Our trip home was long and hard and beautiful and funny. After our last bullet train ride back to Beijing from Xi’an we had another “Cabbies at the Train Station” experience. Augmented by the little detail that none of us actually knew what hotel we were going to back in Beijing. I sincerely apologized to Cam and Ben about this. Fortunately Tina realized she had the info on her phone. You see, on an adoption trip there are highly skilled professionals who walk you through things like getting you from a train station to a hotel. They pick you up with a licensed professional driver. They know where you’re supposed to go. They check you into your hotel, and even make sure you know how to get food and water. All you have to do is follow them around like little ducks and Life is Grand! That’s a good thing too, because you’re busy with a new family member, who himself has quite a bit on his plate! I can’t imagine trying to do that on the trip we just took!
Anyway, there may have been a few points along the way that could have gone smoother if either Tina or I had thought through every little thing like this. It all worked out, and after wrestling our bags out of one taxi and into two others, we made it to the right hotel at about 11:00 PM. Room Service, listed in the service guide as “Open Till Midnight”, was closed. So we ate in the bar where children were welcome. While we waited for our last meal in China, the four adults sipped our beers while Kai and Shen rocked out on the dance floor of the Warp 8 Club.
We were up at 5 for our shuttle to the airport and began the long slog back through 4 airports, countless security checks, two 2-hour layovers, airplane food, airport food, Customs and Immigrations, and finally back to Beautiful, Little, Bellingham!
I enjoyed writing this little blog and I’d like to thank the people who made it possible. Traveling with these people made the blog write itself…
There are these 2 guys, who are truly Travelers Extraordinaire! They kept up on a trip that was NOT built for 9 and 10 year olds! They marched through China at an adult pace and were wonderful traveling companions. I cannot say how impressed I am by them.
*This photo by the way, was taken at the Tokyo airport after midnight at the bar and a 5 AM wake-up call. They’re carrying their own luggage and voluntarily smiling. Amazing!
And these two guys. Cam and Ben were SO HELPFUL on this trip. I can’t imaging having done it without them! Fantastic guys to hang out with anywhere, and Most Excellent Traveling Companions! If I where to go on an extreme team building challenge course, these are the guys I want on my team. Truly the Best Big Brothers in the World! They both made sacrifices to come on this trip with us, and I can’t say what a gift it was to have them with us.
But mostly, I want to thank my beautiful wife Tina, the person who really made this trip happen. She arranged all the Big Stuff, and worked really hard to keep everyone happy, even when I was determined to turn the trip into a reenactment of The Long March. She endured two weeks of extreme travel with 5 Guys. Yes, alone in China for two weeks with nobody but men and boys. She is Totally Awesome! And I must say, I love Her Most of All.
We’ve done really well with getting around on our own. On our adoption trips we were constantly herded by guides and we were so clueless about how things worked in China that we did very little adventuring on our own. Not to mention that the last time we were in Xi’an, Tina and I had two strollers loaded with a three-year-old and a four-year-old. On this trip we’ve mastered the subway systems and the boys have the stamina for long hikes through the urban craziness. All 6 of us have learned the Chinese system of crossing streets into oncoming traffic. I confess I have flinched a couple times and stopped cold thinking I was going to be hit. This causes the on-coming driver to stop and it mungs the whole system up.
Yesterday we hired a driver to take us out to the Terra Cotta Warriors Museum. It’s about an hour outside the city. He dropped us in the parking lot and indicated we needed to be back in two hours. We headed toward the ticket gate where we were swarmed by English speaking guides offering their services. They were baffled by our refusal to take them up on this. “The site is Very, Very Large!” they warned us. They clearly had no idea of the terrain we’ve covered so far on this trip. I had some travel books on my phone, and Tina and I had both been here before. We set out undaunted and had no problem hitting all the major sites. I was able to tell the boys the major parts of the story, and there’s English signage with lots of information. There were times when I was reading the signs and I’d hear tour guides paraphrasing the content to their groups. We enjoyed being able to take it at our own pace, and were back to our van right on time.
