Over the past two and a half weeks it has been such a JOY having Elise and Lexi here in China. Stephanie hyped them up so much but they did not disappoint- I will miss them greatly. The main purpose of their trip has been to help in pre-school, love the kiddies and taste what it is like to do this work (and to taste yummy Chinese food!) But it wouldn’t have been right to travel all the way from the USA and not see the wonderful, magical sights of Zhōngguó (China)!!
By Saturday jetlag was gone and so the natural thing to do was shop! We took the girls to the Hongqiao Pearl Market, we started on fourth floor and slowly (so slowly) worked our way down. Floor 4 had us all captivated by the enormous amounts of pearls, jade, and diamonds! Elise, we quickly discovered had a knack for bartering, we were all impressed by her fearlessness. Many pairs of earrings and necklaces later we made it to the third floor- bags, clothes and shoes… This floor involved great stress and almost a few tears; an unfortunate saleswoman came up against an Elise and Lexi who really wanted ‘that bag!’ When I found them, they were giggling and telling me about a lady who, on the verge of tears, proclaimed “why you giving me joking prices… why you not trust me!!” No surprise they got the bag at Elise’s price, and that this encounter was the highlight of both of their days!
The second floor involved further bargains and a new favourite shop, MINISO! The bottom and final floor has some very welcome golden arches- McDonald’s- even this was different to back home, and Elise was only sorry she couldn’t barter those prices!
When we arrived back at New Hope we all compared and looked through our goods, Lexi proudly asked her family to guess how much she spent, she was very disappointed when they guessed lower than she anticipated… perhaps she needs to take bartering lessons from Elise. I won’t be surprised if Stephanie and I are heading back soon with a list of items from Elise and Lexi!
The next adventure: Sunday morning we ate a good breakfast and at midday left for the Great Wall, the Mutianyu section in North Beijing. Our driver helped us get tickets and put us on the bus to where we got cable carts, but even before the cable carts the beauty is profound- everywhere you look, mountains! Once we were on the Wall Stephanie and I had great fun convincing the girls we were going to walk 20 towers, about 4 miles return! After walking the distance of 2 towers- and stopping very regularly for photo opportunities- we noticed dense black clouds threatening our bright blue skies, and sure enough after about half an hour a thunder and hail storm had covered us! It was quite an experience, it went very dark and many people seemed to disappear! We waited in a tower for half an hour for it to pass then continued the trek, it was now slippery underfoot but overhead the sky was dramatic and the air had cleared making it easier to breathe and walk. Despite the storm, it was wonderful to experience the Wall in two different atmospheres. In Lexi’s words, “the whole thing was kinda… great!”
The downside to the storm was that we were unable to taboggan down, but the cable cart was still fun- not for Stephanie though! Once down we grabbed a Subway and all fell asleep in the car on the way back to New Hope. Our driver was relieved to see us, I think the storm had worried him, but we’re all harden travellers now. Before leaving the Great Wall, Stephanie and Elise bought Chinese silk dressing gowns, now the four of us have the same in four different colours… when back and showered we sat and enjoyed a movie in our gowns! Perfect end to a beautiful day.
On Wednesday morning Elise, Lexi and I set off for Jingdong Grand Canyon, this was a new experience for me too, we arrived and similarly to the Great Wall we were surrounded by huge jaggered mountains… that should have been our first sign that the day would involve a lot of hiking!
The area although beautiful had very few international tourists, we also noticed that few of the workers spoke any English! Fortunately, maps don’t require much language, we picked a route and headed off. The walk was amazing; to one side of us, steep mountains, and to the other, deep greeny-blue lakes, which made us wish we’d worn swimming costumes! Quickly the walk got very steep, but we saw many elderly and young people walking it so we knew we needed to knuckle down! After many twists and turns we found the glass bridge as advertised (we literally saw it and didn’t walk on it as we missed the turning! However, it was cool to see!) we also found a waterfall, it was so magical. Lexi exclaimed after seeing a bird, “this is exactly where I’d live if I was a bird” and I couldn’t agree more! When the waterfall hit the lake, the water jumped and sparkled in the sun.
Then we reached the long-awaited cable cart none of us were remotely prepared for what was to come… we expected it to take us to the nearest mountain peak, however we now know that it was in fact 1,000 meters long! It kept on going!! I was in the cart in-front of Elise and Lexi and after each peak I would call back “It’s still going!!” to which their faces would grow increasingly concerned (Lexi’s feet couldn’t even touch the safety bar, which is worrying when the drop below you is a deep valley of which we could just see the bottom!) One amazing moment was when we were so high we could see the lake (which looked like a pond) which lead into the waterfall which we had just been stood under, gazing up at, and now we were high about the mountains which surrounded and fed it!
When we eventually got to the top the views were wonderful and made slightly mysterious by the ever-present Beijing smog. It was truly spectacular! A definite low-light for me was coming across a beetle the size of a fist, I shrieked and stood terrified as Lexi bravely went to inspect closer! Also along the path we bumped into a VERY enthusiastic Chinese family who had an impromptu photoshoot with us, it was very funny, I think Lexi found it particularly bizarre how the old lady kept placing her hand on her butt! Well, it’s all part of the experience!
Now, getting down the mountain… this was by far one of the scariest (and exciting) things I have ever done, the girls would agree! We tobogganed down. It is the longest of its kind in the world! It was twisty, bumpy and not at all safe (well, it didn’t feel it!) I pretty much screamed the whole way, only pausing to gasp for air or gasp at the incredible views! We were all relieved to reach the bottom after falling and being rattled around for so long, but instantly wanted to do it again! Totally enthralled and exhausted we headed back to New Hope.
Our last adventure was to the Summer Palace, in central Beijing, the drive there was even an experience; good old Beijing traffic, and a brief glance at the Olympic Bird Nest Stadium. We arrived at 10am and told the driver we would be back 3pm, and we were… those five hours involved a lot of sun, sweat, walking, photo taking, dressing-up, photoshoots with local tourists and no food!
We started off by renting a paddle boat, Elise and I worked hard to get us across the lake (which covers ¾ of the Summer Palace) and back within our hour slot! Despite peddling away, we had time to admire the stunning views of the Temples and bridges at a 360 degrees’ advantage, it was wonderful to imagine what the area would have been like 100 and 200 years prior.
After the lake, we set out to walk the entire thing- ambitious! It was fun to walk around the beautiful water lily gardens and to talk, it was also funny to have so many people ask for pictures! It was so, so hot, Elise announced that she had never been so sweaty in her life! One great thing about the Summer Palace is how diverse each Temple and garden is, a week probably wouldn’t be long enough to explore the whole site! A definite highlight for all of us was coming across the lilies, there were so many of them, you would never think you were in the centre of one of the busiest cities in the World!
We loved the bridges, they were so extravagant and ‘extra’ and fun/hard to walk over. The buildings were painted so delicately, and one of the Temples we visited had Buddha’s inside, this was an interesting experience for the girls; the statues are very grand but this was the first time they had experienced this kind of worship actively practiced, a little culture-shock but also an enriching experience.
We did it! We walked a full circle around- although not exploring every Temple or bridge, but it felt like a true achievement! Then in true Western style we asked our driver to take us to Màidāngláo (McDonald’s).
Each of these days out were full of fun, beauty and excitement, however it goes without saying really that the greatest adventure of all has been getting to know and love the children at New Hope Foster Home.
~ Emma guest blogger from UK :)