Warning: this is a marathon of a post.  Maybe my longest ever, and that’s saying something!  Probably outside of our family only my mother will make it all the way through…hi mom!  But this is for our family record and I wanted to have it all in one place rather than splitting it up so read at your own risk.

On Halloween we left to head to Beijing for the weekend.  We wanted to get there before it got too cold and it was our only weekend in the next few that we could make it work.  

The little girls had stars in their eyes about Halloween, so luckily we were able to celebrate with our branch trunk-or-treat back HERE, and they were semi-duped into thinking it would be cool to trick-or-treat on a high speed train from Shanghai to Beijing.
We were SO excited for this trip.  I mean, at that point it was still seeping in how lucky we were to get to do this as a family.  I’m so grateful for those kind of adventures where we get to learn so much.  Beijing and the Great Wall are pretty darn exciting things to have waiting on the horizon.  On top of that, Dave had been gone for a week on business and we were all looking forward to getting him back (he met us in Beijing).

We got settled into our seats (the train ride to Beijing is four and a half hours at almost 200 mph) and met some of the nicest people who wanted to practice their English and with whom the girls were excited to practice their Chinese.  

We did our “travel reports” on the way (we figured we’d have a few hours so we may as well make the most of it since we couldn’t sneak it in before we left).

Claire and Lucy did their report on the Great Wall of China.

They did a power point and everything, which cracked me up especially because some of their information was a little mixed up.  (i.e. the Great Wall is 550 km long in Beijing, not in all…luckily we were able to straighten them out a bit on a few facts when we got there:).

Their enthusiasm about the whole deal was pretty contagious:

The other kids took their turns too, and we skimmed the surface of the history a little deeper after that with our tour guide, but man alive there is a lot of history in Beijing.

After the reports it was time for Trick-or-Treating.

Claire and Lu were pleased as punch with their little boxes of raisins and some candy corn I smuggled back here when I went to my sister’s wedding in Utah.

It’s funny how the little things like candy corn in a foreign country where you can’t get them on Halloween can sure delight you.

We met up joyfully with Dave when we got there late and checked into our hotel.  
Man I love this family of mine.  
The next morning we got started bright and early and headed to the Great Wall.  I’m saving those pictures for tomorrow because we went crazy at that place loving it so much…too many pictures (too many here too…sorry!), but for now, and before I start any of this documenting, I have to give a shout-out to our tour guide Glenn in the red jacket below.  
He made our trip so great.  He was so good to us adjusting the schedule where needed and was filled to the brim with interesting history.  We will always have a soft-spot in our hearts for that guy.
After the Great Wall we headed on over to the Summer Palace.

The Summer Palace was built in the 1700s and is the largest preserved garden in China.  It was built as a little escape from the hot city for Chinese royalty (it is on a lake which I think must have made it a lot cooler in the summers).

It was burned and destroyed but rebuilt in the late 1800s by Empress Dowager Cixi who our tour guide referred to as “The Dragon Lady.”  She “retired” there but still kept control of the Chinese empire through her nephew Emperor Guangxu.  Much more about the history of that Empress, one of the two most powerful women in Chinese history here.

The little details of this place go on and on and on.

This pathway (called the “Long Gallery,” built by one of the Emperors for his mother so she could see the beautiful views as she walked, shaded, from one point of the Summer Palace to the other) went on for 728 meters, and every little beam has a Chinese landscape meticulously painted on it.  There are thousands of them all through the Summer palace complex depicting all different historical eras.

I have no idea how they keep all this painting up so nicely…I asked and our tour guide didn’t know and I even looked it up.  Maybe it’s magical.  But wow.

Close-up of the ceiling:

Unrelated to the Summer Palace, I have to just be mushy for a second and say how much I love this boy.  Every once in a while I just stop and let my heart be filled with gratitude that we get to have him so close and love him up as much as possible while we’re on this little adventure before he leaves us next year.

This lake behind us is man-made…the earth from it made that mountain on the right (“Longevity Hill”) where the “Tower of Buddhist Incense” sits.   
We climbed up all the steep steps…

…and more “galleries” to get there.

Empress Dawager Cixi (Dragon Lady) would be carried up all those steps to pray the first and fifteenth day of each lunar month.

There is a giant Buddha with twenty-five arms inside the tower.

The views were so beautiful from up there.

Loved this picturesque little river town we passed through when we went out the back way.

My sweetie-pie Grace saved this for me.

Love her.

For dinner Glenn took us to a place for Peking Duck, because I think it’s mandatory dish while visiting Beijing.  Ha!

It was a great dinner with even better conversation.

Beijing Night Market

Loved this place.

