Mrs. Fong and the Dragon Lady

Its official, i don’t think i have ever sweated as much, in fact i pretty much felt like i had turned to liquid – it was about 35 degees and so humid that the whole city was buried in a fog. No need for saunas over here!

We started the day with a rickshaw around the hutong. The hutong is a very old part of the city where people live in quadrangles, its largely pedestrianised as the roads are really alleyways and people live their lives on the street – cooking, playing “cards”, chatting, doing laundry and rearing small animals! This for me, is the China of the imagination. We visited a school for children from 2-7. They were doing their exercises when we got their – stretching and bending. Some of these kids board and get home 2 a week. schooling is not free – it costs Euro30 per month – out of an average industrial wage of Euro300 per month. This suprised me as i thought in a communist country education would be free.

The one child per family policy is really noticable – children are quiet and very sedate as they spend so much time with adults. i am fascinated by this policy and people’s acquiescence. I’d love to know if the effect on women has been studied – you hear so much about ticking bio clocks and reproductive rights in the West…. I’d imagine it also must have a huge impact on the economy to have women so available for working outside the home.

We had lunch in a family home – a Mrs. Fong. She spoke no English, but through our guide it was obvious that she was charming. Her family home was 4 rooms, 3 of the 4 being multifunctionable. She had 2 daughters. Her home was part of a quadrangle, the centre courtyard had been built on too. I was taken aback how closely these families lived together – washing dishes, sitting around together. I asked about how they settled neighbor dispuites and was assured they didn’t have any :)
The food at Mrs Fongs was the nicest yet.

We left our rickshaws and the hutong after lunch and headed 35 km outside the city to The Summer Palace. This place was all about a loud, aggressive statement of power by the Dragon Lady – an Empress who ruled at the turn of the 19th century. Her son was too young to rule when he succeeded to the throne so, Mom ruled instead. Then when sonny was old enough she arrested him and kept him hidden in The Forbidden City until he died- 3 days before her !!! What a dame!

The palace was beautiful and situated by a lake. She (dragon lady) had a continious corridor built from the palace to the lake of over 1 km long – all with ornamental roofs and hand painted scenes. The whole place was amazing- power and affluence are demonstrated in the size of the buildings, the external ornamentation and the size of the grounds. The insides are pretty low key and not really that interesting. We walked the corridor and then took a dragon boat back up the lake – wonderful.

After the palace we went to a pearl “factory”. Adam & Cora dug pearls from an oyster…….and yes, we bought some pearl jewelery – tourist suckers that we are :)

We then went to the biggest and busiest train station i have ever seen! Actually, it was a bit panicky there were so many people, lots of very loud Chinese announcements over the tannoy, the heat unbearable, uncooperative suitcases …..and did i mention the number of people! Thank heavens for our guide – he is incredibly helpful. Our train was to take us to Xi’an – a city of 7 million in the centre of the country. We had a cabin with 4 bunks and a little table – reminded me of a ferry cabin except you had a window and flat screen tv’s for each bed and the air conditioning was brilliant – can you imagine 35 degrees with over 100% humidity in a tiny cabin!
The kids were really excited about sleeping on a train, so we needed some severe beatings all around before sleep settled on one and all :)

Timeless and Mysterious…

On Saturday evening we ventured out for dinner…….finally picked a large and busy place that – thankfully had the menu in pictures and some sketchy English…..we managed to avoid bullfrog, black goat, turtle (steamed) and pigs face – our loss possibly! The whole street was festooned in red paper lanterns, golden lettering and silk flowers -almost “comic book” Chinese.

Our sunday morning wasn’t that typical really……we spent the time wandering on the Great Wall-pretty cool. The Wall itself was spectacular and shrouded in mist, it was timeless and mysterious. What really added to it was the atmosphere – the place was filled with Chinese tourists thoroughly enjoying themselves…..at 11am it seemed like everyone sat down on the top of the wall and took out picnics. It was really festive in a way. After lunch we visited the Ming Tomb area and the Dingling tomb in particular – this is a series of courtyards and an underground palace – naturally :) Its over 30 degrees and very humid – not a pretty look when you have curly hair like myself and Cora :)

The kids are having their photos taken by people everywhere – people love to have them pose with their own (strictly one only) child. Must be the light hair and blue white Irish skin!

It’s all becoming very real

What started out as a plan crafted on a wet Sunday afternoon has now become a full blown adventure that is mindblowingly exciting. We can’t quite believe that this is about us – trying to picture us with the backdrop of Ayers Rock, Toyko and Bejing is too much!!! We have 7 weeks left before we head out- still planning and organising to do, but, frankly- it’s been extraordinarily easy…….for such a life altering event (hopefully). The countdown begins in earnest next Friday at the 6 week stage………..:-)