Fa Mulan

We did it, we did Beijing. The first leg (or more like ankle, I guess) of this journey is complete! China is a very different place, there have been parts that I love, and other parts I could really do without. Everyone warned me that kids wear split pants, and that there are squatty potties instead of regular toilets, but no preparation is enough when it comes to either of those things… But in the words of Mushu, “Sometimes you just gotta let these things go”

Beijing is the capital of China, but more importantly is technically the setting for Mulan. If anybody knows me, you know that Julia and I have watched Mulan more times than Julia has tripped up the stairs, so truly an uncountable amount of times. When we watched this over and over and over did I it ever cross my mind I would see the inspiration for the Emperor’s palace in real life? Absolutely not.

August 30, 2014 – “You want me to hold your baby?”

Our first day in Beijing was a touristy day. We kicked it off with a BBQ duck lunch, a classic Beijing dish. Yes, I ate the duck taco and liked it. After we walked to Tiananmen Square, and then to the Forbidden City (think Mulan here, everyone.). In Tiananmen we were the center of attention, so central that people were taking pictures of and with us. One woman even asked me to hold and take a picture with her and her 2 month old baby! I’m hoping I earned some prime fridge space, or will at least make an appearance in his preschool graduation slide show.

 

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August 31, 2014 – “Fa Mulan?”

It shouldn’t be a surprise that I’m not an athletic person, but that being said I’ve never considered myself “out of shape.” When I’m home I walk down the driveway to get the mail every day, so hiking up to and then across The Great Wall of China should have been no problem. Instead, it was the most strenuous thing I have ever done in my entire life. Ever. So hard, that my friend and fellow Sigma Kappa Fia and I were left behind with two other BRICers. The four of us just hung behind the group (referred to as “superhumans” because we couldn’t figure out how they were moving so quickly) and climbed the wall at our very own, very slow, pace. The Wall is no joke, my friends. If it blesses you with stairs then they four inches deep and 8 inches high, not to mention The Wall just does not end!
I have no regrets about moving so slowly, Fia and I laughed the entire way. We even made a lifelong friend and Wall Mom named Zhao-fen. Lots of villagers hang out on the wall waiting for people to help, you don’t have to pay them to help, you just have to buy a souvenir at the end… At first Fia tried to tell Zhou-fen we were all set, but 20 minutes later she was holding our hands and dragging us across The Wall, telling us exactly where and how to step, and inspiring us every step of the way. Finally I asked, “Zhou-fen, do you know the movie Mulan? That’s why Fia and I are so excited.” She looked at me super puzzled and said, “Fa Mulan?” Forget it, was I on The Great Wall of China with a local woman who knew the story of Fa Mulan? I was.
That night we stayed in a local village with a family. Our ride up to their village was an absolute roller coaster. I felt like I was driving through a ride in Disney World, as if someone had put those chickens on the side of the road, and the tiny houses and rusty bikes were just props. While we were zooming up the side of a mountain I actually had to remind myself that I was in China and wasn’t going to hope on Peter Pan’s flight next. Once we got there, they prepared for us the most delicious meal – rice with three options: egg and tomato (oh my god. So good.), beef and potato, and some cucumbers that were marinated in something spicy. Amazing. We ate outside and casually got to stare at The Wall the entire time. Our sleeping arrangements were quite the sight, the bed was essentially a really low shelf, and our pillows were made of corn husks! Comfortable yet crunchy, it was weird. Definitely more crunch than comfort though.

 

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September 2, 2014 – 798 and Hutongs

The 798 District of Beijing is their art district, lots of tiny galleries, lots of cafes, very little Chinese food. This was actually one of my favorite parts of the week. It was a really trendy area, super quiet, and showed a really modern and young side of China. The district was originally used as a socialist utopian community, so there was a factory surrounded by housing, cafeterias, schools, etc. The entire area was self-sufficient, everything you needed was there. Now that factory is a gallery, and those apartments are boutiques and studios.
Hutongs are also something only found in Beijing, they are a collection of allies with shops, restaurants, and bars. After 798 we went to a really commercialized Hutong, lots of smoke shops, touristy type stores and restaurants. On my walk home with Mary (my roommate and another Sigma!) we ran into a really authentic Hutong – crazy busy with local Beijingers cooking outside, and inside tiny one room restaurants. I didn’t get any pictures because it felt like I was walking through their backyard. It was super cool though, we felt like we’d really seen Beijing after our stroll through.
Oh, we also saw a woman casually selling ducks outside of the subway too.

 

September 3&4, 2014 – Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven
The Summer Palace in Beijing is exactly what it sounds like, a palace the emperor could summer in. Casual. It was a massive park with unbelievable buildings. Mary and I just strolled around for a few hours.
For our last day in the city we toured the Temple of Heaven. It looked very much like the Summer Palace. It was kind of like Auntie Marie toured the Temple of Heaven and then went and decorated her house, very beautiful, very unique, very quintessential Chinese.
Now I’m on a high speed train traveling at 300km/h to Shanghai. I feel like BRIC will really begin once we get off this train, I’m so looking forward to settling in somewhere, and really learning the next city. One week down!

 

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All my love,
Nicole

PS.

Well it actually took a month to complete this post – images that took seconds to upload here in St. Petersburg took 10+ minutes in China, it was just impossible.

But we’ve already completed our time in China – the Shanghai post will come soon! Just know that I did survive off noodles and rice for a month, and I am still alive.

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