around the world.
Checking in took forever, I’m assuming the guy helping us was training this young lady sitting behind him or vice versa, they took forever. Going through customs, Titus and I had to pose for a picture, guess they want to make sure I’m not stealing my own child from China. Their metal detectors must have a setting for skin detection, because every single person set off the metal detector alarm, even when they didn’t have metal on. My 4 year old even had to stand on the box and be swept. We all make it through without complications and headed to our gate. The adults take turns watching kids and bags as we find food, the restroom or more stuff to buy and bring home.
Our time to depart from China arrives and we board our Japan Airlines flight with a layover in Tokyo before making the long haul to San Francisco. I don’t think I took the time to give details of the Hainan Airlines flight, probably because I had nothing to compare it with. Well, Japan Airlines was definitely a nicer plane with better customer service. Hainan Air was good, but this was better. And that’s to be expected as Hainan Airlines was described as the Southwest of Asian International travel. And on top of the airline being good, we have seats that don’t have anyone behind them so we can recline all the way back without squishing anyone behind us. The games on the tv actually worked and there were USB jacks for charging your electronic devices. The meals were good, but nothing to feed the children. There were foot rests and hooks to hang your jacket. Definitely a world class economy section flying experience.
And then we get to Tokyo and our connecting flight out of Japan goes south. The flight indicator on the plane is broken and they have to fix it. We arrived in Tokyo about 2 hours prior our connecting flight. It wasn’t until an hour or 45 minutes before our departure that they found this malfunction. They initially state that it should not take long to replace the part. And this is how day 7 ends, 2 sleeping kids in an airport terminal, I think I may have been asleep too, and the men folk listening to something or browsing on their devices.
Day 8 – October 25 and then back to the 24th, 2013: Stuck in Asia
Locations: Tokyo, Japan, San Francisco, CA
12:05 was the departure time and they are saying it will be another 30-45 minutes before they can give us a departure time. Well, that time goes by and the flight indicator apparently will take a few hours to repair. So all the passengers waiting for that flight are invited to Japan Airline’s VIP lounge. Mighty palatial. Plenty of comfortable seating, a small cafeteria, WiFi, and good service. Hard to be mad, especially when you aren’t in a rush to get back home. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather be in my bed, but there’s nothing pressing that we need to tend to at home.
Four or five hours after our flight was originally supposed to depart, we are told that the flight will be boarding soon. We gather all of our things, again, and head down to the gate. We board and everyone gets settled. Now the real flying begins, 9 hours of sitting in this chair, sleeping on and off, and food that may or may not be edible by our whole crew. Isaiah quickly picks up where he left off playing Street Fighter II on the inflight entertainment. TJ and Calvin are watching movies, Titus is interested in putting together this little plane the stewardess just gave him, and I assist him with that. There was one point where I would have loved to have cried as I am now exhausted and ready for the trip to be over. Titus enjoys his plane for a while and then he and I both fall asleep. Neither of us thought it necessary to wake up for the first meal. When we did wake up, Isaiah was watching Monsters U, and I have no idea what Calvin and TJ are doing. Either sleep or watching a movie.
The stewardesses begin passing out customs forms and she hands one to Calvin and one to me, but we only need one. I assumed he would fill it out, but his lack of attention to it signaled that maybe I should do this so we’re not trying to address it when its time to deboard the plane. I fill out what I can and flip to the back where you list the stuff you bought and its worth. Of course we came under the $800 duty free limit, but I’m quite sure we spent more than what we put on the paper. I hand the form to Calvin for him to verify the amount we spent and to fill in info that he had knowledge of. I turn on a movie for Titus and pull out the laptop to do a little more journalling. It didn’t last as long as I would have liked but I got some in. I’m getting uncomfortable and my ankles are beyond swollen. My calves feel tight and all I want to do is get off the plane. There are only a few hours left in the flight. A few too many for me.
We finally land in San Francisco and make our way to customs. I’m grateful for the friendly faces at 10:00 at night. We go to the baggage claim and stand in front of the first carousel. After a few minutes I decide to walk a little to get this fluid moving in my legs. As I pace the area, I notice we’re standing at the wrong baggage carousel. We are all so ridiculously tired we didn’t even check to see which carousel was for our flight. We make our way over to the correct carousel, retrieve our bags and head to the part of returning to the U.S. that we were all a little nervous about.
Remember that 5 star French restaurant down the back alley? Well if you recall they gave us jam as a gift for dining at the restaurant. My brother was convinced that he would not be able to get the jam through customs, so much so that he was trying to make us take all of the jam. I made him take one. He was also concerned about getting knockoffs confiscated. Well, here’s how security at customs went:
Security guy: Do you all have any foods from out of the country?
Me: We have some jam.
Security Guy: That should be fine. Do you have any fresh foods or foods they served you on the plane?
Security Guy: Are you all connecting to another flight.
Security Guy: Which one?
Us: US Airways
Security Guy: I think that door is still open, go over the right and that’ll take you to connecting flights.
And just like that, we were done with customs. Didn’t even have to put our bags on the scanner. I probably should have shared that I had tea leaves, but those might have drawn security dogs as they could easily pass for an illegal substance. But its legal, I had some at the 5 star restaurant, which led me to buy it when we were at Silk Street.
