Saturday, November 8, 2014

China Recap Part 3: Beijing!

[This post is the ultimate of a catch up post, finishing up an entry I started months ago after my trip to China.  I wrote "China Recap Part 1: First Days in Shanghai" and "China Recap Part 2: Eating in Shanghai and Wuzhen" over the summer, posting in July, which was already a month after I visited!  I have been sitting on Part 3 for a while, and finally want to be able to share it with you.  Enjoy!]

On Sunday morning, we woke up early to head over to the airport to catch an Air China flight from Shanghai to Beijing.  It's not a very long flight between the two cities... I think that my coworkers said that there is one leaving every 20 minutes or so!  Because I knew that the flights were so frequent, it was frustrating when the one flight in the airport that was delayed an hour was the one that we were on.

Once we actually got going the flight was fine and uneventful, until we arrived in Shanghai and our luggage was missing!  I had flown with two colleagues and myself and the other girl and I both checked bags (duh, we had a lot of stuff!) and when the luggage came through the carousel it wasn't there.  Now, I know that this happens and I've traveled enough that missing luggage sort of just becomes a possibility -- but I am always surprised when luggage goes missing on a direct flight.  Especially one that had an hour delay -- I would have assumed all the luggage had lots of time to get on the plane!  And, what made this situation a bit stressful was that we had no idea how to speak the language to communicate that our luggage was missing, ask where it could be, and talk with the airport employees.  In addition, we had a FULL days agenda in Beijing to do some sightseeing on our free day and we were supposed to be meeting a coworker who had offered to take us around.  We were already an hour behind because of the delay so the near hour we spent trying to figure out the luggage situation put us further behind schedule.

Luckily, I work with the nicest people in the world, and we ended up putting our coworker Jackie, who was already waiting for us at our hotel, on the phone with the airport people so that she could talk to them.  Let me just say, my coworker Jackie is such a sweetheart.  Now, I shouldn't say just her, because pretty much any of my colleagues that I am close with from Asia, are always incredibly hospitable (as I mentioned.)  The tradition in the culture is to give out gifts when meeting with someone to show that you want to have a long relationship.  The former coworker I met for dinner the night before used to do that, and any time that Jackie has come to the U.S. she has also brought me really beautiful gifts, as have other Asian coworkers.

I had just spent Thursday and Friday with Jackie in Shanghai as she had been at the team meeting I was at in Shanghai (she flew back home to Beijing, where she is based, Friday evening.)  And when I arrived there she had for me a beautiful hand painted wallet that was customized with my name written on it and everything.  It was so gorgeous and thoughtful of her.  It made the small gifts that I had brought over from the U.S. for her seem so dinky!

Anyways, she continued to be an incredibly host and friend, continually calming me down in my frantic text messages apologizing for being late, telling me that it was not a problem.  She helped over the phone with our luggage situation and still had a smile on her face when we arrived at our hotel where she had been waiting for us for an hour.

We quickly checked into our rooms and changed our clothes -- she told us to wear sneakers and sort of exercise clothes that were good in the heat.  She was taking us to see the Great Wall and apparently it is  a bit of a hike and wanted us to be prepared!  I hadn't really brought any clothes that were sort of "middle ground" between business or dressier clothes and work out clothes so I just put on work out clothes, which is pretty much what I am most comfortable in at this point anyways.

Jackie had gotten a driver and van for us, picked us up lunches, brought sunscreen, bug spray, waters, back packs, hats, and pretty much everything you could possibly think of that we might need.  She was so wonderful!  We piled into the car and headed out on the first part of our adventure in Beijing.

It was really interesting to learn about Beijing and the culture/city there after having just been in Shanghai and Jackie was the perfect person to teach us!  She is a Beijing native, and just like my coworker whom I had dinner with on Friday night, was incredibly proud of her city and wanted us to leave China thinking that Beijing was the best city!!  It was easy to see right away when arriving in Beijing and talking with her that I think the rivalry between Shanghai and Beijing natives is probably VERY much like Boston and New York City in the U.S.  The two cities aren't TOO far apart but they are incredibly different, each with unique features and charm and natives of the city who are fiercely proud of their city and will tell you over and over that their home city has more to offer than the other.

I'm sure any readers from the Northeast are probably familiar with that rivalry.  As a Boston girl who has been living in Upstate New York for 10 years and many friends in both cities -- I know these arguments very well!