Oh, I forgot another fun little side story from yesterday. First thing in the morning before taking off, Cam and I trekked a half-mile to the closest Bank of China to see if we could access funds there without our ATM card. While we waited for the bank to open, we visited with a nice man who had taken his pet songbird out for a morning bike ride. We admired his pretty little bird in its bamboo cage and chatted briefly until we depleted both our Chinese and his English. At 9:00 Sharp, uniformed guards unlocked the bank’s doors, and as we entered, the neatly uniformed employees all lined up on either side of the doors, men on our left, women on the right. “Ni Hao.” they all said as they bowed deeply and a fanfare blared over the loudspeakers. Turned out that no card equaled no funds, but we did get to see the bank’s Daily Opening Ceremony. Very Impressive, but of no help to us.
When we got back from the Terra Cotta Warriors we went to our room and snacked a bit before heading out to explore some more. We wanted to go to the big dumpling restaurant we’d gone to on our trip to adopt Shen. It’s right by our hotel, and we got there about 4 PM. They told us the fancy upstairs part wasn’t going to open till 5. Some of us weren’t that hungry yet, so I was able to convince everyone that we should walk to a Taoist temple called Ba Xi’an An, The Temple of the 8 Immortals. It’s just outside the East Gate of the City Wall. I’d asked the guide who had assisted with the orphanage visit if it was walkable and she said maybe about 20 minutes. Now the South gate is just a short walk from the Bell Tower where we’re staying, so how far could the East Gate be? I mean, the Bell Tower is almost in the exact center. Well, the City Wall is rectangular, not square, so as it turns out, the East Gate is a much more impressive walk. To be fair, our walk probably didn’t have to take quite so long, but our guide-less system does have one little flaw: it involves a fair bit of back-tracking and serpentine routing. But hey, you get see a lot more stuff this way! We made it back to the dumpling restaurant 3 hours later! I assure you that the saying, “A good appetite is the best spice.” is definitely true! The meal we ordered had a huge array of things I’d usually pass over, but we plowed through those 18 courses with ease!
So, back to this morning. We still needed to cram in a couple more outings. So after arguing with the desk staff over the ATM card one last time, we headed out to see the City Wall. We entered at the South Gate, again, an easy walk. Once on the wall we rented bikes, two singles and two doubles. There were few tourists up there this morning and the weather was great. In fact the weather has been great pretty much the whole trip. We didn’t have time to ride the whole 14km loop, but had a wonderful time riding around on the bumpy brick surface. Then we headed down to the Muslim district one last time in an effort to rid ourselves of remaining cash. We ran out of time way sooner than we ran out of cash. We almost lost Ben, but found him on the way back to the hotel to collect our luggage before heading off to the train station.
The 4 adults proceeded to get into an argument over how best to get to the train station. The desk clerk had recommended the subway, which sounded good to me, but the others maintained that a pair of taxis would be simpler. The bell-hop helping us with our luggage settled it for us when he said there was no way we were going to get a taxi to take us out there. And as it turns out, even with all our luggage the subway was really easy. It leaves from underneath the Bell tower right in front of the hotel and takes you straight to the train station in 30 minutes. One of the few times I’ve been correct on this trip regarding travel directions!
And now the photos…
Street Food in the Muslim District
Making Fantastic Seed and Nut Candy
Shopping for Chinese New Year Outfits. They did not want to take these off!
The Magic Shop the family rushed me through.
Found the Electric Scooter I REALLY Want!!
In the Ancient Mosque. So quiet and peaceful.
Hao Bao Bao! A VERY Cute Baby, whose Nai-Nai was only too happy to let me take his picture.
A Street Game of Chinese Chess.
Found the Fire Station.
A pair of school boys - reminds me of some other guys I know.
The Bird Man Cam & I Met at the Bank
Hangin’ in the family suite, watching sports on the TV
Do you know this trick? I’m too cheap to buy a corkscrew, so while in Xi’an I uncorked 4 bottles of wine with my sneaker!
At the Terra Cotta Warriors Museum - No Queue!
Shen Liked the Horses Best!
Each Face is Different.
Look at the detail of the hair
At the Temple of The 8 Immortals
Biking on the City Wall
One last shot of The Bell Tower from our Hotel Room Window
After a while a young Chinese guy approached them and started up a “conversation”. Well, he spoke no English so it wasn’t really a conversation, but he certainly seemed to want something from them. They tried blowing him off but he persisted. Lucky for them, as what he wanted was for them to join him with some girls at one of the fancy reserved tables! It was well stocked with expensive cognac and some kind of high-octane punch!
