China (Beijing): Forbidden City – by Caleb

Today we visited to the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is one of the most popular historical tourist attractions in the world. When we got there, there were thousands of people lined up to get in. We waited for ½ an hour in a line just to get passed security. Finally we got passed security and went to the entry gate and discovered we needed to have tickets to get passed this point. The people at the ticket gate told us the ticket booth was 100 m behind us, so we walked back to a small place where a few people were. We asked for tickets but the people said we were still in the wrong place and we needed to go another 100 m behind us! Finally we got to the ticket booth and waited in line for an hour to get our tickets. Once we got in it was worth it. It was huge! I learned a lot of things while I was there.

The Forbidden City consists of 9,999 rooms. 25 Emperors lived in the Forbidden City over 500 years. No one but the royal family and the court could enter the Forbidden City. In the city there are 1,000,000 artifacts. You can tell how important a building is by how many statues there are in it. The most important buildings are allowed to have no more than 10 statues. There is a 26 foot high wall behind the moat to protect the city. All of the buildings are for the emperors many wives. The emperor had to take care of the wives even after they were too old to “sleep with him”. There were huge vats, as big as me, which held water to put out the fires. (Most of the city was made of wood, and it often caught fiIMGP0354re.) They covered the vats with blankets in the winter to keep the water from freezing.DSCF8935

The main downside to visiting the city was that it was very repetitive; every section looked identical; it was hot and very crowded. Other than that it was great.

China (Beijing): The Forbidden City (a Lesson in Personal Space) – by Barb

Today we decided to visit the Forbidden City. Thankfully we had already figured out the metro so we could save a little bit of walking by traveling a couple of subway stops and getting off right at the Forbidden City. When we came out of the metro, however, we were greeted with throngs of people who apparently were standing in line waiting to get in to the Forbidden City. I was a little annoyed that we hadn’t made it out of the apartment earlier to avoid the crowds but figured there was nothing we could do about it now. Of course, the temperature was already a nice balmy 37 degrees, with about 98% humidity so it was oh-so comfortable sandwiched between thousands of sweaty odoriferous people. I’m not sure how anyone thinks that it helps the line to move faster if they press themselves up against one another but that seems to be the norm. After 40 minutes squished in line, we finally went through a security scanner and came out into the open. We thought this was the entrance but it turned out we had to move into another line and go through another gate. Once ‘inside” we were told we needed to go to yet another line to get tickets. By this point Clay and the boys were looking a little wilted so I offered to stand in line to get the tickets while they waited under a tree. The line was, of course, out in the direct sun and moved at a snail’s pace. Again, people left next to no space between one another – making those of us who are used to a nice big circle of North American personal space, feel just a little uncomfortable. To add to the fun, the man behind me seemed to think it was a good time to “yell” at all of his buddies on his cellphone at top volume in Chinese. Then he would step up beside me in line, as though he might just be able to sneak past me at some point, if I didn’t seem to pay too close attention. Well, enough was enough, I gave him my “nasty” look and stepped out in front of him, and put my hands over my ears to show that I didn’t appreciate losing my hearing while waiting and burning to a nice crisp in the ticket line. I think he found this quite amusing and said something cheerfully to his wife and daughter. After 1 ½ hours we did finally manage to get tickets and enter the Forbidden City. Of course by this point we were very tired and hungry – I wonder how early we would have had to have been to be first in line?!DSCF8937

China (Beijing): Lost in a Hutong – by Clay

Well, we left the hotel at noon today, jumped in a taxi and headed to our “Real Beijing” apartment. The driver took us through a mildly harrowing ride through the city (for which I am glad we are not trying to drive through because traffic lights and pedestrian safety seems to be secondary, possibly even tertiary, to driver rights.

