Before I get started, I have to tell you something. We really love China! Like, I smiled all day long because I love China so much. I am so thankful to have spent time in Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Las Vegas, etc. because honestly, Beijing feels a whole lot like those big cities! If there wasn't Mandarin written all over the buildings and signs, we wouldn't know we were on the compete opposite side of the world. :) We really have had the best day!
I spent about 30 minutes typing a post and just lost the entire thing. So, I think I will summarize the most important items in just a few sentences.
1. Our luggage didn't make it to China last night, but fortunately the driver we hired waited for us and got us safely and comfortably to our hotel.
2. We ordered room service (I had a club sandwich with chicken, pickles, and hard boiled eggs, while Ryan had a bacon cheeseburer). It was delicious!
3. I slept almost 10 hours (#kickingjetlagshiney), but Ryan only slept until 2:30 a.m.
There we go! Guess I spared you lots of details and time. Let's move onto today, shall we?
I woke up just before 6:00 a.m. feeling amazing! We grabbed showers, got ourselves organized, and walked down to the lobby. We requested a converter for the outlets, as we could not plug in our chargers, and it was sent to our room. We also attempted to call the airport to figure out if our bags had been locoated, but they didn't answer. Then, we exchaged USD for RMB for the days' tours. Finally, we sat down to enjoy our complimentary breakfast at the Novotel Beijing Xin Qiao where we are staying. For those of you coming to Beijing, I very highly recommend it!
The breakfast buffet puts to shame any continental breakfast I've ever had the pleasure to eat. Seriously, it was incredible. There were choices upon choices upon choices. I'll be sure to take other pictures tomorrow. This was just one small section of the buffet.
Here is a picture of what we ended up choosing:
The omelets were favorites for both of us, along with pineapple juice. tomorrow, we will need to eat much more - it was that delicious!! Ok, now onto the fun stuff.
We booked our tours through Private Guide Beijing, and I honestly cannot say enough good things about them! The driver last night was amazing, and our guide, Summer, was incredible today. It has been such a blessing to work with this company.
Summer met us in the lobby this morning at 9:00 a.m. Oh - before you judge us, please know that Ryan and I only had one set of clean clothes in our carry-ons...jeans and #runningtuckerhome shirts. So, not only were were standing our because we are American, but we also had on BRIGHT ORANGE T-SHIRTS that screamed, LOOK AT ME!!! Haha! Oh well, stuff like that makes great memories. Our driver pulled up, and we once again were super impressed by how smoothly our driver navigated the busy streets of Beijing. To an outsider, it probably looks like a crazy mess of cars, buses, bicycles, motorbikes, rickshaws, and pedestrians. However, if you look closely, you'll notice that somehow, in the heavy traffic, everything just seems to flow like a beautiful symphony. I did ask Summer if people on bicycles get hit very often, and he replied, "Yes, and then get rich." :)
Summer's English speaking abilities were very good. He studied English at University, and we really just adored this guy. He has a "yes face" and immediately put us at ease. We quickly learned that Summer as a 2 year old son, which you know we loved, and that although his apartment should maybe only take 50 minutes to get there, it actually takes him 2 hours by bus. Poor guy!! Do not take for granted your nice commutes to work! And along those lines, appreciate how clean our air is in the US. The people living in Beijing have to breathe very polluted air day in and day out. It feels much like I remember my throat feeling when I tried cigarettes. There is a slight burning feeling, but you get pretty used to it. I just popped a cough drop because my throat has had enough today, I think. Even in the hotel the air quality is not like it is in Indiana. We are blessed!
Our first stop was the Lama Temple. You can see some of the Monks below to the right in maroon clothes. Summer told us that in the past, Monks were not allowed to marry. Now they can marry and live outside the temple. The Lama Temple is a Buddist Temple built in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty. When first built, the emperors lived in this temple but then moved to the Forbidden City (which we will tour tomorrow). After leaving the grounds, the emperors allowed the buildings to be used as a place of worship.
As you can see, the grounds were so beautiful. The weather was perfect - the sun warm but the breeze cool. :) Buddism originated in India but soon moved into Tibet and then into other areas of China. Peace, harmony, helping others, harmony, and long life are important concepts in Buddism. Summer shared that many people in the older generations practice Buddism, while the younger generation seems to be practicing Christianity or Catholocism. I asked if people were very private about their faith or if they talked about it openly. Summer stated that in China, it is legal to talk about your religion, but you may not push it onto others.
The grounds themselves were beautiful! This particular walkway reminded me of Washington Park in NYC.
The various buildings at the Lama Temple looked much like these.
Summer shared that people will pray with 3 incense sticks to represent the past, present, and future. We observed many people doing just that. You could buy huge packs of incense on your way into the Temple.
These wheels above are prayer wheels. You spin them and pray for good luck.
Early in the morning, the monks can be found at these seats worshipping Budda. We saw offerings of bananas, apples, and other fruits. We learned that there are many different Buddas to represent the many different desires people have: happiness, widsom, medicine, long life, etc. Statues of mystical creatures with dragon heads could be found all over the Lama Temple, as the dragons are thought to bring protection. Summer explained that all Buddas are male. There is a Lady Budda, but it is actually a male Budda who borrowed the body of a woman. We saw many people praying to the Lady Budda in hopes of the conception of a male son or grandson.
Our next tour allowed us to visit a very old part of Beijing called the Hutongs (hoo-tongs). This area of Beijing is famous for its very narrow streets and walkways. People living in houses along the Hutongs must often walk to their homes, as the paths are just so narrow. We drove up in our car, hopped out, and quickly jumped on Rickshaws, Summer in one, and Ryan and I in the other. After pedaling the boys in a bike trailor, I have to be honest. I felt kinda bad asking these guys to pull us around! They didn't seem to mind, though. )
Below is a good picture of a Hutong. You might see a narrow alley like that, and then 4-5 homes might be along the path.