Ben taught the guy and his friends to “fist-bump” which he enjoyed doing repeatedly, and insisted each one be followed by a chest-bump.
The clubs in Beijing stay open all night so by the time they were ready to head back there weren’t too many cabs keen on picking up a couple of young foreigners. Most of the cabs they managed to flag down weren’t much help. As it turns out the address/business card they had for the hutong house we were staying in were Cabbie Kryptonite. Drivers took one look at that address and sped away. Fortunately they eventually found a driver who was willing to get them there, or in the neighborhood anyway. They found their way from the main road in time to grab some fresh fry bread from our favorite spot in the Hutong as the sun was coming up.
One of the Clubs
A Rich-Kid Justin Bieber Wannabe holding court at a very trendy table
Another Trendy Club With Bikini DJ’s
Ben Cutting it Up on Stage
They met other party-goers from all over the world including Sweden, South Africa, and Czech Republic
Ocheltree Boys Like it Loud!
We gave our business to the first rogue cabbies that snagged us in the train station and let them take us to our hotel. We would have preferred to have found someone with a van we could all fit in as we all are very leery of doing the double cab thing. We had a bad experience in Guangzhou when adopted Kai. We took two cabs to a temple and after paying one cabbie I went to pay the other, and the first one took off with our backpack and stroller in his trunk. Both Cam and Ben did not want to see that go down with all our belongings, so we quickly formed a game plan: someone was to stay in each cab until everything was unloaded. Of course we had no problem, and everything was fine.
Racing through the Beijing train station.
Our Bullet Train to Xi’an
A fellow passenger: this little guy came to visit - he’s 4. Very mouthy with his mother. This was the only smile he’d give me for the camera.
On our hunt for the grocery store we saw a card game in progress that seemed pretty interesting to the locals
In front of the Drum Tower
Juno’s cousin in China - working the tourist crowd for treats!
In the Muslim district down the street - VERY NOISY!!
View of the Bell Tower from Kai and Shen’s bedroom window
I just want to go on record here again to say I Love This Family! We Totally Rocked This City!
6 days in Beijing is not enough time. I had a huge list of things to do, and I’m afraid we only scratched the surface. We have been on the go almost the whole time we’ve been here though, and have had a great time!
When we got here everything was SO confusing. We got lost several times the first few days and it was very nerve-wracking! Now, after a few days we are all laughing at ourselves for getting completely lost a couple blocks from from our hutong house. At the beginning of the week we were constantly telling Kai and Shen to stay right at our side. By the end of the week we were letting them run way ahead on there own, they knew where they were going and we knew they were safe. People here have been very kind and helpful. By staying where we have, we’ve been able to meet and visit with people from Australia, Ireland, the UK, Germany and different parts of China. Tomorrow we leave early for Xi’an on the bullet train. Now I’ll post a bunch of pictures and try to caption a few of them…
The stairs to the rooftop balcony at our hutong…
Our room number. Two 8’s - Very Auspicious!
Moon Festival on the rooftop…
Touring the Temple of Heaven…
The Exercise Park at Temple of Heaven…
They make paths with stones set in them to walk on - it’s supposed to stimulate your brain. These ones were flat river rocks set on end, very challenging! The guy in front of me was doing pretty brisk laps. I did my best to keep up with him, he smiled and gave me an encouraging thumbs up!
We did not care much for our forced excursions to the Jade Factory or the Pearl Factory, but we did find a place all 4 boys really enjoyed…
Kai and Shen found knock-off Lego...
Cam and Ben found knock-off Beats by Dr. Dre and lasers!
Ben inspected the fire suppression equipment...
Probably the most popular form of transportation we’ve seen here in the hutong has been these little electric scooters. Between these and the wonderful subway system we’ve been using all week, it appears the people here are really making efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.
As you leave the hutong and head out onto the main street we pass dozens of these trophy shops all in a row. There must be lots of Winners in Beijing!
We became regular customers of this fried bread shop. This girl is going to miss us when we’re gone.
