Week one: Frozen red in China

So if your haven’t heard, I’m in China. Yes, China. Why? You soon will understand. 

The plans for another big trip began oh so long ago. I can trace the thought bubble of this big trip all the way back to the porch of my apartment in Austin, Texas in 2010. Anastasia and I had just returned from our first big adventure together, hustling our way through a good bit of Europe. We were still high from our travels and were reminiscing over a bottle of wine, or three, on my porch. We were sad that what we thought was the biggest adventure of our lives was over. But, were determined it would become a lifestyle. We stared at google maps version of the world, excited at all the possibilities and opportunities ahead. We proclaimed there would be so many more world travels ahead. And, here, I’ll make a small jump to the point. We did make travel our lifestyle. We have had so many more travel adventures since our first taste. And I have enjoyed it all, every last detail,  as you know if you have read my butterfly stories.

And somewhere last year, maybe summer-ish, I knew that Rob’s Army career would lead him towards a good number of schools, which would mean time apart. So, I told A that I needed my travel buddy again. I think at the time she was traveling some of Europe, planning to return home and do the whole job thing. I told her, I am planning another in trip, and that while I would do it alone, it would be so much more fun if she joined. Thank God, she agreed. She and I have that same gypsy soul, so I knew I wouldn’t have to beg too hard. 

 Not only has week one been a wonderful, crazy ride, but we have kept each other from freezing, both mentally and physically. Ha. In Thailand, the saying goes, “same, same, but different.” I would say China is simply different. Beautiful in its own way, but different, indeed. At least, those are my thoughts ending week one. 

I left for this big journey on February 12th, 2017. Rob was supposed to have gone into Ranger school the week before, but as usual, the Army had its own plans. So, instead of him leaving before me, I left before him. Totally not normal for us, but he begins Ranger School on the 26th, which means he has been home studying while A and I have been exploring foreign territory, eating weird small apples, pointing a lot, and freezing under the smog of Beijing. 

The good thing is I have been able to tell him about our days, which now I can share with you too! My flight left from Atlanta on the 12th, getting into Houston that evening with some huge surprises I can’t yet reveal. From there, I departed the next morning for a stop over in Seattle, and then an 11 hour flight to Beijing.We arrived in the future, in Beijing on the afternoon of the 14th. It took an hour for A and I to find one another.But, once we did, we found our way towards the subway. Luckily the subway signs have both English and Chinese. Whew. Everything went pretty smoothly until we we got out of the subway, looking for our hostel. Long story short is the “houtong” or alley way was much longer than the directions said- or we were just moving really slow in the below freezing weather. After asking a few people for directions and getting denied, a younger guy helped us out, explaining that house numbers in Beijing are not based on the location, but actually on age. I.E.- the first house built in a section becomes one and so on… Meaning really, you have no clue how to find your house number, you just keep your fingers crossed and manifest finding it. 

Luckily we found our hostel before our fingers froze. We threw our stuff down and headed back up the hutong for some food. We found a dumpling house, did some pointing, and managed to get ourselves some sour soup, beef and vegetarian dumplings. Oh yeah, the vegetarian part was assisted by the hostel’s front desk worker, Echo. She wrote down, in Chinese, “Hi, Can you please assist me in finding some vegetarian options for dinner? But, my friend here, she eats meat.” (I’ll be keeping this letter for the entirety of this trip.) Our meal was served by a young gentleman, number 31652… No names. Funny huh? After dinner, and a big beer, we headed back to the hotel and racked out. 

With the assistance of jet-lag, day two began at 6am. By 7:30am, we had eaten and prepped for our first day of exploration in Beijing. We ventured to the Forbidden City, Ti’anamen Square, and Lama Temple. I won’t do politics while in China, but I will say it all was fascinating. Lama Temple was by far my favorite site in Beijing. The movement of insence, the purity of intentions and prayers, feeling the energy of the sacred space move on our skin. It was beautiful. My only wish is that the individual prayer halls would have been open. Anastasia took a pic for me in front of the Hall of Universal Happiness. I said a prayer for us all. That evening, we summoned up our last bit of energy to navigate our way towards Great Leaping Brewery, which was indeed super cool. No heat inside, so cool in more ways than one. Beers were followed up by a rushed and disappointing dinner in one of the more famous huntongs, but we survived. Day two, we went to the Temple of Heaven, which I am sure is heavenly in the summer. For us, it was a cold hell, but we were pleased, if only for the fact of seeing how people of the city use the space in even the chilliest of conditions. People of all ages were outside in the masses, playing cards, practicing their instruments, and dancing. We were frozen, holding one another and yes, escaped to a mall for warmth and clean bathrooms. It’s the truth. 

The next day, we packed up and left for Gubeikou, a small village hugging China’s Great Wall. I have to admit, Beijing had me questioning my initial decision to adventure in China… Justa bit. But, once we escaped Beijing’s smog and started seeing specs of the Great Wall, I was immediately reminded of why we chose China. From Beijing, we took bus 980 about an hour and a half to the city of Miyun. From there, a taxi grabbed us, most literally, and took us to the village of Gubeikou. We stayed at the Great Wall Box House, an absolutely perfect mountain getaway with pristine white sheets, HEAT, and a truly friendly staff. The first evening, we joined Jim and Tunon on their walk to the village center for vegetables and other goods. We got some weird Chinese goodies for ourselves as well. The evening was easy, with a nice meal and a long night of sleep. Yesterday, we woke up well rested and ready for a day of walking THE GREAT WALL. It is massive, and actually much like I imagined. The part we saw, was as intended, not touristy. The area of the wall near Gubeikou has not been restored, like some of the touristy parts of the wall. It is in its almost original state, only its height decreased as the Chinese Government encourages people to use the wall for building materials. We walked for about 3 hours along the wall, simply staring out into the great distances ahead, seeing the curving line of the wall, it’s towers, and the expanse of mountains it hugged. At first, we were wishing we would have had a tour-guide, but in the end, I am glad it was not offered. The silence spoke enough. We were walking through history, creating our own, and being exactly present- in a moment of time like no other, unraveling China’s ancient wonder, unraveling our own presence in our great beautiful world. And it’s only week one. 

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