Out of Shape and 4’10”

Our whirlwind trip to Beijing is over and we’re now safely ensconced in our hotel room in Handan where we’ll spend the next 12 days. It’s hard to grasp that the trip is half over – both because it seems like there’s so much left to see and because it feels like we’ve been here so long already.

We arrived in Beijing on Friday night and drove directly to the far-famed Silk Market. “Far-famed” refers not to the quality of its wares as much as it does to its infamous reputation as being THE place for visiting Westerners to buy souvenirs. We were told that it is absolutely fine to barter, and that you should always propose a price approximately 40% lower than asking. I’m not a fantastic negotiator, and although I didn’t buy much that first night, I know for a fact that I got swindled on at least one item. Still! Mementos are mementos, and I’m excited to pass out the few gifts I’ve accumulated when I get back.

The next day was a full-on sightseeing extravaganza. We were up at 7 AM to head to Tiananmen Square, which I learned is the largest public square in the world, and its name means something like “Gate of Heavenly Peace.” It’s definitely an impressive structure, and there are tributes to Mao Zedong all over (including his tomb, if you should so wish to pay your respects), but there wasn’t much to ogle aside from the interesting architecture of the gate itself.

We headed next to the Forbidden City which was far more fascinating of a study. The Forbidden City was the home of the emperors during the Ming and Ching dynasties. Only the emperor, his family, and select officials were allowed entrance, and when I say that the compound is massive, I am not being hyperbolic. We walked for two hours and we still didn’t see all of it! There are buildings for just about every life event: the hall for birthday ceremonies, the hall for sleeping, the hall for meetings and tea, etc. The buildings are all more or less in the same style, but what’s really impressive is that the carvings and the paint are still largely intact despite being hundreds of years old.

We were hustled out of the Forbidden City and shipped off for lunch at a Peking duck restaurant, and then we were off to the Summer Palace which was gorgeous, set on a beautiful river, and filled with gorgeous statues and engravings and gardens – almost none of which we got to see because the tour guide had only allotted us one hour to look around. One hour to see a structure that, by his own admission, would take 2 days to see properly! So that was disappointing. We ended the day at the Olympic Park (sight of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games) which was definitely the least impressive of the sights we saw that day.

Sunday was, for me, the highlight of this trip so far because I was able to cross one of the Seven Wonders of the World off of my bucket list. The Great Wall is truly amazing, and even though we only saw a very, very small piece of it, climbing that stretch of wall build six hundred years ago by people whose names are not even memories for most of us was absolutely awe-inspiring. It was also grueling: thus, the title of this blog post. Never have I felt so out-of-shape as I did climbing the hundreds of steps to the top of the Mutiang Great Wall, sweating literally pouring down my face and back. It also didn’t help that some of the steps were as high as my knee-cap. But I made it to the top, and what an experience!

We caught the high-speed train to Handan this afternoon after a brief, morning shopping trip, and we have a banquet to look forward to this evening to welcome us to our second and final teaching location. Most of us still have no idea how the next 10 days are going to work, but if it’s anything like the rest of my experience in China thus far, everything is going to fall into place in the end.

One final note: this opossum-lover could not have been more pleased to find out that one of my new coworkers not only recognized my opossum jaw-bone necklace, but he also collects opossum bones and thinks that they’re fabulous little animals. At last, a kindred spirit! It only took traveling halfway around the world to find him…

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