I'm home. Was I really just in China? I've got the material evidence to prove it, but it was such a whirlwind adventure, it's almost hard to believe. The Coles Notes version of the trip:
We arrived after a thirteen hour flight in Executive Class (OMG, I was so spoiled!), met our tour guide at the airport and checked into the hotel. Neither my friend nor I had been able to sleep on the plane, even though our individual seats, located inside a semi-private pod, laid flat out into a bed. So after a quick tour of the hotel, we immediately crashed.
Our first morning in China, we had breakfast before heading off to Tienanmen Square and the (not-so) Forbidden City. Since we arrived during the National Holiday, it was kind of like trying to explore downtown Ottawa on Canada Day. After lunch, we were then herded off to the absolutely exquisite Summer Palace. We even got to take a Dragon Boat across the lake (not the kind of dragon boat you row, an actual boat with a dragon statue at the helm). We were absolutely exhausted at this point and told that we had a free evening that night. That said, we were given the option, if we wanted to pay a bit extra, to see a show... Even on vacation I can't miss out on seeing a play. My friend went back to the hotel and I went to see Chun Yi - The Legend of Kung Fu. The show was mostly in English (and has played in Vancouver if the giant lobby posters were any indication) and was very entertaining spectacle, though I tried desperately not to nod off due to pure exhaustion. It was a very simple story with lots of acrobatics, music and dance. I don't know if this was a more traditional form of Chinese theatre or the Mirvish form of Chinese theatre, but I did have fun. Plus, there was a little boy who sang with the voice of an angel. Don't ever hit puberty, kid.
On day two, after breakfast, we arrived at a Jade Factory in Beijing and I won a free pendant for answering a trivia question. Then we headed out to the Ming Tombs. The Sacred Way, a row of 36 statues set along the path towards the tomb was probably the most relaxing part of the trip. Then, after lunch, we were off to the GREAT WALL! My friend and I climbed up to the highest point of the North Pass, also known as Badaling. I was really proud of us and what I can only classify as the greatest hike ever. It was at this point that I was almost disappointed we were with a group because I would have loved to keep walking along the wall. We then went to a local tea house and got to try a variety of traditional Chinese teas (and spend way too much money to buy some of my own, but I think it was worth it) and checked out the Beijing National Stadium - at least from the outside. It looks phenomenal at night. In fact, most of downtown Beijing with it's crazy architecture and inclination towards light shows looks amazing at night.
Day three and we were off to the Temple of Heaven. In the park surrounding the Temple, people practiced Tai Chi, ballroom dancing, played cards and music. Though I was kind of templed out at this point, that was pretty cool and worth the vendor hassles (there are no panhandlers in China, at least not that I saw, because everyone seems to be trying to sell you something on the street). Then we had a brief stopover at a silk factory, learning how silk is made, before checking out the Pearl Market (where I got me two really nice knock off bags!). I was glad to have my friend with me, as I realized bargaining with the vendors was not my strong suit. What can I say? I want to be nice. Then we got a rickshaw tour of a Hutong and visited a local woman's home.
If that wasn't enough, we then went and saw what our guide called a "cultural show," the Golden Mask Dynasty. If I thought the Kung Fu show had spectacle, I hadn't seen nothing yet. Someone in our group asked how you would describe what we saw. All I could say was this: "It was an epic anime fairy tale that would only be created if the Cirque du Soleil had an illegitimate love-child with the National Ballet for the sole purpose of making Robert Lepage jealous." Seriously people, they had a flood ON STAGE. A real, live flood! I was in the third row and got back splash. It was awesome and I can forgive the absolutely atrocious English surtitles and complete lack of concrete plot just for that. After some Peking Duck with dinner, our tour was officially over, but my friend and I used our last free day to visit the Silk Market and the Beijing Zoo to see the Pandas. The zoo, unfortunately, just made us sad. The animals do not seem like they are well treated. Cages are too small, animals are often separated from each other (even the docile ones) and, even though it is CLEARLY indicated that people should not feed the animals, people throw any and everything into the pits. It was disgusting. If you're ever in Beijing, don't bother going to the zoo.
All in all though, I had an amazing trip and would probably go back again if the opportunity presented itself. Back in Ottawa, I've hit the ground running (literally, as I've started jogging again) and have a sense of joy and hopefulness about my life once again. I feel like anything is possible right now and I'm going to hang on to that feeling for as long as I can.
Now, what's this jet lag I keep hearing about?