Anyway, the driver drops us off on some grotty street and points down an even grottier alleyway. All we have is the address of … Hutong. Hutong means “alley” in Chinese by the way. Barb just starts walking down the alleyway and since we don’t have SIM cards for our phones we couldn’t call our apartment contact. After about 15 minutes it’s apparent that we are just further and further into the bowels of this area and I see that Caleb’s face is registering some mild panic. He even suggested we head back to the spot where the taxi dropped us off. I start saying, “Ni-hao” to everyone who passes us and point to the address written on our piece of paper. They all look and it and shake their heads because it’s written in our English alphabet, not in Chinese characters. My panic level is starting to rise as well!

As we work our way back to our drop off spot Barb suggests we look for a store to buy a SIM card so we can call the apartment lady. I spot this hole in the wall store no bigger than the main floor bathroom in our house and try not to butcher the pronunciation of “Xiaoju Hutong” while pointing to the 33. The man seemed to understand and rattled off about 100 words of instructions on how to get there in Mandarin. My face must have looked panicked and I motioned him to follow me out to the street and I pointed in a vague direction with a questioning look on my face. He pointed down the grotty alley we had just come from but made a “veer to the right through that sketchy arch” hand motion (adjective mine). I smiled and said “shey shey” and headed in that direction with Barb and the boys in tow. We go through the arch and the alley veers right and we spot a number 26 so we keep going to find the 33. At one point we manage to find 32 and 34 but there is no 33! These three little girls sitting in the alleyway call out “Hi” and “Hello”. Obviously we are sticking out horrendously as tourists. I asked the girls where 33 was and they just laughed and shook their heads.

Well, my panic was starting to rise even more and I just prayed really quick for help. We turned around and this man could tell we were in distress and he approached me. Again I tried by best at pronouncing and he looked around and led us a short way back, about 40m. We had passed the place and not even known it. So we head in and this alley makes the alleyway look like the 407. We follow it to a dead end and I’m sure this is where the taxi driver has texted his mugging buddies to lie in wait for us. Then I hear a voice from behind call out, “Barbara?” – it was our contact.

The apartment is very small and cramped by North American standards and some things take a little getting used to – such as the toilet stall that doubles as a shower, never mind that the electronics are all open and susceptible to shorting due to the spray of water but hey, when in Rome…

We explored the inner city a little bit but stayed to major streets and I took pictures every 100-200m or so, not of people or interesting buildings but of street signs. If we got lost I had a “trail of bread crumbs” that we could follow back to the apartment and could show people if we got really lost because the signs were in Chinese characters that they could read.DSCF8943 DSCF8939 DSCF8965

I think the boys are overwhelmed and experiencing the double whammy of extreme culture shock and jet lag. We came back after walking a bit further find out about booking a Great Wall tour and off to bed they went. Not even any bargaining to stay up later!

China (Beijing): Adjusting to Time and Culture – by Barb

We have arrived in China! After a 13-hour flight we arrived in Beijing. I figured we would all be rather tired and cranky after flying all night and that we might need some time to adjust before immersing ourselves in Chinese culture; so I booked 2 nights at an airport hotel in Beijing to help us settle in with something a little more familiar and easier to navigate. As an added bonus, the hotel had a swimming pool and I thought that would help the boys (plus Clay and I) to keep busy abeijing-sportnd get over jet lag, without having to venture too far.

Getting to our hotel proved to be very simple. I had reserved the airport shuttle ahead of time and they sent very clear directions explaining how to access it. The hotel was very nice, with our room being a little small (which we expected!): 3 small twin beds just fitting side-by-side. The pool was a real hit with the boys and was beautiful –you could swim from the inside pool to the outside one. There was also a pool table and ping pong table. The hotel served a breakfast buffet with a mix of Chinese and some American-style food. We did head out and walk around the area and tried to find some lunch but we had not yet withdrawn any local money (mistake: we should have taken money out and purchased a SIM card at the airport) and no one accepted credit cards, nor could they even understand what we were asking! We could tell the boys were getting a bit overwhelmed with their new environment and they were starving, so we ended up heading back to the hotel and having lunch at the café. The next morning we were off, ready to experience “the real China”!

