Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

China: Day 1

by Kathy 12. May 2010 20:20

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Day 2: Beijing—Tiananmen Square & the Forbidden City>>


Beijing—Lost in Translation


We had been planning this trip to China for so long, it was hard to believe that the day of departure was finally here. To say that we were “excited” would be an understatement.

Sebastian and Genevieve in the airport:

We were fortunate to have a direct 12-hour flight from San Francisco to Beijing.

Genevieve and Sebastian were awed by the massive size of the 747 plane that we would be flying.

Of course, bigger is not always better, as we discovered when checking out the on-board entertainment. We were limited to movies/programs on a common screen, and the video player would have frequent malfunctions.

I was prepared. I had packed an assortment of books, playing cards, music, sticker books, puzzles, Nintendo DS games, and other things to keep the kids happy. Sebastian and Genevieve on board:

Everything flowed relatively smoothly until about an hour before the plane landed. The flight attendants served a meal described as “lunch.” The time back in California, however, was around 5:00 in the morning—my stomach balked at eating, so I skipped the meal. Lucky me.

Right after all of the plates were collected, the plane started a bucking bronco routine, as we hit severe turbulence that continued for the next 40 minutes. Ben was sitting across the aisle from me, and I noticed that the woman behind him was covering her mouth with her hand. Pretty soon she was reaching for the navy blue paper bag stowed conveniently in the seat pocket in front of her. I reached into my carry-on bag and found some wet toilettes for her.

Soon, however, the retching sounds were coming from spots all over the plane, like a hellish symphony. Ben joined in (oh no!), and then so did Genevieve (yikes!). I was busy assisting--and resisting the urge myself.  Of the 21 people sitting nearest to me, I made a quick count of 8 miserable souls. The flight attendant was running through the aisles handing out large white plastic garbage bags.

Mercifully, the wheels of the plane finally hit the tarmac. After some huge side to side lunges (during which brief time I convinced myself that the plane was not going to roll over), we finally settled firmly onto the runway and coasted to a stop. Whew!

We climbed aboard a shuttle bus and were whisked away to the terminal. Genevieve was happy to be on relatively solid ground.

Beijing’s airport was full of space and light, with high ceilings made of glass and soaring beams of steel and concrete.

The World’s Fair in Shanghai would be starting next month, and the fair’s happy blue mascot was at the airport to greet us.

I had arranged for a private driver to pick us up, and we spied him outside of the customs area, holding a sign with our name.

A taxi would have been cheaper. However, I had read that many taxi drivers have problems finding the location of our hutong courtyard hotel in Beijing. To avoid confusion after our long flight, I had found a driver on-line and emailed him directions to the hotel before we left home.

The 40-minute drive from the airport was seamless. Genevieve and Sebastian settled into the small van with their favorite “stuffies” (who are quite the world travelers).

Leaving the airport, we waited in line at the most ornate toll booth I have ever seen:

Ben and I usually rent a car when we travel to a different country. In China, however, visitors are not allowed to drive unless they have a Chinese driver’s license. This involves taking a class and passing a lengthy examination in Chinese. (Or one can pay a bribe, so we have heard.) Given our time constraints for taking a class, our inability to speak or read Chinese (beyond some basic characters), and our lack of connections to people who issue licenses, we settled for hiring drivers or taking planes on this journey.

The road signs were large and plentiful.

No doubt, however, we would have found ourselves lost.

Beijing had many tall buildings under construction.

The modern architecture often had distinctive or quirky features, like the crumpled face of this building.

This set of office buildings had tubular walkways connecting all of them.

This triangular building appeared to be wrapped in bamboo:

These rectangular buildings had “L” shaped overhangs on the top (forgive the reflections).

The small penthouses on top of these two buildings reminded me of robot heads, with their window eyes:

Although many buildings had large signs, the symbols looked like artwork to me.

Beijing traffic:

A small fender-bender (which could be a scene from home):

Another popular form of transportation was the 3-wheeled tuk tuk:

This man was carrying two small children in a large tricycle:

And of course bicycles were plentiful, with wide bike lanes on the roadsides.

