Friday, January 02, 2009

Great fun on the Great Wall

Lulled by years of warm weather here, the kids have long clamored for snow and ice. We finally caved to the pressure and took everyone to Beijing in late December. While we only had a dusting of snow there, we had plenty of cold weather days. In fact, we were in Beijing on the coldest day there in 50 years!

Buffered by Hong Kong's heat and humidity and plenty of borrowed winter gear, we pushed onward and saw the sites and loved it. The general word here is that now is a great time to see Beijing. Post- Olympics but not too far post, things are cleaned up and organized. Beijing looked great to us. Mammoth and sprawling but without the sky high construction we have in Hong Kong. In Beijing, we could actually drive out of the city and be in someplace rural, where that never happens in Hong Kong. Beijing definitely reminded us of Eastern Europe around the edges.

One day we drove out to Mutianyu to see the Great Wall. There we took a T-bar lift to the top, with Tori screaming with joy, “I had no idea the Great Wall would be so dangerous!” I really did not either, and that was just the ascent. We wandered around on the wall, amazed at it all. Though we were told vastly varying numbers, a tour guide with an Indonesia group said convincingly that the wall was over 6,000 kilometers long and took over 2,000 years to build, roughly from the 7th century B.C to the 17th century A.D. To get off the wall, we took a sled of sorts down a long winding metal slide. We needed one adult per kid, so Phil and I went with the girls and a worker went with Adam. In all cases, the kids were pushing the lever for faster while the adults were frantically pulling on the brakes. We emerged with the kids thrilled and us just plain scared.

We were lucky enough to see many of Beijing’s main sites, including the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City. We would typically do something major out in the cold and then dive into the nearest museum. On one cold day, we ended up in the Natural History Museum of Beijing.

While we stood outside in the cold and tried to pay, we finally realized it was free. With our English language headsets, we wandered around, warm, for hours, getting the Chinese take on dinosaurs. We noticed young children, speaking dramatically with hand gestures throughout the museum and thought they were studying for an exam. Later, we learned that the kids were practicing for their work as docents. Little kids Tori’s age were dressed in museum uniforms and leading groups of adults through the museum. Our own kids were shocked to see the Chinese kids in positions of semi- authority. Our kids all thought they knew enough about dinosaurs to fill the job but didn’t think their Chinese was ready yet. We could not help but applaud the nascent American bravo in Beijing. Phil and I could barely order food but the kids are ready to go to work.


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