Friday, August 1, 2008

同一个世界同一个梦想 - Part One

So we've all really been enjoying the blog--both writing and reading. A common offline discussion topic has been, however, that it's a shame my mother didn't get started on it earlier, so that we could have blogged our photos and experiences during the week my parents and I spent in Beijing in January. Since one week from today will mark the start of the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, I figured I could use that as an excuse to show some of our better pics from the trip.

Some quick background is probably in order. Shortly after I gave my two-week notice at Skadden on a whim in mid-December, my Dad called me at the office to bring my attention to a really cheap Travelzoo Top 20 deal for a trip to Singapore, with a 3-day extension to Bali that would have only been a few hundred dollars more. My mother, though never one to initiate any plan that would involve her getting on a plane, has been longing to visit Bali for many years now. Though we called the company selling the deal within a few hours of it being advertised, it seemed that they were already sold out within the first two hours, and the subsequent deal they were offering us was not nearly as lustrous.

But the vignette that played out that afternoon really got my OCD wheels spinning, since I came to the realization that come December 28th, for the first time in 7 or 8 years I was going to be FREE to do whatever I wanted for at least several weeks, as I didn't really expect to get anything lined up in the way of new job interviews for some time after the holiday season wound down.

So within an hour or two after the Singapore/Bali disappointment, I had found a deal through Sherman's Top 25 for the three of us to spend a week in Beijing which included round trip direct flights from Dulles and two hotel rooms in the brand new Westin there. At the price we got, it took about 30 seconds to convince Dad, and thanks to Jay Schinfeld applying some reason (and a bit of peer pressure, I suspect), my mother agreed to take the plunge as well.

We all got an overdose of spontaneity that day when, after making the purchase, I remembered that we would all need to get visas for our trip (which was to begin about 10 days later) from a Chinese embassy or consulate, and that we had a very small window of time because of Christmas and New Years closings. So later that evening, my parents made the drive down to DC, and we trekked over to the relevant Chinese authority early the next morning to have pictures taken, fill out visa applications, and drop off our passports. Thankfully, for some extra money you can get your visa the same day if you get in by 10:30 and come back to pick it up sometime between 3PM and closing (sort of like a Chinese laundry).

Our January 2nd departure was delayed one day due to mechanical problems with the airplane, but they put us up at the Dulles Hyatt. In the ensuing madness at the airport, we met these two really nice women from Alabama who were heading over to lead a seminar for Chinese teachers on a special method of Science education for middle-school aged students. We grabbed our car from long-term parking, gave them a ride into DC for some siteseeing, and found out that we could leave our car at the Hyatt for free instead of parking back at the airport. But I digress.

In today's installment, I bring you pictures from the Badaling section of the Great Wall. It is the most touristy of sections and heavily restored, but we felt that it would suffice for our purposes. We became friends with the head chef at the Westin, and he arranged for us to have a personal driver take us out there (for about one third of what the hotel's normal charges were) so that we didn't have to worry about negotiating non-verbally with a cab driver, or signing on to one of those bus tours where they make you stop and buy overpriced junk at a Chinese herbal medicine place or a Jade factory. Essentially, we didn't want to waste a whole day doing two or three things we didn't want to do, just to do the one thing we did want to do.

One of the more entertaining moments of the trip happened here. When we got there, we ran into a massive tour group from some kind of company or factory. There must have been a few hundred people in matching red vests and hats, and they were taking group photos with a big banner at the entrance plaza. Since it was the dead of winter--the ultimate low travel season in Beijing, we found ourselves to be generally the only non-Chinese tourists in the Beijing area, so naturally, we attracted quite a bit of attention wherever we went. The group really latched on to my dad, and a whole bunch of groups lined up to take photos with him and my mom. I got a few good shots of the scene, which was pretty hilarious.


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