Ben saw this woman hailing a ride by “petting the dog” (arm extended out, making little circular, back and forth motions).

The descriptive phrase “petting the dog” came from Peter Hessler, a writer and journalist who has written several books about his experiences living in China (including one of our favorites, River Town).

A police motorcycle:

A (fuzzy) photo of a water fountain sculpture that intrigued Genevieve and Sebastian:

The kids held a lively discussion about how the teapot was being held up in the air, with the water rushing out of the spout. They figured out that the falling water hid a supportive pipe —it was all so fascinating to them!

We passed the pedestrian shopping street called Wangfujing.

Our driver pointed out this large structure and said that it was the Tiananmen East Gate (at least, that is what Ben and I thought he said).

We were dropped off at the entrance to a narrow alley that had a sign pointing the way to our hotel, called Tiananmen Best Year. A short walk, and a turn to the right, and we were at the entrance:

Genevieve at the front door:

Our hotel is described as a “courtyard” hotel, with a few rooms (including ours) opening up to a small courtyard in the center. Our room was comfortable and clean. The large bed that Ben and I shared was set into a nook area, with a smaller bed for the children in the main portion of the room.

We wanted to wander around Tiananmen Square tonight. Daylight was fading. We asked the man at the front desk for directions, and he handed us a map that had “Tiananmen East Gate” labeled on it. Oh, we know where that is! Off we went.

We didn’t find out until tomorrow morning that the fancy East Gate was really an entrance to the Forbidden City, not Tiananmen Square. The gate was also closed by the time we arrived. I was perplexed as to why none of the photos I had ever seen of Tiananmen Square had shown a big wall with towers—“Something isn’t quite right here.” And why in the world was a big public square “closed” at 6:15 p.m.? (I thought that given the history of the square, and the violent suppression of public protests in 1989, public access to the square was perhaps controlled after dark.)

We decided to follow the wall to the south to see if there was another entrance that might be open.

There was a moat around the wall, and we could see some homes across the water.

Genevieve in the vanishing light:

The corner tower:

We could see what appeared to be the “main gate” when we rounded the corner.

Walking distances were a lot longer than they looked. The air was cold, and the children were hungry. The 15-hour time difference between California and China had finally caught up to us, and we were exhausted. It was also getting dark.

After a bit more walking, we decided to visit Tiananmen Square in the morning.


We had only passed a couple of restaurants on the walk from the hotel. One was called Grandma’s Kitchen, and I had read somewhere that the place had “good food.”

Yes, it was good. With that said, I hadn’t intended for our first meal in China to consist of American food (yes, that is what "Grandma” served). We ordered french toast, a BLT, a burger, and a chicken caesar salad. The kids even had root beer floats, and Ben and I had milkshakes (thick ones, made with real ice cream--yum).

We all were in bed, fast asleep, by 8:00 p.m.


Day 2: Beijing—Tiananmen Square & the Forbidden City>>


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Comments (4) -

5/13/2010 5:25:49 AM #



I have been waiting on this!  I doubt I will ever get to China, so I will experience it through y'alls visit!


Donnie United States | Reply

5/14/2010 9:56:55 PM #


Thanks for your (continuing) patience, Donnie!  Glad to have you along!  Kathy

Kathy United States | Reply

5/18/2010 4:54:27 PM #


genevieve's almost as tall as kirtee now.  almost.  i can't wait to see where you head next.  this is really up there on my dream travel list and if you look at the blog list on my blog - our friend who is living in china right now is detailing her adventures on "adding stamps" would appreciate her perspective, in that she's trying to figure out how to live in china long term as a teacher and not lose her mind...which means she's going to have to learn the language at some point.  anyhoo, excitedly anticipating.  lots of love, becky and the family

becky United States | Reply

5/19/2010 8:50:36 AM #


Becky, thank you for the link to Kayte's blog.  It seems that she is having a great time in China.  Yes, I think that being able to speak Mandarin would be extremely beneficial if she were to stay there long term.

I'm glad that you are following along on this journey.  I am enjoying sorting through all of the photos and writing about our experiences there. I get to relive everything!  With love, Kathy


Kathy United States | Reply

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