Tuesday, September 3, 2013

China, more than any other country we have visited, is a place that leaves us with more questions than answers; a place that truly stretches our limits and, at least temporarily, shatters our prior patterns of thinking.  This may sound like quite the dramatic reflection on a three-week trip to China, yet both of us are certain that we are not quite the same individuals as before we had set foot in the PRC (People's Republic of China).  

Now why exactly would this be?  Only time will give us perspective, but we can venture a few guesses.  First of all, in contrast to all of our prior destinations, days often passed in China without another foreign traveler to be seen, very little English was spoken or printed on signs, Internet was unreliable and many of our usual websites were inaccessible.  There was practically no Western comfort food or Western media available.  The crowds, pollution and infinite number of gargantuan buildings contributed to a general sense that we were light-years from home.

On this trip so far, China is also the place where we have received some of the most enthusiastic greetings and observed the most luminous smiles.  It contains my favorite art district (Beijing) and some of our favorite pastries (go figure!).  It is a place that honors tradition and forges ahead at breakneck speed, sometimes in unexpected ways.  It is mystifying, baffling, intimidating, inspiring, transformative.  Thank you, China :)

Two apparently junior police officers chat it up near a bus stop.  Beijing.

Impromptu photography session outside a shopping center, Beijing.

One of China's many adorable babies checks us out at the Forbidden City.  Beijing.

Heading back to our Beijing hotel, about to sardine it in the metro.

Foliage on the hike up to the Great Wall outside Beijing.

The cloud cover added drama to the already magical experience of viewing this world-renowned site.  It really felt as though we were traveling back in time, as we could not see any indication of modern technology from the wall.  That is, until a dude jogged past us, talking on his iphone at top volume.  

Las cuñadas (sisters-in-law) at the Great Wall, after catching our breath from the steep ascent.  We had a delightful time with her, our niece and our brother-in-law, who was in the area for work.

Beijing on a very clear day!  

The family orders pizza after the visit to the Great Wall, with an added bonus of viewing an extremely organized employee performance evaluation.

Antique Market, Beijing.

Antique Market, Beijing.

Busy day at the Antique Market.

A gentleman and his daughter head home after a day selling goods at the Antique Market in Beijing.

A side street off of the Antique Market, where one can find such things as traditional artwork, war memorabilia, pottery and opium pipes.

One of the many physical altercations/screaming matches we witnessed in Beijing, due to an apparent near miss between a pedestrian and motorbike driver.

Approaching the Temple of Heaven we observe a group of men enthusiastically playing Chinese checkers.  Beijing.

The man in the center has apparently undergone cupping treatments, a traditional suction-cup based Chinese healing practice used for various, mostly chronic, ailments.

The Temple of Heaven, dedicated to maximizing the harvest and enjoying a bumper crop each year.

A cute ad that I, of course, cannot read.

Nappin' in the street.  Beijing.

Another clever ad.

Harold enthusiastically purchases a food item that resembles a Mexican gordita;  it did not taste like one....

Our favorite area of Beijing!

The art district.

Kind of silly.  Beijing art district.

A shop in the art district.

One of my favorite galleries.

This is not an actual person, FYI.

Art district, Beijing.

Kind of funny.  Art district, Beijing.

Art district, Beijing.

Art district, Beijing.

Another favorite gallery in the art district.

Too perfect.  Art district, Beijing.

Caged in with our sweet niece.  Art district, Beijing.

Another bird cage in the art district.

Moving on to one of the more commercialized hutongs, or traditional alleyways, with the original architecture quite well preserved.

 Hutongs, Beijing.

Hutongs, Beijing.

Steamed buns near our hotel in Beijing.

We spent a lot of our time in Beijing shopping, arriving too early for our third trip to the clothing market, much to Montse's dismay :)

After a tearful goodbye to Montse and our niece in Beijing, we moved on to Shanghai by overnight train.

Fun window design in Shanghai.

The stunning and intimidating skyline of the Bund area of Shanghai, one of the world's largest cities.

Jazz on a shopping street in Shanghai.

Exploring the alleys of Shanghai, where very few visitors venture, we received many warm greetings and curious glances.

An entryway in Shanghai.

The Bund, Shanghai.

Another shot of the Shanghai skyline.

Which way to Yu garden?  The signs don't help!  Shanghai.

The Yu garden shopping center, Shanghai.

Yu garden.

Near the Yu garden.

A fortune teller draws an audience at the Yu garden shopping center in Shanghai.

Near the Temple of God in Shanghai.

A traditional tea house near the Temple of God in Shanghai.

Our lovely, relaxing hostel in Shanghai, which featured some lovely artwork.

Looking a bit worse for wear while eating impressively tasty fast food at Dico's.  This is after a 31-hour train ride from Shanghai to Nanning, in southern China.  We accidentally bought tickets for a hard, upright, non-reclining seat in the smoke-filled, crowded carriage rather than a sleeper car, resulting in one of the most challenging, valuable experiences of our trip so far.

Nevertheless, we were over the moon to see our soft sleeper compartment on the next train, from Nanning, 
China to Hanoi, Vietnam.

Hello, Hanoi!

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