Way back in October…

Way back in October…

At this very moment I have no tests to grade, no writing to edit, and my next two weeks are planned. It is Saturday and I have a moment…while the kids play together (there is a sword involved, so I’m pretty sure a moment is literally all I have) to update this blog with our not-so-recent adventures.
I forgot how busy a new job is. And for those of you who have been following the blog, I am sorry it has been months without an update. Life and work have been moving like a freight train and this blog was left behind for a bit. For the time being I am caught up, so it is past time that you are, too!

In October, we had a week off from school for Mid-autumn Festival. Mid-autumn Festival is an ancient celebration of harvest and moon when Chinese people get together with their families and give thanks, celebrate the harvest, the new moon, and welcome the winter. This festival (the worship of the moon) goes back 4,000 years here in China.

A gift of yummy, traditional moon cakes from our school!

For the holiday we decided to brave the crowds of Chinese people on holiday and head to Beijing, the nation’s capital, to see some sights and have a reunion of sorts with Aaron’s Elmira High School friend, Kari Raze (now Withers) and her fantastic family.
Aaron had not seen Kari since high school, but she has been teaching in China with her husband, Drew and their wonderful daughters for a handful of years, and were a great resource for us as we planned and implemented our move to China. They invited us to stay with them and show us around. So off we flew.

These are the faces of excitement!

You know how there are just some friends that will always be easy to spend time with no matter how long it’s been? Or (in my instance) people you have never met in person, but you know you are going to like?
Kari, Drew, and their two girls, Annika and Kate, are these people.
They were amazing hosts to us in Beijing. They organized tours, took our young kids in to consideration for all of our activities, cooked the most delicious food, their girls gave up their bedrooms, watched our kids so the adults could all go to karaoke (!!!), the girls cooked with our kids, and colored with our kids, and seriously, they were all amazing.
We arrived late one evening, and early the next day we were going to two, huge, bucket-list sights. It was a late night the night before for the kids and this was a very early morning so I was a bit worried about the kids, but I figured they were out numbered by adults 3 to 1 so we would make it work. And we did.

I started by putting my phone number on the kids with a sharpie that Kari had in her purse. I got this idea from my amazing sister-in-law, Jenny. Brilliant! There were thousands of people out and about over the course of this holiday and I did not want to lose a kid.

We started with the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City has been home to emperors since the Ming Dynasty (early 1400s). It served as a palace and fortress for 24 emperors over 500 years. There are actually 90 palaces with courtyards within the walls of the Forbidden City, a total of 980 buildings, and 8,700 rooms. It is surrounded by a 170 foot wide moat and a 26 foot-tall wall. It is built from the finest materials around China: specially made “golden tiles” for the roofs, marble, the finest woods. It was built by over a million people including the most accomplished artisans and craftsmen of the time.
Symbolism is everywhere. Yellow is the exclusive color of the emperor and symbolized his ultimate power, the library is roofed in black tiles to symbolize water to protect its precious materials. All the main buildings are aligned from north to south. All the structures point south as it symbolizes holiness, and point away from the north that symbolizes China’s enemies, cold winds, and evil. There are statuettes of the phoenix and the imperial dragon on the corners of the eaves that symbolize the status of the building, so the more statuettes, the more important the building. The Forbidden City now houses fineries and art from all throughout China’s history.

Aaron, Nora, Kari, and Kate at Tian’anmen Gate. Portrait of Mao Zedong in the background.
When in China, do as the Chinese do…and take a selfie!
In the courtyard, before the Gate of Supreme Harmony

embracing the peace sign

And after the walk through the Forbidden City (I have a hundred more pictures), and thousands of people, we needed a beer on the bus. Don’t I look like I’m getting away with something?

After a tour through a jade museum/manufacturer/sales shop which would have been cool if a sales person hadn’t put an adorable jade figurine in the hand of each of my tired kids; which led to begging and whining until Nora accidentally dropped hers, which broke, and I was forced to buy it after much disagreement…deep breath…calm down…smile…nod…steer husband away…wish we had more beer on that bus!

And then the TRUE bucket list, once in a lifetime, its-been-a-long-day-but-I’m-sure-the-kids-can-handle-another-hour-or-so-in-line-with-thousands-of-Chinese-because-it-will-be-totally-worth-it…

the only chairs in an hour long line to the gondola

it got ugly for a minute or two.

