So this part of my stay is where it turned from mostly work and a little play to mostly play and a little work.  I was nearing the end of my rotation and there were still a few things to wrap up, so I couldn’t completely unplug from work…  Visas provide an additional level of consideration when going to China.  Different things are required when you pass 90 and 180 days in China during any 12-month period, including taxation and/or additional visa fees.  To maximize my presence, I was asked to focus primarily on work because the clock was ticking – my leadership team wanted me out of China in 80 days so if I needed to go back, I would have some days to spare on my existing visa.  With that in mind, the time to tour around the country was limited and we made the most of the opportunity we had.

The family had already been in China for just over a week by the time we started out on our three-legged journey across China.  First stop was to be Beijing – hard ‘j’.  I’ve had a bit of a time re-training myself to say the name in an American way.  When I used the soft ‘g’, my Chinese hosts weren’t immediately sure what city I was talking about.  Same thing even with Shanghai – they say it with a short ‘a’ and nestle the ‘ng’ in the back of the throat and emphasize the second syllable.  After several months of saying it for their benefit, I can’t stop.

Returning to the topic at hand…  Our three-legged journey was going to take us to Beijing, Xi’an, and then back to Shanghai.  We were very excited to take in more of the treasures of China.  Shanghai is an impressive city for a variety of reasons and while it does have a broad range of tourist-y sites, it is a mostly a modern city.  Beijing and Xi’an are ancient cities with much more in terms of cultural experiences: Great Wall, Forbidden City, Terracotta Warriors…

Upon arriving, we were happy to see that visibility in Beijing was about the same that we had experienced in Shanghai.  Not great, but not the stuff of legend that we had seen recently in the news.  We were just lucky, that’s all.  The previous week, visibility had been around a quarter mile.  A sandstorm had seen to it that most of the air pollution was blown away for the duration of our visit.  At least the visible stuff, anyway – the Beijing air quality numbers as reported by the US Embassy during our stay were still not in a happy place, but at least we could see.

Being in China for 2+ months by the time we made this trip was also making me ache (literally) for a soft bed.  We opted to stay at the Marriott, near the embassies, for this stop.  The beds were hard by American standards, but compared to the beds I had been sleeping on, they may as well have been air.  The hotel was very nice – Noah and Ketti were very excited that they had their own room.  Chinese hotel rooms aren’t set up for 4 people, especially when one is my size.  A family of 4 is pretty much required to have two rooms… Their room was adjoining and not completely separate, but to listen to them go on about it, you’d think they won the lottery.  And we would have needed that lottery money to get Tracey out of jail when she tried to take a picture of one of the embassies for a friend.  She was the first to discover that embassy picture-taking is not smiled on.  This, of course, was after I had already snapped one at the US Embassy without being harassed.  Oops.  Liang mi ling ba (2 meters 8) has its advantages, I guess.

Beijing was also a bit more laid back than Shanghai.  I didn’t immediately notice it – can’t remember who did – but the drivers in Beijing rarely honked their horns.  By comparison, the Shanghainese love to honk their horns.  All the time with the honking.  Driving style was similarly chaotic from an American perspective, but without the additional ‘communication.’

Little room was left for much in Beijing outside the tours we planned.  We arrived in the city at noon on Monday and had a 2pm train out on Thursday.  I had arranged for English-speaking guided tours out to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City for Tuesday and Wednesday and we decided to just wing the two half days.  The first day, we ended up doing very little because Noah wasn’t feeling well and the thought of venturing far from the hotel was less than appealing.  In that initial sojourn, we did find this gem:  http://sdrv.ms/1bvYf0q.  Poor Eyeore – rode hard and put away wet.  Not sure why I didn’t buy that thing…  Anyway, that meant our last half-day was going to be saved for the Temple of Heaven.  I kept the visit in Beijing short and the pace quick because I was worried about the pollution there – I should have paid more attention to Xi’an air quality, but that’s for the next post.  Beijing was (is) an amazing city, amazing history…

Enter the gallery below by clicking the first picture, stories with each…  Zai jain!