The city of Beijing boasts a lot of history, which the locals will tell you is much different from Shanghai.  The city itself is built in "rings" that expand outwards around "the Forbidden City" in the center of Beijing.  The Forbidden City is the ancient palace that is in the center of Beijing.  I unfortunately did not get the chance to visit the Forbidden City as time didn't allow it -- but to me that just means that there is something that I definitely need to return to Beijing for.

Anyways, I DID get to see the Great Wall, and for real, it was a breathtaking, awe inspiring event for me.  It was one of those things that even while it is happening, you are just like "Woah, I can't believe I am actually doing this!!!"

To get to the top part of where you start to walk the wall, we took a gondola up.  We hiked up a number of the steps, which were tall and steep and put me out of breathe.  It was an incredible view and one that I will never forget.  I just want to share a bunch of these incredible photos with you at this point.

The Great Wall of China?  CHECK!

To get back down from the great wall, rather than take the gondola back down, you have to take a small sled/cart thing which actually was SO fun.  I laughed the entire way down I think.

I also got really into the infamous Chinese pose for photos.  Peace signs all around!

Jackie's hospitality did not end while after taking us on an incredible adventure at the Great Wall.  Following that amazing afternoon, she brought us over to her favorite tailor to partake in another activity that I've been told a trip to China isn't complete without -- having custom clothing made!

It was so cool to be able to sort through reems and reems of fabric, page after page of design, and pick out every detail of an outfit.  In addition though, I am an incredibly indecisive person.  I can barely decide what to eat for each meal, so making all of those tiny decisions was really hard.  What length do I want my jacket?  How many buttons?  Where do I want the sleeves to hit?  What color fabric?  What color thread?  Do I want it split in the back?  Split in the sleeves?  What should the inner lining be made out of?  There were so many decisions to make, and I would be lieing if it didn't overwhelm me a bit.

However, it was an experience I didn't want to miss out on.  And I chose to have a dress made for me with traditional Chinese fabric, and some clothing that I usually have a hard time finding on my own.  I had a two suit jackets, a skirt, and a button down shirt.  We were only going to be in Beijing for a couple of days, but we planned to return for a fitting in two days and then get our outfits the morning before we left!

It was a long, long day and we finished with a well deserved meal before resting up for a busy few days of work.

The meals we ate in China were always epic, with so many small little plates and different things to try.  It was hard not to want to take photos of everything we saw on the menu and everything that I put in my mouth.  The food was also incredibly different from anything that I have ever eaten before.  Even things that looked that started out looking familiar, like Starbucks, would end up taking turns to be different.

And of course, you know I have to try ice cream everywhere that I go!

Anyways, the rest of the week was pretty busy with work, so there wasn't too much sightseeing beyond what we did on that Sunday.  However, we had a really fun and challenging few days of work that I felt really grateful to be able to experience professionally and personally.  I had done a lot of research before traveling about the culture of doing business in China so it was neat to see in action.

We squeezed in our clothing fitting, and then the night before we left, we also had the opportunity to drive through Tiananmen Square, and although we never got out of the car, it was cool to see such a historical site.  And I snapped some cool pictures from the window!

On our last night we also finally endulged in what is a Beijing speciality - Peking duck!

Peking duck takes a long time to roast and is carved for you by the chef at your table.  The best way to describe how we then ate it was like it was fancy fajitas.  Everyone had a number of different little pancake/crepe things to put the duck in, and a number of sauces and toppings to add.

We had our Peking duck meal with my other American colleague, Spanish colleague, Indian colleague, and one Chinese woman who was the wife of my coworker from India.  She helped show us how to eat the duck and was kind enough to wrap up a few Chinese fajitas for me so that I could have the authentic experience!  It was a great meal and incredible experience.

The whole trip was an amazing cultural immersion, made 100 times better by the kindness and hospitality of every one of the local colleagues who went out of their way to spend time with me, show me around, and introduce me to the culture, food, and sights.  I returned home very tired, but very fulfilled and happy.  AND, with an entire new suitcase full of stuff that I had to buy!  You saw my dress that I had made, as I wore it to my uncles' wedding in June, so you know the deal there.  Eventually I will point out the other items I had made, but in addition to the clothes, souveniers, and gifts for others -- my bags & extra bag were packed coming home!

And with that, my China experience is completed for you!!!

Better late than never, right?

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