You can’t really grasp how interesting it was unless I really take you there:

Food in every type of variety is for sale there.

Below are sheep intestines:

Want to eat a turkey with it’s head looking up at you?  There you go.

We tried some things…like these candied apples:

…and just your average scorpion:

The scorpions brought us right back to the desert.  So we really needed to eat them right?

After the night market we walked down a big shopping street all lit up before heading back to the hotel.

Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven the next morning was beautiful and filled with history but before we got through to the actual attraction we sure saw some interesting things that drew us in.  And I have to share a few videos to give the full effect because there’s no other way to really explain it.  First there was the dancing.

We are kind of used to seeing this, it’s super common to see older people doing all kinds of workouts, mostly tai chi all over the place…in parking lots, on the sidewalks, but mostly in parks.

And I think this dancing stuff has become more and more common.  But this was different from what we had seen randomly before…it was like this whole area dedicated to all kinds of exercises.

After the dancers we noticed the “stretchers:”

You can’t tell from this picture but there were rows and rows and rows of them all stretching their legs.

And then we got into some more serious stuff with these older guys.

They were amazingly strong!!

…and flexible too:
They inspired some impromptu workouts of our own:)
This guy wanted to show us his two-finger pull-up tricks.  I’m mad I only got the tail end of his little show.

The girls joined in one of the dances as we pulled ourselves from the exercisers on our way to the temple (I think we could have stayed and watched for hours.)

I loved walking along the little pathway leading up to the temple, filled with elderly Chinese folks playing games and hanging out on a cold sunny Sunday morning.

Some doing little performances:

And then there we were, at the Temple of Heaven.

The Temple of Heaven was built round because in ancient Chinese culture the symbol for Heaven was a circle, and earth was a square (the gates surrounding it are square).  Originally this was a place for emperors to pray and make sacrifices for the harvests on certain days during the lunar calendar.

Being an Emperor in China involved several ritualistic duties, which evolved from one dynasty to the next.  In order to validate the system of leadership, it was important for each Emperor to outwardly show his devotion which involved worship at the Temple of Heaven.

Much of the area and the temple itself was ruined during the occupations of the Opium Wars, but in the early 1900s it was rebuilt and made into a public park.

More dancing and enjoyment of the park on the way out (closer to real tai chi):

Lucy, for whatever reason, was in the best mood ever walking out of that temple.  Oh boy, she was so happy!

On our way out we were mesmerized by some pretty wicked hackie-sack skills:

We went to church (in our Sunday clothes I didn’t get a picture of before I thought of it), but wanted to show the building where LDS church services take place in Beijing:

We were only there for an hour, but we heard some great messages.  The thing I loved most about that hour was standing up and singing with the congregation a song with “Hallelujah” in the chorus.  Made me tear up a little.  I have tearing-up-problems I think.

Tianamen Square
We had been here eight years ago (along with most of these other places) but it meant so much more this time around with kids who could really kind of internalize the history a little better this time around.

Whenever I think of Tianamen Square I automatically think of the protests in 1989 as I’m sure most people in our generation do.  This part of the trip was Max’s “report” and he showed us the video of “Tank Man” on that infamous day, and helped us think through what happened there.

But other things happened there too.  It was once the location of “The Gate of China” that led to the Forbidden City, British and French troops set up camp there when they invaded the city, during Mao Zedong’s reign much many buildings as well as the “Gate” were demolished to make way to build this square for large gatherings.

As we stood there discussing the history with our tour guide, I don’t want to ever forget how I felt.  It was an interesting mix of sadness and also a little fear.  I can’t really go into detail here, lots of discussion about Mao Zedong, thoughts about how interesting it is that he is made to still be so revered, which led to a discussion about communism and what is happening in Hong Kong, and all the while we were surrounded with video cameras on every light post and with soldiers marching around most places we went (they were getting ready for the APEC conference that next weekend–here).   Just some pretty interesting thoughts and discussions were spurred with Dave, our tour guide, and our kids.  I hope we will always remember them.

Forbidden City

The Forbidden City is where the Emperors lived for 500 years (from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty).

I have to include this picture (below) because it doesn’t look that crowded but I’m telling you, to get up there to take a look at that Imperial Throne through that door was quite a feat.  So many people pushing and pulling.

I have a picture of these guys (minus Lu) eight years ago, right in this spot.  Wish my external drive was working so I could post it.  (I’m having computer issues.)

