China is behind us now. Funny, but our last two days in Beijing felt very comfortable. We were beginning to figure out how to navigate the city. We only scratched the surface of China, but as it turns out it was not as daunting as I had feared coming into the country. Much of Beijing felt quite normal. We cruised through the subway system. It could have been Paris or Singapore. Gigi was enjoying practicing the art of bargaining. She always kept her smile and did quite well knocking off 50% on a pedicab ride in the Hutongs near the Bell and Drum Towers. We knew where to find good restaurants just a short walk from our hotel. In spite of this surprising ease in the city, we were all ready to leave China.
Gigi and I simply have travel fatigue. The last two weeks have been tourism, hotels and restaurant food. We smell Hawaii, now just two weeks away. Hawaii is ‘home’, even if it is not California. It is the USA. It is home cooked meals with ingredients we know and packaged items whose labels we can read. We have also spent so much time on the Big Island that we feel it is not foreign or new, and that will be a feeling in a place we have not had for quite a long time.
I find it interesting how the boys are talking about China. They are definitely ready to leave the country, and frequently voice this opinion. They say they do not like China. They don’t say this with any venom in their voice or crinkled noses or furrowed brows, however. When we ask them what they liked about China, their replies contradict their negative blanket statements. “I liked biking on the wall in Xi’an.” “I liked the terra cotta warriors.” “I liked the Great Wall and all the forest around it.” “I liked the dumplings.” “I liked the pandas.” They found many positive things to say about China, or should I say Xi’an and Beijing. They did not like Shanghai. Apparently it was too urban, too dirty, and simply not kid friendly. They liked the koi ponds at YuYuan park and the soupy dumpling restaurants, but these things apparently just did not make the visit worthwhile. Gigi and I were impressed with Shanghai but felt that everything there was on a large scale. It would take weeks to explore that city.
Even though Beijing was an equally huge city compared to Shanghai, we seemed to feel that it was a more manageable city. Perhaps our hotel in Beijing was simply situated better for exploring than the one in Shanghai. In Beijing, we could walk to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and Wangfujing Street. Beijing was also less vertical than Shanghai. Many of the neighborhoods, the hutongs, were only one or two story neighborhoods. We walked on tree-lined, shady streets in Beijing. This made the city feel more intimate and scaled to a size that matched our own hometown of San Carlos and the San Francisco peninsula. I think more service sector/tourism workers spoke English in Beijing than in either Shanghai or Xi’an, which also was very helpful to us.
When we first arrived in China, we began discussing with Jordan what foreign language he would want to study in High School. Mandarin will be an option for him. The other language options besides Mandarin are French and Spanish. He did take two years of French in Middle School, but he came away with very little French. He barely spoke any French the four months we were in France. Of course, Spanish would be the most practical in California, but you don’t need to speak it. There is no clear language front-runner in our minds. Well, at the beginning of the trip there was a bit of excitement around the idea of taking Mandarin. We could not help Jordan at all with the language, of course, but Jordan does have some first generation Chinese-American friends who could help him out in learning Mandarin. In our discussions around this, Gigi and I kept stating that, “China is the future.” That definitely left an impression on Jordan. We will have to see in a few months how this trip to China has influenced Jordan’s view of the world and if he decides that he wants to learn Mandarin. That choice may be the ultimate verdict on how he truly felt about his trip to China.