Summer took us to the home of this sweet couple. The woman is standing outside of her kitchen preparing chicken, as they were having a tour group coming through for lunch. She was very proud of the fountain you see just to the right. The kitchen was about the size of a hotel bathroom, just to give you some perspective. It was very clean, and we loved seeing their home.
This room is actually the main room of the house. They sleep, eat meals, watch television, etc. in this room. You can see how it is set up for guests visiting.
I love this shot of Summer talking with Ryan. Seriously, ask for this man if you book a tour in Beijing (Private Guide Beijing). He was just the nicest guy!
This is their daughter's room, which is a separate building from the house and from the kitchen. If you can imagine, the kitchen is the bottom of a "U" shape. This room was on the right side of the "U," and the main house was on the left side of the "U
The gentleman was showing us how to make dumplings (which is exactly what we ate for dinner tonight now that I think about it).
This is what happens when your luggage doesn't make it to China. Your hair gets thrown in a pony tail, you can't wear make-up, and you match your husband. :)
The Hutong tour ended, and we drove to the Temple of Heaven. This Temple is special because the emperor would visit this Temple to pray for good harvest in China. The picture below shows the south gate into the Temple of Heaven.
The Temple of Heaven reminded me a lot of stuff I have read in the Old Testament. Summer talked about making animal offerings and fruit offerings to the God of the Heavens when the Emperor was praying for good harvest. He shared that the animals would be burned in this particular area...
...and that the animals' blood would be poured into this well-like area. So Old Testament-like!
Luck is something of great importance in China, and so many things you see have special meaning that you may not know otherwise. We learned that there are 9 rings on each level because 9 is viewed as the ultimate number.
Ryan and I are standing on the Heart of the Heavenly Stone. The Emperor would stand near this area when praying for the harvest. We saw many people standing here in hopes of good luck. :)
Walking to the north, you can see more gates to get to a new area of the Temple of Heaven.
When entering many gates and buildings, you will see the raised panel in the doorway. You are not to stand on this panel, as it is disrespectful to do so. Stepping over this area in the doorway means that you are respecing what is taking place inside. The gold knobs/nails on the door are also in rows of nine (thought I have only pictured seven), and there are also 9 columns of them. Various tablets with writing are spread out throughout the different building at the Temple of Heaven.
The architecture is really beautiful here!
We saw a couple getting their wedding pictures taken...
...people exercising in the park...
...and school kids going on a field trip. There were hundreds upon hundreds of them.
At the end of this tour, Ryan was feeling particularly hungry. He had been up since 2:30 China time, and his stomach needed is favorite I'm-not-feeling-so-great food: McDonalds.
Thank goodness Ryan knows a few good phrases in Mandarin. The "Do you speak English?" phrase came in handy! The lady at the register did not and happily pulled out a picture menu for us. :) Unfortunately, Ryan's chicken was not too appetizing, but my double cheeseburger was fine. We went back to the hotel so that Ryan could try to take a quick nap before heading out for one last adventure that evening: The Chaoyang Acrobatic Show.
Summer and the driver picked us up at 4:00 p.m. to beat rush-hour traffic. Our show was to start at 5:15 p.m. Here are some interesting buildings we saw on the way over. See the one leaning? Summer said that an older woman called the police upon seeing this building because she thought it was falling over. :( So sweet and so sad at the same time. :)
Since our luggage had arrived, we actually were able to get dressed, and I happily put on make-up and did my hair. When we walked into the lobby of our hotel, Summer did not even recognize us at first. SO FUNNY! Amazing what some hair product and make-up can do for a girl. :)
Have I mentioned how much we liked our guide?
Inside the theatre...
We read on Trip Advisor that this attraction was #1 in Beijing, and it did not disappoint!!! Check out these wild pictures below.
Yes, that girl is jumping super high in the air!
This guy gave me such a scare! I had to watch with my hands covering my face, looking between my fingers. His mother must be scared to death watching him perform!! (Liam is totally going to apply for this job).
These guys were jumping through hoops. So awesome!!
These guys were doing some crazy things with straw hats, passing them around and taking them from each other. Very entertaining!
The ladies with spinning plates. Oh my goodness!!! How in the world?? We believe they are really NOT connected to the sticks because we saw one girl drop them at the very end, and they call flew apart. This was wild to see the women bending over backwards, and moving their bodies without dropping the plates.
Oh my...I hope Tucker is not a climber, or we are in trouble! I see this in our future if he is. Yes, they climbed both down and up those stairs!!! I again had my hands over my eyes.
Seriously, bicycles on stage? Riding in a row?? My poor Liam can't even keep his training wheels on the sidewalk. This was crazy...
...and only got crazier...
...and then peaked at this madness. Yes, there are ELEVEN women on that ONE bicycle.
Oh, but of course the boys have to top the girls. You guys, this metal cage was empty until a guy on a motorbike started driving inside. He went around and around and upside down. Then two guys were in there. Then three. Then four. And five and six and seven and eight. IT WAS INSANE!! I was totally terrified.
What a finale!! We were super impressed by this show. I bought a Christmas ornament to hang on our tree, and we went outside to find our driver. Summer had already gone home to his family, so we rode quietly back to our hotel with huge smiles on our faces. We had fallen in love with China. We ended the night with dumplings near a huge shopping mall by our hotel. They were delicious!
Ryan fell asleep a couple hours ago, and I need to do the same. I can't wait to venture out tomorrow again. It is our last full day in Beijing, and then Sunday we are off to Chongqing. #onestepcloser