The Great Wall OF China.

And it was totally worth it.

the gondola up

The Great Wall of China, you guys. For REAL. Wow. I mean WOW! And it was a gorgeous day. Our grumpiness and sleepiness faded away because the ride up was FUN and the wall is incredible.

Imagine. Millions of peasants, slaves, and criminals (separated from their families for years) building the wall through all sorts of terrain over the course of many dynasties. Those that died in the process are buried among the dirt and bricks. The magnitude of the project is unbelievable. To see it first hand, only magnifies the seemingly impossible task. The first emperor to really organize the project was Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Qin empire, after which China is named. If ever there was an emperor of China to take on such a seemingly impossible task, it is he. He took on a few, in fact.
Including all of its branches, this wall is 5,500 miles long. It was built to keep northern invaders, the Mongols, out. There are more than 7,000 watch towers, evenly spaced along the length of the wall, and soldiers were based there to watch for invaders. Smoke signals were used to inform others along the wall of trouble. The more smoke, the more trouble. What we know of the wall today was mostly rebuilt by the Ming dynasty (think Forbidden City).
It was a dream come true.

Family photo/Christmas picture/actually a New Year’s picture…sort of.

Do you see it weave its way along the mountain? Can you imagine building this with only the power of men and wheelbarrows?

China invented the wheelbarrow, by the way.

Selfies for days!

Nora practicing her photography skills.

Gondola up the mountain. Metal slide down. So. much. fun.

And all of that in ONE day. Are you exhausted? We were exhausted.

In the next few days we enjoyed a bit of a slower pace.

We walked through a Hu Tong, the old alley-way communities tucked away amongst the city.

and had pizza there as well

I enjoy watching the old men all over these big cities, tucked away in the alley-ways, playing mahjong and passing the time.

We even found some good beer.

We spent the rest of the trip socializing with the Withers family and their friends. Walking through their neighborhood, enjoying the artwork and trying to figure out why Superman’s head was bleeding.

We also let the kids get soaking wet in a fountain very near to the Withers’ place. I smiled as the Chinese people gathered to watch my children play in the cold water on a brisk, but sunny autumn day.
A very old couple and their young grandson came to sit next to me in the sunshine. He spoke a bit of English. People continued to gather, some took pictures. They looked at me like I must be crazy to let my kids play in the water.
I already knew that the Chinese were thinking my kids would get sick from playing in the cold water. They don’t even like to drink cold water. You are given warm water to drink at restaurants. So I knew why they were gathering and why they looked at me they way they did.
But this elderly couple, who I learned were visiting their family from a more rural part of China (they looked it), wanted to talk to me. Their grandson translated. They asked how old the kids were, admired the good fortune of having a boy and a girl (another comment I hear a lot), asked why I was letting them play in the water, asked me if I knew they would become sick.

I explained that where we come from, playing in cold water is normal. The ocean is cold, and we play in it. The lakes are cold, and we swim in them. The pools are cold, and we swim anyway. We do get sick sometimes, but so do the Chinese. They smiled and nodded.
The grandson interjected, “Chinese parents worry too much. They worry about everything,” he said.

But I do love how children are so precious here.

When the kids came over, the elderly couple just beamed. My kids were dripping wet and chattering away. Nora loves older people. She can feel their warmth. It is one of her many gifts. She did not shy away from their different clothing, their brown and missing teeth. The woman reached out to touch her, and Nora let her feel her arm, and her fingers. Everyone smiled. It was a beautiful moment in the sunshine.

The grandson translated what the grandma said, “They are so happy.”


Thanks for the wonderful trip, Withers family. We look forward to returning the favor.

3 thoughts on “Way back in October…

  1. Your writing is so worthy of a book!! I’m sad when it’s over!! Nora allowing the lady to touch her how absolutely precious!!! Your a GREAT mama!!

  2. The WALL!!! OMG THE WALL!!!!
    I hope you sang a Mr. Nicky song while you walked on that wall.

    Kate, your writing is so authentic. I really hear your voice and see Nora in this moment with those grandparents. How lovely to document this experience for her to read later.
    your number one fan

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