Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Icy Road to Beijing

Snow. Ice. Cold. All that and still, I have lost one more pound since Guam. I've been diligently walking. And trying to eat well. Sigh. Well, let's keep moving along, shall we?

I write this current update while sitting in the lovely China National Convention Center Hotel in crazy but beautiful Beijing. China. With free and wicked fast internet service. I was able to back up my phone and all my photos in less than 10 minutes, to the proverbial storage heaven in the sky - the cloud.  Whoever made "the cloud" a household name I'd like to hug. Remember when we were kids and our parents would say to us "get your head out of the clouds"?  Ha! Look where that got us. 

Anyway, I've gone off on another slight tangent. Let's talk China. 

First off, I've told you it's been cold. And we had some flirty snow flurries beginning back in Kyoto. And rain in Korea. (Not to mention North Korean propaganda messages blasting from across the DMZ. Talk about a snow job...). 

But as we snail-paced our way into Beijing night before last, we were not really expecting to see it actually snowing on our ship. But there it was. As we tied up at the dock, the snow was falling. I've got pictures to prove it! And it snowed all night long. 

In the morning, it was hustle bustle for most passengers on the ship, as we had an early call to leave the ship, most of us bound for some sort of overnight or overland trips to Beijing and beyond. I'm one of the "beyonds", bound for Beijing and then on to Xian to see the famous Terra Cotta Warriors. We will rejoin the ship several days from now in Shanghai. 

Once off the ship we had to be cleared by immigration to enter the country. I was inspected by a stern faced, petite female immigration officer. She took my passport and opened it to the picture page and stared at it, then looked up at me, back down to the passport, back up to me. She did this five times. Never said a word. I kept thinking how maybe growing out my gray hair hadn't been the best idea after all, since my passport picture showed not only bangs, but brown ones at that. Well. She finally seemed satisfied that this cold and smiling vision of an American retired woman in front of her was indeed the same one as the passport said, and she stamped away and handed it back to me with a dismissive wave that only a Chinese government employee can do. 

Okay. So far so good. I waited for the rest of my group - Jane and Bill, Barbara and Kirk, and Sherry and Pete, and then we went outside to find our tour guide Andy.  Having connected, he walked us through the snow and wet ground to our waiting and warm van. The van holds 10+ so the 7 of us settled in quite comfortably. Thank goodness we were comfortable because after about 30 minutes of driving on empty, snowy and icy roads, we came to a complete stop at the toll booth for the main highway into Beijing. The government had shut down the highway due to ice and fog until further notice. 

My first thought was that the immigration officer had changed her mind about who I was and had sent police and a pack of dogs to hunt me down and take me away, but then I said to myself, "Sherita, get your head out of the clouds....." bahahahaha. 

Well. We sat there, alongside a growing line of semi trucks, and the occasional car or two that would come along and squeeze by us honking their horn. Like they had someplace to go! We sat. And sat. And sat some more. For 90 minutes. Then all of a sudden the closure was lifted and we were once again on our way! Yay!

All in all, it took us 5 hours to get to Beijing. But get there we did. And we went straight to lunch. Never mind temples and walls and palaces. We wanted to eat!

Andy took us to a great restaurant where we enjoyed family style dishes of chicken, pork and noodles, soup, rice, funny looking kale, and of course, beer. All of it was yummy. 

After our little bellies were full, we went to visit the Temple of Heaven. Built of wood and no nails in 1420, this temple was where the emperors came to pray to the Gods for good harvests, complete with human sacrifices. Yep. Good thing they don't do THAT anymore. It was very cool to see how beautifully this temple was created so long ago with none of today's tools or technology. Sometimes, when I see stuff like this, it makes me think and wonder about how far we really haven't come. Does that make sense? Could we really duplicate some of the great wonders of the world today, using today's technology, any faster or better? 

We walked through the gardens surrounding the temple complex and then piled into the van, bound for an old section of Beijing that was near our next stop. We all took a rickshaw ride around the old and still rundown neighborhood. It was still cold out and the thin blankets we were given just barely kept us warm. 

And then it was off to an acrobatic show, a terrific performance of jugglers, contortionists, flying acrobats and bicycle riding ladies, stacked ten tall. My phone camera couldn't do any of it justice, so I just gave up and sat back and enjoyed the show. 

Then, a dim sum dinner (yes, we ate AGAIN, stop judging!). Then to the hotel and checkin and sleep. I was tired!

Tomorrow it is the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs. Exciting!

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