Monday, April 18, 2011

China - The Wall

China proved a beautiful, intriguing backdrop for spring break family time. After a few days getting reacquainted with each other in Beijing, we headed to mountains and the Wall for our family collective highlight of the week. Indeed, that old Wall is great! 

Grateful for no firewalls in Thailand keeping us from internet research, we found the charming Red Capital Ranch to house us for 3 awesome days/climbs on the Wall. The Ranch sits in a river valley an hour & half out of Beijing. Wall runs along south side of property, so we technically stayed in "outer China."

Sidenote: The girls went online a couple times to experience China's cyberspace... they found no youtube and no facebook in Beijing, but Rob got FB at the Ranch. At both hotels, the staff's parting words were, "Please go to Trip and give us good reviews!"

Built just a few years ago, Ranch buildings were constructed of materials found on property and from old buildings torn down in Beijing a decade ago to make room for Olympics.

10 quaint cottages

Tibetans run the Ranch, and they dressed their own housing/buildings with fabric slipcovers over gorgeous stone. The Tibetans were a fascinating staff, giving their all to give capitalism a go... though it did kind of feel at times like they just opened last week. They were trying so sincerely, we didn't mind and had fun with our adventure that reminded of camping.

Red Capital laundry  

The backyard

We arrived, lunched and conquered.

The hills were alive with flowering chestnut trees.

Only slightly reconstructed compared to more heavily visited sections of Wall. Tricky climbing at times, but we enjoy puzzles.

Entering our first watchtower... a thrill.

On the overgrown Wall

Thankful for strong, healthy kids, as terrain was steep.

 Walking Wall/ridge on top. The girls can sure bicker & squabble, but put them in this setting and teamwork prevails. 

The Wall was essentially ours for afternoon, as we only passed a solo Singaporean hotel guest on our climb back down. Dinner first night was delectably spicy Tibetan Yak, cornbread cakes and baby bok choy cabbages. Girls found ham sandwiches with taters... these Tibetans make a wickedly fine french fry.

Next morning we awoke freezing and ready to explore another section of Wall, the more popularly traversed Mutianyu. 

With handrails & nicely assembled stairs, a very different feel from previous day. 

Slightly cheapened by the Subway shop & trinkets for sale at Wall's base, still gorgeous in its own way. 

Greeting us at top with cold water & Snickers bars for sale was this happy guy...
 "Where from?"
"America good," he said with a smile & thumbs up.
"China good," we replied with smiles & thumbs up.
"China & America, friends," he beamed.

I wonder what allegiance he had to Mao a couple decades back. He now proudly wears an Obama pin, seen next to Ry's right eye. 

Not Quite a Window Sill by Riley Mei,  age 9 years minus 4 days

I sit upon a wall, next to a ridge,
not quite a window sill, no glass nor panes, 
a bare cut in the wall.
As I sit the wind blows my hair.
I soon find a sill, nice and cool,
the wind gently blows a tune.
I look out, the world spread about me,
blossoms in bloom all around,
a pine wood front, a blossom back.
At the sill I rest, as peaceful birds sing a sweet tune.
The wall steps up, I move on, more sills await, 
sweet smells come as I walk.
I am amazed.

The poet was sitting in a Wall cutout, then moved on and later found the above pictured "sill" where she completed her piece. She agreed to share, asked us to fix a few spellings, but nothing else. I can't believe my baby will be 9. And then I see her excitedly reach for pen & paper, "I have a poem!" and I know I must let her number swell.

The poetry mentor

Allie would rather race to the top & see what's beyond the next tower, than sit & write about it all.  I'd love to help her slow down & enjoy the journey, but need my own mentor for that.

A perk of visiting the touristy section... bumping into Dutch friends from Thailand. We knew we'd span the same days in China, but didn't know of each other's plans. We then ran into each other at the Wall & had a super afternoon hanging together. 
Mae & Mei

They used to ride together, but Ry's taking a break from riding to train for Taiwan.

Just beyond a sign that warns guests of path's end, the untamed Wall goes on for many days' journeys. 

They enjoyed the cool of this watchtower, building kitchens from rocks & plants and daydreaming together. Too hot to do in Thailand.

Ming Generals
built a wall
to keep the world away.
Blonde little girls
now pick up its pieces
to create and laugh and play.

Wonder if past Dynasties dreamed of luging down the hill...

Back to the Ranch and its riverbed playground

Early our last morning we let kids sleep while we climbed last unexplored section of Wall at the Ranch.

Each of the 3 climbs was unique.

Climb every mountain....

China - Beijing

Enjoyed Beijing as well. Here, climbing around Summer Palace.

Tiananmen Square

The girls were hounded for photos everywhere we went. It wasn't all that long ago westerners were barred... we are still a novelty.

For 3 travelling years we've resisted the urge for the jump shot, but cut loose in front of the Forbidden City.

Inside we behaved. Massive size was more impressive than the buildings it contained.

Embracing western wedding style

Olympic Stadium Bird's Nest

The Nest's twigs are simple concrete.

Olympic hopes, dashed.... brought running gear and a wish to take Usaine Bolt's track for a spin, but twas concert set-up day.

We instead dreamed of concerts we're still desiring to experience.

The Watercube

Michael Phelps' race pool... I asked Allie if being there inspired her to get back into swimming... "not really"

After Olympics, they turned practice pools into a waterpark that we enjoyed for a few hours.  They shoot you like a bullet through the red tube, quite a rush (and wedgie). Of course, birthday girl Ry was too small to enjoy the best rides, bummer.

Spring was in the air.

Perusing tea

Mei, writing her Chinese character which means "beautiful"

Stayed at a charming little courtyard hotel in a quiet hutong neighborhood at the city center.

The city is grey, and red pops everywhere.

Rob wasn't built for Asia.

Exercise equipment is plunked all over town.

Beijing law maintains pups within the city be under 14 inches tall.

We think the big poodle was visiting for the day. Didn't see stray dogs like in Thailand (a little scary to think about at dinner time), but cats were EVERYWHERE.

Le Pigeonnaire

Head cheese anyone?

We stuck with charades & negotiating pork buns. Lots of other fine meals, too. Our favorites were of Ughur Muslim cuisine, coming from the far side of China. Our Tibetan meals also impressed.

And of course a trip to McD's. A visit there in other lands is indeed a cultural experience, even if slight. Beer in Europe, salmon burgers in Tokyo, pineapple pies in Thailand... McDuck burger in Beijing. 

Didn't try the Communist Fried Chicken.

Walmart's cousin Wu... probably estranged now that Wal is in China.

It's everywhere... except West Michigan :(

We did find a little bit of West Michigan in Beijing. They may technically still be communist, but the sky is opening for China... watch out world.