China: Highlights and Memories
1. Waking up to the most beautiful sunrise on my flight from Auckland to Beijing. Black filled the sky, and a perfectly round sphere lay in the horizon with what looked like paint brush strokes of red and yellow streaking across the morning sky.
2. Walking on the crumbling stones of the Great Wall of China, a place that had always seems mythical to me. I was walking on an ancient relic where Chinese warriors had stood thousands of years ago. The thought of this still keeps me in awe.
3. Escaping the smog filled streets of Beijing to explore the Summer Palace. The sky, still a whiteout of smog, disguised itself at the Summer Palace as a comfy down blanket wrapping me in warmth. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom dispersing a sweet aroma as I strolled through the rounds with my new English friend Jan, marveling the vibrant colors and intrinsic designs of Chinese architecture.
4.. Sitting in awe, as a man in tights charged the trampoline gaining momentum with each step until finally making connection with the spring and propelled his body to spiral forward in a flip and land on the shoulders of his fellow performer who was on the top of the four-man stack. Twelve girls in pink leotards and showgirl-like headpieces rode push bikes in a circle, each one exiting at their given cue to pull along side the leading bike and climb aboard. The women gracefully piled on the top of each other and fanned out like peacock feathers as the act came to a finale. These were just two of many extraordinary performances at the Beijing acrobat show.
5. Visiting the Beijing Huiling Community, a center for men and women with learning disabilities ranging in age from18-35. Upon arrival, they excitedly greeted us with huge grins and had prepared for us a lunch of pork dumplings, taught us how to write in calligraphy, and put on an entertaining musical and talent performance.
6. Catching a thief in action. With my backpack strapped to my back, I stood in line waiting to go up the crowded escalator, while talking to my English and Australian friends Jan and Emily. Suddenly, I felt a tug on my back. I instantly turned around to witness a 20 something year old trying to unzip the top of my pack! I slapped his hand that was still suspended in air, and pointed my finer inches away from his face.
“No!” I sternly exclaimed, scolding him like a misbehaving child. He stood there in shock, cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth, eyes startled at being caught. Slowly he drooped his shoulders and walked away.
7. Sauntering around the Terracotta soldiers excavation site and listening to our guide, “Julie”, explain the purpose and history of the underground Mosulium and 8000+ warriors who were built to protect the emperor in his afterlife. I found it interesting that the emperor ordered the massacre of his 300+ concubines so they would follow him into death, and was going to do the same with his entire army, but after the recommendation by his leading general, conceded in creating replicas instead.
8. Patting the fluffy head of a panda bear! I feel so fortunate for this experience as these adorable creatures are on the brink of extinction.
9. Feeling ant-sized as I stood at the toes of the Giant Buddha. The massiveness of this stone statue is simply mind blowing. Pictures do not do justice.
10. Exploring the Wu Yu temple surroundings. After exiting the temple, we traversed through a maze of walkways, bridges, crumbling temples and waterfalls until we passed through a square where women sat at tables selling trinkets while men armed with self-made brooms swept stone steps or whizzed by on bicycles that contained a cage full of chickens harnessed to the back. We walked towards the exit and as we reached the top, the view took my breath away. Before me stood the most beautiful bridge set above still water and green grass that lined the banks. The red bricks lining the two gazeba like peaks on either side of the bridge’s curved walkway were vibrantly reflected in the water creating a mirrored image. It was an view straight out of a fairy tale book.
11. Staying overnight in a monastry on Mt. Emei. I woke up to the sound of beating drums and voices chanting in harmony. Still half asleep I rose from my bed, walked barefooted across the cold tile floor, veared right to descend the stone steps and followed the rhythmic music to the main temple where before me stood 20 some monks dressed in orange robes heads and shoulders bowed as they prayed in unison. One monk yawned, he too was tired.
I sat on the stair steps, transfixed in a curious gaze watching the monks’ every actions until the final beat of the drum signaled the end of the early morning prayer ritual. They exited single file down the staircase, across the courtyard where a trough of incense burned and disappeared through a side door. Somewhere in the distance birds were chirping as I rose from my seated position. I followed the stone steps back to my room as the morning light danced across my feet. My body welcomed the warm comforter as I crawled back into bed. Within moments I was fast asleep. A few hours later my eyes fluttered opened.
“What a wonderful dream I thought to myself.” Then it all came back to me as I saw the proof of dirt still caked on the souls of my feet. The sleepy smile on my face broke into a huge grin, it wasn’t a dream….it wasn’t a dream.
12. Becoming a celebrity. With my 5’8” height, white skin and light eyes, I was a novelty in the mass of dark hair and dark eyes. Babies and small women were shoved in my arms while I walked on the street. Men and women tugged at my sleeves motioning me to look at the camera their friend held. In one instance, my blond hair friend Jan and I partook in a 20 minute photo shoot with about 15 curious Chinese men and women. I finally knew what it was like to be Jennifer Aniston.
13. Painting a picture with a Chinese artist. I helped Dongzuyi with his English and he showed me how to paint. He drew a mountain, I drew the rest of the mountain. I drew a tree, he filled in flowers. It is a simple pice of art with it’s child-like strokes of paint coupled with artistic prescision.
14. Riding a bicycle through rice paddy fields. Images of men and women, some wearing triangular straw hats, crouched down with their pant legs rolled up in ankle deep muddy water and threw blades of rice grass into the earth.
15. Climbing to the top of Moon Mountain. After a muddy walk up a hidden brush path, Jan and I reached the top of one of the most beautiful horizons I’ve ever seen. Tall pinnacles of rock jutted out from the ground in every direction like the points of a king’s crown while green rice patties and orange trees sparkled like jewels in the afternoon sun.
16. Sitting front row at the Youngshou Light Show. Lined behind me were bleachers of seats, in front of me water and pinnacles, the landscape transformed into a grand-scale stage. Powerful music played loudly. Lights danced in every direction and 800-some performers held me memorized throughtout the 2 hour show.
17. Taking a cooking class . With an apron tied around my waste and a cooking hat pinned to my hair, I fashionably learned how to make three Chinese dishes, the pork steam dumplings being my favorite.
18. Joining Vince, Michelle (friends of friends who live in Hong Kong) and 5 other girls for Dim Sum. For an afternoon I was not a backpacker. I was enjoying a mouthwatering Sunday Dim Sum lunch at a fancy club chatting with my new friends as though I have known them for years. It reminded me of my wonderful friends back home.