Cam is having sinus trouble so we found a pharmacy. These girls worked really really hard telling us how many times a day to take the medicine we bought!
Kai killing time on his daily subway commute...
We trekked to the “Bird and Fish Market” a pet shop complex with all kinds of exotic stock…
Our last lunch in Beijing...
A few more pictures from around the hutong…
Dogs are Very popular in the hutong...
While the one-child policy has skewed the ratio of boys vs. girls dramatically, here in Beijing we’ve seen lots and lots of little girls, it seems almost more than boys!
This looked like one of the most popular breakfast spots in our neighborhood, but we couldn’t figure out what to order, and were intimidated by the long lines!
On a rooftop in the hutong,
with jasmine tea and moon cakes,
Together with my family,
We gaze upon the perfect roundness of this moon,
the largest, most full moon of the year.
Its beautiful light fills the sky,
and my heart with love for my family.
I think of our extended family back home.
When they see the moon,
it is the same moon we see,
and across the thousand miles,
we are connected.
*One of my biggest hopes for this trip was that we would be able to see the moon on Moon Festival while in Beijing. The weather has been very humid. We’ve had light sprinkles and a few downpours as well, but amazingly, we’ve been able to see the moon every evening we’ve been here. This is a photo I took from the rooftop balcony of our hutong as we celebrated the day with our hosts, and the other guests staying here in the hostel.
Our main destination was the Mutianyu section of The Great Wall. On the way there they took us to a jade “factory”. We’ve been subjected to one of these before. They give you a short demonstration about jade, you see a couple artisans behind a glass window working on jade…
then are led into a VERY well staffed shop filled with amazing jade pieces - all with amazing prices.
The clerks follow you around and try to hard-sell you the stuff. Fortunately it wasn’t a long stop, and they had nice western toilets there.
From here we were taken to the Ming Tombs. We’ve wanted to go here since seeing Big Bird Goes To China 8 years ago. It was a large park like area, very beautiful and quiet.
Unfortunately the tour was pretty fast paced, walking us quickly through one of the open tombs. It was very impressive, but at the clip we were pushed through it the experience was somewhat underwhelming. We also didn’t get to see the stone animal sculptures we really wanted to see.
But from here our day trip greatly improved! First, we had an AWESOME driver who pushed the coach we were in like a NASCAR driver! We were on a very windy road up into the mountains. He drove that thing fast and hard. He was an expert at passing too. Oncoming traffic meant nothing to this guy, and if it didn’t look like he was going to be able to get around someone on the left, he had no problem using the shoulder and passing on the right! It was just like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride! Amazingly we killed No One as we sped through small villages, brushed past other busses so close their passengers seemed to be sitting next to you and stared down the headlights of car after car!
Our Fearless Driver...
We had lunch at an “authentic” family style Chinese restaurant just outside the park section of The Great Wall. The food was actually American style Chinese food, but Kai and Shen both loved it, and we were glad to have them filled up before we heading up the wall.Our family shared a table with a woman named Anna from Australia who was traveling alone. We struck up a conversation with her and made a new friend. She was quite charmed by the boys, especially Shen, who was pouring it on pretty thick!
This section of the wall has ski-lift style gondola chairs they use to transport you up to the top of the mountain where you can explore a section of the wall. The weather has remained pretty humid, but it did not rain on us. The misty clouds surrounding us made the green forested mountain we were on seem very magical and mysterious! We climbed incredibly steep flights of uneven steps and enjoyed exploring on our own. There is a toboggan style sled sled track you can ride down, but it was closed today due to the weather so we took the gondolas back down. We all enjoyed this outing very much. Going back down the mountain, our driver was even more amazing than before and totally made up for missing out on the toboggan ride!
Kai and Shen with our new friend Anna from Australia...
On the way back we were supposed to visit a silk “factory” - another jade “factory” style shopping/hostage situation, but our guide changed it up and took us to pearl “factory” instead because someone on the coach asked about seeing the 2008 Olympics complex and the pearl factory was right there. Our guide seemed eager to get home for Moon Festival, so she asked us if it was okay to leave us there and have us get back to the hutong on the subway. That sounded great to us, as we were much happier to be exploring on our own, so she pointed us to Olympics complex, told us what subway to take back and set us loose. We started down the street, but got a bit confused as to how to get to the plaza outside the Bird’s Nest. We were getting tired, and Kai and Shen were getting hungry. After a few wrong turns we almost gave up on it, but then figured it out and got onto the big public square where you can see the stadium. We wandered around looking at the crap souvenirs, bought water and snapped pics. Then the most amazing thing happened. Tina heard someone call her name. She turned around, and there was our friend from Bellingham, Ellen Yang!
