We have just spent the last three weeks travelling around Northeast China, stopping in Beijing, Nanjing, Suzhou, Hangzhou and finally Shanghai. You haven’t heard from us because our schedule was packed and the Internet was crappy.
It was a working tour of sorts as the children and I accompanied Marc as he visited several universities. In China, this means that the hosts will also take care of our needs along with Marc’s. This includes assigning a student (or two!) to accompany us every day, whether Marc is with us or not. They arrange and take care of our transportation needs, meals and sightseeing expenses. They even attempted to pay for souvenirs we purchased! You might think that this is a pretty awesome deal. All of our hosts were exceptionally generous and we are incredibly appreciative of their efforts. BUT, the monetary cost of this trip was replaced by more of a mental and emotional one with the pressure to not appear ungrateful. Often we felt we could not decide how we would spend our days. We had to get up and be ready to be tourists even if we might feel like sleeping in and not do anything at all. We felt pressured to be always at our best. The children have gotten quite good at keeping quietly occupied during formal dinners and have learned unique skills such as pouring rice wine from tiny pitchers into tiny cups. We also had no say over the choice of hotels we stayed at. This has at times meant that we were in hotels without English speaking staff and non-smoking floors seem to be suggestions rather than a policy. For those of you who know me well, you know I like having control over most things. The last three weeks have taught me to let go. A frustrating but important lesson. In the process I saw some pretty places and had some interesting conversations with our student guides that makes me hopeful for the China that will come with their leadership.
Our first stop was Beijing. Beijing is China’s capital. This was obvious not only in the government buildings but in the presence of the government’s power over the city. Since Marc and I visited Beijing 11 years ago, the city seems more inaccessible and controlled. There are now security checkpoints to enter the area around Tiananman Square which includes several tourist attractions such as The Forbidden City and the National Museum. On a weekday, it took us over an hour to get through the security checkpoint. And they didn’t even bother to check the backpack I was carrying.
This is what we did during our 5 days in Beijing:
I’m really happy the children had the opportunity to visit China’s national treasures and its capital on this trip. It will be unlikely that we will return to Beijing as I left feeling frustrated and sad. Frustrated with the nonchalant attitude of Northerners. Sad with the arbitrary Chinese policies and decisions that limit the freedom of its people. Yet I have hope that this will change as the young generation comes of age.