November, 2017…the first time I stepped foot in China. It was a business trip, from an unlikely source — Academia. I was invited to peak at a music industry conference that was held in Beijing. The Music Industry Forum was sponsored by the Communication University of China. The invite was from two professors of whom I’d met months earlier when they brought a group of their students to my small part of the USA — Middle Tennessee State University. It was a great event, Had a wonderful time, and I was fortunate enough to be able to do some sightseeing in between teaching a class at the university and speaking at the conference.
The following pages are my photo impressions of Beijing, China through my eyes.
Fast preparations. Had to pay to expedite my passport renewal, then pay to expedite a Chinese visa! Money exchange. Packing. Making arrangements to have my classes covered. Long flight, first to Chicago, then directly to Beijing, China!
Left Nashville the morning of OCT 31st. Arrived afternoon on NOV 1st! First, an introduction to the local Chinese food for dinner, then unpacking and an early to bed to flip the biological clock. Few things I had to get used to. First was not being able to access American news., no western social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) and absolutely nothing Google related. Second was the water; we couldn’t drink it. We were also told not to brush out teeth with it. Fortunately we were in a hotel where they provided two (free) bottles of water each day. The weather was very similar to what we’d left behind in Nashville; except for the morning alerts about “Unhealthy Air!” Yes, we saw people wearing masks almost every day, although those alerts only happened one or two times while we were there.
Thursday morning, we toured the Forbidden City with the three CUC students assigned to us. Wow, that was a very large place! We didn’t even get to half of it.
Then we went to Tiananmen Square. A very interesting and surreal moment.
After three of us taught at the CUC campus on Thursday evening, a larger group of us met for dinner and to meet one another. Dining was different. Somewhat family-style. The food you ordered was not your own; it is meant for the table. Everything is brought out and placed on a large “lazy susan” spin-style table. You turn the table to the items you want and using chopsticks (contrary to what someone — an American — told me once, they really DO use chopsticks at every meal), you take the portion you want and place on your plate. There are no serving utensils, so it’s nothing for someone to “double dip” as we might refer to it here, taking additional bites as it might come back around. Hot water is served at every meal; tea upon the asking. We were told to stay away from the fresh uncooked vegetables, since most would have been rinsed in the same water we were trying to avoid. But hot water and hot tea was fine. Oftentimes, I just asked for carton juice, and the person traveling with me almost always had canned Coke!
Most of Friday was spent at the Fourth Music Industry Forum, which was fortunately held in the same hotel where we were staying. Lots of people in attendance, including media and government officials.
Might be a little hard to find me among so many people…Ahh, just kidding. You’re blind if you can’t! It was pretty cold that morning, and we weren’t given prior notice that we’d be stepping outside for this photo, so my coat and sunglasses were upstairs in my room. I started to run upstairs to grab it, but when I did the math on the number of chairs they had, I decided to hang around so I could be sure to get one. HA!
After lunch with the other American and European guest speakers, I attended other breakout sessions before getting an opportunity to informally sit down with one of the top promoters in Beijing and talk about concert promotions from his perspective. It was very enlightening, but again, I’ll withhold specific comments about it over the internet.
As “bad luck” would have it, the afternoon sessions ran over, pushing ours back to early evening. But we had a good audience who remained, nonetheless — with one surprise exception. Our session was scheduled to end at 6 PM. Since we didn’t start until around 5:30 (originally scheduled for a 4:45 time slot), the Translators promptly packed up and left in the middle of our session. Only two of our five panelists had spoken at that point, leaving our Chinese audience to fend for themselves at what we English speaking foreigners were talking about. Fortunately, our own host, who sat with us on the panel, summarized each remaining speaker’s presentation in Chinese for the audience. Of course, that made the session last even longer!
On Saturday, we had most of the day to get out and see more of China! I mean, who comes to Beijing, and doesn’t make time to see the Great Wall? So of course, that was on our list. And it didn’t disappoint! I surprised myself being able to do so much walking. I wasn’t that worried about being in “shape” to do it, but rather, with the ongoing problems with my knees and back (for which I’m still in physical therapy), I thought for sure I’d only last a short distance. But God (and the pain medicine I took before leaving the hotel) helped me to keep up and get to see and learn more about the countryside of this city. I just can’t imagine returning to the U.S. having not taken advantage of this.
It took a series of things to get up to the Wall. First, we were dropped off by our driver (the ride from our hotel was over 90 minutes with the traffic) in a parking lot where we met our tour guide. From there we walked the equivalent of several blocks to the entrance to get our tickets. We needed a ticket for the shuttle that would take us to another drop-off point, and one for the cable car up the mountain from that point, and then a different one for the Toboggan ride back down. With tickets in hand, we walked uphill to the area where the shuttles drove people further up the mountain. I thought we’d get a lot closer, but no. From that point we had to walk even more, for what felt like forever; with vendors everywhere trying to sell everything you can imagine as being the usual “tourist junk!” We finally got to the second place to get onto a cable car. There are many reasons why I never took up skiing, trying to feel “okay” about dangling over a mountain as a chain pulled us higher and higher is one of the main ones! I managed just enough courage to take a selfie and a few pictures as we moved. I have to admit my fear of possibly dropping my phone, coupled with realizing just how high up we were climbing, had to doing more holding tight to the rails, eyes closed, than picture taking! But when I did take the opportunity to look around, however briefly, I couldn’t believe the incredible views.
Once at the place where the cable let us off (jumping off of it is the second most reason I never cared to make ski lifts a regular part of my life), the rest was foot power. How far you walked, how high you explored, was totally up to each individual’s desires. My first desire was to keep from tripping over the 2,000 plus year old stones, steps, and walkways! Our tour guide shared lots of great information about it, including how the wall was built in several sections over the course of several hundreds of years, through several Dynasties. The combined Wall itself is, or what’s left of it, is over 5,000 miles (8,800 km) long, with most of what’s left having been built during the Ming Dynasty. I can’t even imagine!
Since returning, I learned that the Ming Great Wall crosses 9 provinces and municipalities: Liaoning, Hebei, Tianjin, Beijing, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Ningxia, Gansu. Nearly 1/3 of the Great Wall has disappeared without trace. And since 1644, when the Ming Dynasty was overthrown, no further work has been done on the Great Wall — for military purposes — but some has been restored for tourism.
Speaking of military purposes, our guide told us that soldiers would actually live in the watch towers for months at a time (photos below), instead of having to go up and down the mountain. Their job was to watch out for enemies. They were also used as some of the workforce to build the wall, along with prisoners, and male members of farmers who were forced to send a male member from each family to help. Looking at how steep the hillside is, and knowing that we’re talking thousands of years ago, it made everything about being there even more surreal.
And then we had to come down? I had imagined I might enjoy the Toboggan Run more than getting on that cable car again. The jury’ s still out on all that! The photos of the actual course were taken from the cable car on the way up.
In between tours we stopped at the Pearl Market to do a little shopping and eat lunch. It was five stories higher; mostly a lot of vendors yelling at us to buy stuff from their booths and partitioned space — umm, a lot of items; mostly purses and shoes, that had names I recognize that I’m certain wasn’t really what they claimed. I’ll just leave that here too. But we made out way to the upper floors where there were numerous shops selling genuine pearls. I made sure our tour guide checked out everything I looked at, for quality and pricing. Before leaving, I put together a bag full of Chinese candies to take back to my students. Our guide seemed impressed I would think of them, while being equally shocked that I had 100 students among the four classes I teach.
We actually started the day at the Temple of Heaven, with the Imperial Hall of Heaven, including the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest. While there we also visited the Imperial Vault of Heaven, and the Fasting Palace.
One of the things I loved the most was the senior park we went to. I’m sure that’s not the name, but it’s a place where retired senior adults gather to socialize, exercise, dance, and even find a mate for their adult kids! Yep, you read correctly. There’s a section in the park called the Match Maker’s park where parents and grandparents gather to share information about their unmarried sons and daughters, and try to make a match for their kids.
The park was beautiful; Fall colors on the trees in full display. It was really cool, and somewhat convicting seeing all of those 60-somethings and 70-somethings, and even older adults exercising early in the morning. Since it was a Saturday, there were also several young people around, but there was no doubt this place was all about senior living, the Chinese way. We, here in American, could certainly take away something positive from this, and their focus on keeping the mind and body sharp and in shape!
We got back to the hotel in time to meet our hosts for our last meal together. The previous day, two of the professors had talked us in to joining them at a punk rock club on Saturday night. After being away all day, walking the equivalent of several miles, including major hill climbing at the Wall, the last thing I wanted to do is go out to a club. But I thought it would be rude to bail out. And the extra enticement was that they said they had a “surprise” waiting for me. Several of the other educators were also planning to attend, but I really just wanted a way out — like my boss, who played the “bad headache” card and went back to her room. So I went.
I’m glad I went, but I won’t lie. I was SO exhausted I couldn’t enjoy much of it. Punk music isn’t my thing And apparently, you can smoke inside in China. So picture a tiny, what we would call “hole in the wall” club filled mostly with 20-somethings pressed against a small stage, with live rock (I determined there was nothing “punk” about it; just typical college rock. But one of the highlights of going for me was getting to see one of my former exchange students from 2014! That was the surprise they had waiting for me.
Thankfully our flight out wasn’t until the afternoon, so the morning lobby call wasn’t too early. Our dutiful students, one in particular who had taken such great care of us the entire week, met us after breakfast, to help get us back to the airport. Before departing he had a sweet gift waiting for for each of us, which he shyly asked us not to open until we were gone. Likewise, I’d put something together for him as well.
And before I knew it, we were back onboard for another 14 hour plus flight back to Nashville, via Newark, NJ. Of course, as timing would have it, getting back in to the US was a very long process, and then our flight out of NJ to TN got delayed due to storms.
Hey, and I had TWO Sunday, NOV 6 this year!