This place was home to 24 Emperors.  We went through gallery after gallery of where they lived and ruled.  It was sad to think about how the Cultural Revolution destroyed so many of the important cultural relics and so much of the history of this country…so much that was now missing from this place.  So interesting to compare and contrast that to what happened in Cambodia and Vietnam.  
Dave took Lu, who lost interest pretty quick, under his wing and told her all kinds of imaginary stories about how an ancient Princess Lucy and her family lived there.  She told him which rooms she thought each family member would have lived in and ate it all up like nobody’s business.  Maybe some day those imaginary stories will lead into the real ones when she studies this place, or maybe she’ll just remember how happy she was walking around with her Dad on that cold November day, but my heart was full that he made it such a positive experience for her as the rest of us soaked in all the real history.

The Gardens:

Dave and Lu recapping their stories on the way out:

That night we walked around the “Hutong” area of Beijing (which is really called the Shichahai Area, but has a lot of narrow old streets connected together with traditional Chinese courtyards).  I wish we could have seen more of this place like we did eight years ago.  We got to go into an old home which I loved.  But we were on such a time restraint this time that we just walked around a little bit…

…and walked along the river area nearby…

…and had a traditional Mongolian Hot Pot dinner.

Again, Glenn took such great care of us!

We said our goodbyes and took a LONG ride to the airport.  
We sure haven’t had any shortage of planes, trains and automobiles on this trip.

With only a weekend to visit so many important places that made such a mark on the history of China all that we learned is still unfolding as we put together the history in our minds, and will be for a great long time.  Everything we have learned in history books has come more to life.  The saying is so true that the more you learn, the less you know.  The Cultural Revolution in and of itself is such a huge part of history that we only barely scratched the surface of.  There is so much to learn from life and how people live it.

But internalizing what we did, I hope we can all let these little seeds of history be a starting point for many things we will continue to learn in the future.  Of terror, of hope, of different ways to rule and regulate, of how a whole culture can shift and shake and twist under different dictators.  So grateful we got to experience the beginnings of those seeds right here, together.

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  1. What a wonderful time! Not that you aren't already incredibly busy, but I suggest reading Wild Swans:Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. It's a biography/autobiography of a woman, her mother, and her grandmother and living in pre-Mao, Mao, post-Mao times in China. It's really a fascinating book, full of history, but also an interesting read.

  2. I am fascinated with your photos/stories. Thanks for sharing them!
    And, I was shocked at the photos of some of the 'food' available in the market. You guys are brave to taste scorpions!!

  3. This post is too long! I had too many emotions reading it: I was impressed, disgusted (I'm sorry, but I'm a judgemental vegetarian…), interested and above all so jealous! 🙂
    I would love to see it all myself.

  4. I just finished reading this post and was going to recommend Wild Swans for you and/or your kids (especially the older girls). I see someone else has already recommended it, so let me just add my voice. It's a fascinating book and will provide some context (in addition to your visit) for much of the Chinese 20th century history you mention here. I always had trouble digesting facts in history class, and have realized novels and memoirs help me find meaning and context for historical events.

  5. I made it all the way through! This is a really random question, but can I ask where Elle gets her jeans? I am only 5'10 and I have trouble enough finding ones that are long enough! Sometimes even the longs are too short! So if you or her have any suggestions, I would appreciate it 🙂

  6. Beautiful photos! But I must ask, how can you really enjoy the moment when you're stuck behind the camera lens? When you're stopping the moment to have everyone pose in place? Are you just planning on re-living your life one day through pictures, rather than enjoying the now without worrying about getting the perfect shot of every little thing you see? That's gotta take the fun out of life and make it feel like work, to you and your subjects.

    1. Hollie, I can't speak for Shawni, but I can answer this question for myself. Whenever I'm somewhere I take pictures and afterwards I put the camera away to soak in the view/athomasphere. In general I think you're right. You need to pay attention not to be behind the camera all the time.

  7. I only wanted to comment that I found this post fascinating and I was so surprised that was a man-made lake and the hill also. However, I can also chime in about taking so many photos. I have an awful memory and with 3 boys of my own I am realizing that I actually wish we were taking MORE pictures. That's the best way for me to remember, my husband will recall things often that I have no recollection of. So sad!

  8. This is my third time through this to make sure I didn't miss anything. Honestly, thank heaven for those awesome cameras because they bring so many memories back….for you guys and for us when we were there, although you saw so much more and have captured it so incredibly well. LOVE those happy faces AND of course, Lucy's beaming smile and gorgeous giggle. I've never seen her quite so happy!

  9. P.S. The videos are to die for! It's almost as good as being right there by you! So glad I wasn't there to nibble on the scorpions. For some reason those little round snakes were just the worst! Maybe it was the color. Well those big spiders were maybe worse. I couldn't do it if my life depended on it! Maybe those were "to die for." 🙂

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