How to Pack for an Around the World Trip – by Barb

One of the most frequently asked questions I get, is “What do you take when you are traveling the world for a year?” My short answer is that you pack about the same as you would for a week. Of course, there are a few other considerations that must be made such as medication, climate, and safety. We are just beginning to embark on our world trip, and have read many well-written blogs with packing lists and advice, but here is what we have started out with and how we packed it:

The packing really began a year ago! I read various travel blogs and packing lists and started to collect things that we thought we might need. We went to the Tilley end of year sale last summer and purchased a few quick dry pieces of clothing for Clay and I. A week or so before the trip, I began to lay out everything we thought we might need in the basement. I put it in little bins to keep it organized and categorized each of them. As the departure date drew closer we would look at what was in each bin and see if we could eliminate anything.

Our goal was for each person to have a day pack. We didn’t want those giant 60 L packs because we felt they would be difficult to manage (there was no way the boys could carry them!) and we certainly wouldn’t want to be walking around with them on a daily basis. So, we each have a day pack but we tucked the boys’ day packs inside a roller backpack so that they wouldn’t have to carry them through airports, trains, and such. We also had a small duffle that we really liked. It had wheels, was slim and easy to maneuver. We decide to purchase another, even smaller one to put in extra items that we would need.

 

packing7

 

The first 2 bins were filled with the clothes we would be wearing on the plane:

  • long pants,
  • long sleeved shirts,
  • fleece,
  • socks,
  • underwear,
  • hiking shoes

packing4Then we had a bin for each of us with the clothes we would be taking:

  •  3-5 t-shirts each
  • 2 long sleeve shirts
  • 1 long pants (in addition to those we are wearing on plane)
  • 3-5 shorts
  • 5 underwear
  • 5 socks
  • 1 thermal underwear
  • 1 flip flops (for showers)
  • 1 hiking sandals
  • swim suit
  • pajamas

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The next bin had sun and rain gear:

  • sun hats
  • rain jackets

 

 

 

 

The clothes were the easy part! It’s all of the other bits and pieces that really add up. We had:

Eye Wear: extra glasses for Caleb and I; contact solution; disposable contacts (12 month supply)

Gifts: some Canada pencils, Canada pins to hand out if we need some Canadian gifts for kids

School and Games: a couple of notebooks for the boys to do their math work; some cards and a puzzle; writing implements (pen, pencil, eraser, ruler, scissors, tape)packing8

Health: malaria medication, travel medical kit, mosquito repellant for clothes and skin, sunscreen, Motrin, antibiotics

Electronics: 3 iphones, 2 iPad minis, 1 MacBook Air, headphones, chargers, hard drive, and bunch of other chords that Clay says we need!

Safety: whistles on lanyards, money belt, locks for suitcases,ear plugs, sleep masks

Warm Gear: gloves, warm hats

Toiletries: toothbrushes and toothpaste, small makeup kit, travel shampoo, travel contact solution, hair clips (3), brush and comb, deodorant, razor, soap, Diva cup

Other Bits: swim goggles, clothesline, Sporks, Swiss Army knife, 2 travel towels, 4 sleep sacks, laundry detergent

 

The final result: yes, it all fit into our backpacks and 2 roller duffels! Yahoo!

What Did the Kids Do While We Were Packing? – by Barb

So for the past month or so (since school finished) Clay and I have been spending most of our time getting ready for the trip (when we were not kicked out of our house so it could be shown). While we tried to include the boys in the packing and prepping as much as possible, thboys on lawn2e reality was that a lot of it had to be done by us. This meant they had to find things to do on their own – which required lots of imagination since the house had been emptied of  toys and each day the furniture was being pulled away from under them! I was really impressed with how well they handled the whole situation. Yes, there were some days when I had to offer some suggestions and come up with plans to help keep them busy but a lot of the time they came up with their own ideas. Here you see them spending several hours under the tree using an overturned bucket as a table on which they played cards.