We are safely home in Charlottesville. Adventure in Asia, check. Though I’m certain everyone is tired of looking at our blog, we’ll be doing one or two final entries with thoughts on China and on traveling as a family. Stay tuned and be in touch!
Chengdu has so much to offer – lovely teahouses, delicious Szechuan food, pandas, and close proximity to mountains and to Tibet. Compared to other Chinese cities of its size (16 million), it has a relatively low carbon footprint. But it is also an inland, landlocked city. Economic development is more of a struggle, and pollution is made worse by its geography. We had to laugh when someone in the States asked if we’d seen the solar eclipse….
We spent a few days in Hong Kong on our way to our last stop, Chengdu. It’s a vibrant, exciting city, and we were pleasantly surprised by the strong presence of the mountains, ocean, many parks, and frequent blue skies. A visit to Hong Kong Disney capped the week. But we were also left with the uneasy feeling that we’d seen the future – and it was made largely of steel and concrete.
Much of the city is connected by large underground shopping malls, walkways, and escalators — restaurants, hotels, grocery stores and luxury shops all share space in giant, interconnected buildings. One could live for days without ever having to step foot outside. At times it felt like something from the movie Wall-E, especially as cities on mainland China and elsewhere use this model to deal with increased crowding, warming, and pollution.
We just completed two weeks in Shanghai, the hip river-straddling city with China’s most interesting mix of European and Asian influence. We found it much prettier, more walkable, and generally lighter and more fun than Beijing. (One proud Shanghainese friend said: “All Westerners feel that way.”) We also had a good network there, including a former colleague of Bill’s, and our new acquaintance, the designer Han Feng. Through them we were able to access yoga, Chinese hair salons, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, art exhibits, the Asian x-games, and even an organic farm.
After much anticipation, our peeps finally arrived! Their visit was the highlight of our time in China so far, with an action-packed two weeks of sightseeing and eating our way around Beijing, Xian, and Yangshuo.
Everyone had their favorite moments. Some of them didn’t get captured in pictures, like the motorcycle acrobats (most of the boys’ favorite), or Kyri dropping food in her soda (many of the kids’ favorite), but here are some that did:
1. Though none of us became coffee converts, we did enjoy tasting some of the many varieties of Chinese tea at the Beijing Bell Tower
2. The Great Wall ranked high up there, literally and figuratively:
3. We all enjoyed walking around the old neighborhoods, or hutong, of Beijing, which are quickly disappearing to make way for high-rises:
4. We flew to Xian, one of the four great ancient capitals of China and the eastern end of the original Silk Road. We biked on the 14th-century city wall, and saw the famous Terra Cotta Warriors – an army of life-size soldiers created to guard Emporer Qin’s tomb.
5. We had some great culinary experiences. Perhaps the funniest and most ironic was resorting to a McDonald’s when rushing to get back to Beijing from the Great Wall.
6. Finally, some of us went on to the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat in the southern Chinese region of Guangxi, where the hiking, biking, and swimming provided a welcome break from the city:
The peeps have returned to Charlottesville, and we return to life in Beijing. By the end of next week we’ll be ready to move on to Shanghai, and then we’re in the final stretch of our journey.
We’ve been told that there are only a few days a year when you can clearly see the mountains west of Beijing from the city. We take it as auspicious that in our first week here we’ve gotten two of those days.
So far we’ve found China to be accessible, modern, and orderly but infused with history. People are calm and friendly, and while there are certainly a lot of them in Beijing, it hasn’t been overwhelming.
It helps that we’re in a nice apartment in a prosperous part of town. But mostly it helps that we have Summer. Summer is Bill’s intern, a China native attending Washington University as a dedicated environmental studies major. At the same time she’s organizing Bill, she’s helping organize our family and giving us a more authentic experience than we might otherwise have.
We’ve been shopping in a Chinese market and cooked a traditional meal, eaten in off-the-beaten-path (and delicious!) restaurants, and taken Chinese watercolor painting from a friend of Summer’s. And because of the weather, we’ve been able to fly kites and ride boats and wander around without worrying too much about our lungs. More to come, but here are a few pictures from our first week: