At this point things on the blog are all out of order. I have writers block about Bali and Kuala Lempur (our adventrues that happened while my computer wouldn't charge), and we are already getting behind on adventures at home. So, let's skip ahead. I will revisit Bali and Kuala Lempur when the story returns to me. In the meantime...
“I am a genius,” I tell Andrew.
I’m sitting in Sonrisa’s cockpit, kicked back on her cushy new bean bags trying to figure out our best route home. We are making a visit to the US in April and May. Our renter has given us notice that he is leaving, and we will need to figure out what to do next. In addition, my little sister is graduating with her bachelors degree in psychology — GO LITTLE SISTER! — and I want to see her walk in her graduation cap. So, time for some research on air travel.
“Check my dates, makes sure I’m not crazy.” I ask Andrew
We both peer over my computer to check the plan for sure. Flying across the date line makes for some really screwy flight schedules.
“Ta-dahhhhhhhhhh!” I tell Andrew. “It’s a 20 hour layover in Beijing!” You wouldn’t think I’d be happy about this, but I am ecstatic. Not only do we have only two legs of flying, and a direct flight into Las Vegas, but we have 20 hours to explore China!
We tidy up Sonrisa, “complete” outstanding maintenance work (maintenance on a boat is never complete, people), then close all her through-hulls. I give her my customary big hug and kiss on her mast, then circle her hull with a splash of grog for Neptune in the hopes of currying favor to keep her safe.
Before we know it, we wake up on the tarmac in Beijing. We make our way through customs with our “24 hour” stamp. Then, our tour guides load us into a clean, comfortable, shiny black car with air conditioning and a bag of fruit. A gray haze hangs in the air, but the spring blossoms are popping on all the trees.
We are whisked away to Teneman Square where hundreds of thousands of Chinese people congregate after climbing out of their tour buses. Flags poke up here and there, marking the tour guide for each individual bus. We fall into the mass and march toward the Forbidden City in step with everyone else. Mostly to avoid getting trampled.
The Forbidden City is layer after layer of fortress, decorated with traditional Chinese symbology. Built in the 1400s, the compound was designed to keep the Emperor safe and his concubines comfortable.
The detail on the rooflines, inside and outside the buildings match the complexity of Chinese architecture and symbology.
We learn there is an evil spirit in China who is very short and has no knees. To protect the Emperor from this little devil, all the doorway thresholds have a tall copper ledge to step up and over. Women must step with their right foot, men with their left.
You can tell this lion is a lioness because she is stepping on her baby lion.
We dart through the jewelry museum. It’s a quick process, whether we are on a time schedule or not, because standing in line in China is a different process than any we are used to. For a few exhibits, all I can see is a wave of people’s heads, flowing by like an endless river. I wait to find a gap, but no gap comes.
“If you want to get in, you have to make space.” Our guide tells us. “It’s not rude. It’s just how we do it, here.”
So, I press my body up against the line, point my elbow in between one person and the next and slide into a gap I create for myself. The mass of humans shove and bump with impunity, “move along, move along, I want to see” the whole line seems to say. I take my turn and glance at the complicated head dresses and necklaces made of gems, jewels, feathers, jade and intricate metal work. It’s beautiful, I want to stare at each piece for hours…or at least ten seconds or so. Not to be. The line flows forward, with me in it. God forbid you want to turn around and go against the momentum. Forget it! Lucky Andrew foregoes the whole process, as his head sticks up two feet higher than the depth of the people-river.
When I pop out again our guide smiles at me. “Good job!” I laugh.
Next, we stop at a local’s restaurant where we take a seat for Pekking Duck and to sample the local beer. The duck is like caramel, a glazed, crispy skin with a layer of fat that melts in your mouth. We wrap the meat in a thin sheet of rice paper with cucumbers and a basil leaf. It pairs perfectly with the local lager.
After lunch, we make our trek out to the Great Wall of China. Click off a bucket list item in the span of a 20 hour layover? This is efficiency, people. We climb a million stairs that are terrifyingly steep, just to get the highest view to see the wall stretching further and further over mountain ridges. The Spring blossoms make for picturesque scenery; a haze of pollution makes the layers of mountains mysterious, hidden behind a veil.
To return back to the car, you can either take the chair lift that brought you to the wall or ride a luge slide down. We opted for the luge!
We make a quick stop at a strawberry stand and a grocery mart on the way back to the airport, but arrive back in Beijing early enough that we can rent a room in the airport (by the hour!) to take a shower and freshen up before our next leg. We eat dinner in the basement - the local’s secret to cheap and delicious airport food: noodles and dumplings. Then, we board our 13 hour flight.
This quick tour of Beijing felt like one of those tiny wooden spoonfuls of gelato - it only leaves you wanting more. China seems like it could be a fascinating place to explore, maybe we'll make a plan for a longer visit. In the meantime, the Oddgodfreys are headed "home". Where exactly is home? Home gets hazier for us every day.