Ellen is the founder and one of the teachers at Mei Hua Chinese School where the boys go on Sunday afternoons. We knew that we would be in Beijing at the same time but she is staying with a very large group on the outskirts of town and though we had talked about trying to meet up on this trip, we had no way to contact one another. And then suddenly, completely unplanned, we wandered into one another in the middle of a city of 20 million people! How amazing is that?!? We only had time to visit for a minute, but we were all just stunned. I still can’t believe it!
At this point we were starting to fade, and Kai was turning into a bear! We needed to find fast familiar food, and quick! I figured there must be western fast food around this place somewhere, so we headed in the direction of the subway and managed to find a McDonalds. Yay! And where do you find a McDonalds in Beijing? All over really, but this one was in Chinatown. Yes, Chinatown, the least Chinese place we’ve been in China so far.
Refueled, we all became better people and we headed out in search of the Subway. It took a little wondering about, but we found it easily enough. Unfortunately, stupid Lao Wei we are, had gotten Fuxingmen station and Fuchengmen stations mixed up, so we boarded the wrong train. We figured it out pretty quickly, Thank goodness Cam is here, he’s great at public transit! We had to cruise through about 10 stations on the wrong train before we could transfer to a different train, then transfer again to get where we were going.
While riding the subway I noticed a young woman watching a video on her phone with earbuds and laughing. I looked to see what she was watching and it was The Big Bang Theory! I tapped her on the shoulder and she looked up. I knocked on the subway window: knock knock knock, “Penny!” knock knock knock, “Penny!” She cracked up and spoke a little English with us.
We exited the subway on an unfamiliar platform wandered around a bit on the big city streets before finding someone who could point us to our hutong. Once we were back in our twisty little alleyways we felt much more comfortable! Kai and Shen finished their night watching Jackie Chan’s 1978 film, Drunken Master on the iPad.
Cam and Ben still had not had enough so they headed out to find a giant techno nightclub called Coco Banana. It’s 6:00 AM as I write this so I don’t know if they made it back yet or not.
The rain didn’t seem to stop the rest of China from coming along with us either. The place was packed! The umbrella and poncho venders were having a Great Day!
Kai was really really really not interested in touring, and did a great job of making sure we all knew it! We had many offers from English speaking locals to be our tour guides but we opted to take it on our own. Tina and I had been there 8 years ago with Cam and Ben, so we knew a lot about the sites already. The rain, the crowds, and our little reluctant tourist made the day a bit challenging, but we pressed on and really did have a fun time.
A lot of Tiananmen was cordoned off, couldn’t tell why, but it was. The Forbidden City is really big, and even skimming through it, as we did, meant quite a bit of walking. We entered from the south and proceeded through all the main courtyards to the north. When we exited, we only knew how to get back to the hutong the way we came, so we walked back around the outside of the Forbidden city back to the subway station. Funny enough, once we got out of the amazing and beautiful historical/cultural sites and onto the Beijing city streets (where the sidewalks were all torn up for renovation and we had to walk in the streets into oncoming traffic) Kai’s mood infinitely improved!
We got back to the hostel and the boys played ping-pong with the girl who works at the desk.
I was too tired to blog last night, and I’m posting this before we head out on a big organized tour to the Great Wall and Ming Tombs. We will also be dragged on some forced shopping outings: Friendship store, Jade Factory, etc. So any way, here are some pictures from Tuesday:
Check out the Photo Bomber to the right of Tina!
The door to Cam and Ben’s room in the Hostel
The door to the suite Tina, me and and Kai and Shen are staying in
The courtyard outside our rooms
The hostel’s turtle - very popular with Kai and Shen
How to get the ping pong balls out of the koi pond.