We find our way around to the ticketing counters and they are all closed. TJ missed his flight because ours was delayed, so my mom was able to get his changed. I got on the phone to see if we could get ours moved up as there was one leaving at 6 am, the same one my brother was able to get. But the wonderful lady on the other end of the phone (and by wonderful I mean totally not wonderful), was unable to find an earlier flight for us. It’s too late to get a hotel and try to get back over here for a morning flight, so we decide to camp out at the airport, the story of the day.
We setup camp in front of the US Airways counter. Everyone is hungry so TJ goes one direction looking for an open spot, I go to security to see if we can use our boarding pass to get into the terminal for food then come back out. Nothing was open in TJ’s direction and the security staff informed me that everything in the terminal security was closed. The only thing open 24hrs is Subway which was in another terminal. So Calvin has the idea to have pizza delivered to us. I tell him as long as they can deliver here, lets give it a try.
Day 9 – October 25, 2013: I think I can, I think I can
Locations: San Francisco, CA, Phoenix, AZ, KCMO
This day starts at 12am with me in a public restroom in San Francisco trying to get myself cleaned up and into a fresh pair of clothes, I felt yucky. My husband ordered pizza, yes, we had pizza delivered to the terminal, and by time I was done in the restroom, pizza was here and I was ready to eat. Papa John’s, yummy as always. Everyone sat around and shot the breeze on their computers, Leapster or DS. By 1:30 am, everyone was tired of shooting the breeze, and we decided to have the boys settle down and do something quiet or go to sleep. Of course the night owl Isaiah, plays his DS, while Titus, after some stern intervention, falls asleep. Uncle TJ beat everyone to Snoozeville. I on the other hand, am typing. I’m so eager to get my story typed up and pictures in the right place. I’ve got all weekend to sleep, and I’d rather do that than type.
The ticketing counter finally opens and we all get checked in. We make our way through security and head for the gate. TJ’s flight leaves at 6am, ours at 9:15 from the same gate. TJ’s boarding time comes and we all give hugs and goodbyes and our quintet is reduced to only team Robertson. Titus has been sleeping since 1:30 minus the trip through security and the walk to the gate. Isaiah is playing hard. I finally tell him, about an hour before we board, that he needs to wind down and go to sleep. He fights me a little, but doesn’t take long to fall asleep, hard.
Its time to board and of course Isaiah is difficult to arouse. He’s able to walk and that’s all we need right now. We’re able to check one of our bags at the gate as the flight is very full, this will help us on the remainder of the trip, less bags to manage. We board our flight and get everyone seated. The gentleman in my row is very kind to assist us getting settled and then is also very kind to talk my ear off prior to take-off. We all sleep through this 2 hr flight to Phoenix. Once again, Isaiah is difficult to arouse. We get him up enough to walk off the plane. Our first stop is the bathroom for the boys and then we begin walking to our gate. We chose to stand on the moving walkway for a portion of our hike to the gate. Isaiah is in front and apparently he laid his head down on the handrail and fallen asleep while we were standing on the walkway. So imagine what happens next? The walkway comes to an end, he falls over like a tree that’s just be cut down and the contents of his backpack fall all over the floor. I try to get him up, but because we’re on a moving walkway, a trampling situation begins to unfold before my eyes. My husband first then the people behind us, everyone trying to avoid the person in front of them, not aware of the person on the floor. Calvin and I are able to get Isaiah up and grab his things and no one is hurt. Calvin’s pissed as he swiftly walks away from the scene. I can’t help but laugh at the thought of this kid falling on the ground. Isaiah and I take the next moving walkway in order to catch up with his swift-walking dad. We walk on the moving walkway this time as not to fall asleep while on it. I’m still laughing. That was funny right there. Especially under the tense, jet-lagged conditions.
We park at gate A6 which is printed on our tickets. But I can’t help but be suspicious of a gate change because they are announcing them left and right over the intercom. I walk over to the monitor and sure enough, our flight is now leaving from A4. At least it wasn’t A30. We board the plane. I express to Calvin that we should try to keep everyone awake so we can begin overcoming this jet lag. No sooner than we are off the ground, I turn back to him and Titus and both are sleep. So I give up trying to keep Isaiah awake, and I fall asleep as well. This flight was almost as bad as the overseas flights. I couldn’t get comfortable in my seat and my swollen legs were talking to me. I stood a few times, trying to do something that would make me feel better, but this was futile. We finally made our final descend into Kansas City. As the wheels hit the ground I say thank you to God.
We exit the plane and head to the terminal. Titus runs ahead of us, so excited to be off the plane. I put in my phone call to our ride home who is in route to pick us up. All of our luggage made it to the U.S. undamaged. Calvin walks over from the carousel with all of our luggage and tells the family to huddle up. Everyone puts their hand in the center and on the count of three we all say “Team Robertson!” and lift our united hands to the sky. Wow! The Robertsons went to China. I’m thankful to God for pushing us and trusting us with such a responsibility as travelling outside of our borders. After a combined 50 hours of travel time, 8 cities (including the ones we had layovers in), and successful navigation of a foreign subway system, I deem the Robertsons, International Travelers!