Things got a little rocky before we got out of town. As soon as we completed our online checkin on Saturday, we got an automated phone call letting us know the flight had been delayed 2 hours. This meant we would not be leaving Seattle until 10:30 PM which put us into Beijing at 2:00 AM Monday morning. Tina and I were stressing out about this, because we needed to catch a ride to the train station in Beijing at 8:15 AM. We got to the hostel where we’re staying at about 3 in the morning. Jet lag and adrenaline made it a hard to sleep, but we all went to bed and caught a few winks before starting out.
Tina and I were both up at 6 and the boys weren’t far behind us. Cam and Ben and I headed out into the hutong to find some water and then we all had a breakfast of snack food and stuff we had brought with us. I will write more about the hostel we’re staying in, and the surrounding hutong district later, but will say that we are all quite pleased with where we’re staying, and we’re certain to have some very interesting times here.
Our plan for Monday, was to take the bullet train to Baoding and connect with a bit of Kai’s personal history. The hostel owner had arraigned a van driver and had pre-purchased our train tickets for us. Considering our schedule, this was VERY helpful. We got dropped off at the station and managed to find our train on our own.
Beijing Train Station
The station was VERY busy! Lot’s of people. It looked like maybe many of them were traveling for Moon Festival, but it’s hard to know for sure. We only saw a couple westerners.
Many Many People!
The train was very fast. They display the speed inside the cars and we say it hit 305km/h, which is almost 190mph! In Baoding one flew threw the station while we were standing on the platform and it was quite startling! They are very quiet, but move VERY fast!! I wish I could have video-taped it but it was almost gone before it got there!
In Baoding our friend Bob met us at the train station.
Kai and Bob
He had a van and driver for us too. He took us to the other train station in Baoding.
Baoding Train Station
Here we met Zhao Hui, the train station police-woman who had found Kai. We weren’t sure what to expect here, but it was pretty amazing.
We were led upstairs to the top floor of the train station, then into a very formal boardroom.
At the Police Station
They served us green tea, Kai kept them busy refilling his cup They were very friendly with us and shared what they could recall of Kai’s finding. Then they presented Kai with a beautiful gift of Baoding medicine balls and a lovely calligraphy ink stone.
Zhao Hui presents gift to Kai
After the railway visit, Bob took us to lunch at The Monkey King restaurant we had been to on the trip to adopt Shen. Shen, Cam and Ben had not been there before so it was something new for them. The outside of restaurant is styled to look like Flower-Fruit Mountain and a golden Monkey King is perched upon it. Inside we had private “cabin” room where we ate lunch with Bob and our driver. We lost count of the dishes we had served. It was quite the feast! We even tried a bit of donkey, a dish Baoding is famous for!
After lunch Bob took us on a quick trip to visit Kai’s orphanage. We were on a pretty tight schedule as Bob had to be back in Shijaizhuang to help an adoptive family who was receiving their child that day. The directors at the orphanage were very gracious and happy to see Kai. They wanted to know if he spoke any Chinese and asked him to demonstrate some Chinese calligraphy. Considering the poor boy’s schedule over the last 36 hours he did remarkably well! We are very proud of him. They showed us around outside a little, but did not let us see any of the children living there. We were hoping to take photographs for some waiting families we know through the internet but that was not allowed this visit.
Kai with SWI Director
At the SWI
We returned to the train station and got our own police escort through ticketing and to the platform. We got back to the Beijing train station and found an independent cabbie with a van - I was too exhausted to remember I should negotiate the fair, so I’m sure we over-paid. His colleagues at the platform all were joking with him about landing a huge group of Lao Wei. He almost got us back to the hutong house, but couldn’t quite figure out the last couple blocks. At this point he just stopped, blocking the alleyway/street and began some sort of attempt at communicating through pantomime with Ben who was riding shotgun. Money was involved in his efforts to communicate, but he didn’t seem to want any money. Something about a coin? Non of us could follow. finally he made a phone call, then got Ben to follow him down and around the corner. They shortly returned with the desk clerk from the hostel. Apparently he couldn’t figure out the last bit of the route. You’ll understand why when I post about our neighborhood. We managed to stay up till about 8:00 then finally crashed.
It was a very busy day, and we all felt we had accomplished quite a bit. Tuesday we will become tourists in Beijing and see what we can find!
Strike that. Reverse it!