Wow, I don’t even know how to start talking about my month in Beijing. The short version is: we were in Beijing for a month and all we saw was the Great Wall. The longer version is that we were so busy seeing people and eating food that in the end, we only had one free day left for sightseeing, so we picked to go to the Great Wall.
Visiting Beijing is not just traveling to another city. It’s a homecoming. This is the city I was born in and the city where my mom’s side of the family still resides. This is the city where my mom’s very best friends – my unofficial aunties who watched me grow up – also live. This is where my life began, where my earliest memories are formed, and where I’m always welcomed and loved.
And thus, visiting Beijing has never been about seeing the sights, and instead, is more about spending time with the people. This, however, was D’s first time in the city as an adult (he visited once when he was 8 and doesn’t really remember anything), so I found myself caught between seeing my people, showing D the city, and making time to work.
(Oh, and add about a week’s worth of down-time due to an impromptu Lasik eye surgery.)
Before coming to Beijing, I had a list of all of famous sites I wanted to take D to. Must-sees like the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, etc. A whole month will be plenty of time to hit up everything, I thought. But in between seeing people, my surgery, and D coming down with a slight cold, by the end of the month, the only site we managed to get to was the Great Wall.
So what exactly did we do with our month? We…
Introduced D to my family
The last time I was in Beijing was 5 years ago. This time, I came back with a boyfriend by my side. I give D props for speaking Mandarin (even if it was poorly) and taking all their food offerings (even if he was bursting) and they all loved him for it. :)
Stuffed our faces with Grandma’s home cooked meals
Mom, your cooking is good, but there’s nothing like grandma’s home cooked dishes. Despite eating at some more pricey restaurants in Beijing, the best meals I had were all when I went over to my grandma’s for dinner. There’s still nothing like your favorite childhood dishes!
Had lunch with my aunties
No visit to Beijing is complete without seeing my unofficial aunties. As always, they are way too generous when taking us out to eat.
And of course, we looked at old pictures and couldn’t help but recreate one!
Reunited with D’s long lost cousin
Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who had family in Beijing. D found out that his aunt (mom’s older sister) and cousin, both of whom he hasn’t seen in 20 years, are also long term city locals. And what’s even more… his cousin, Alex, lived practically around the corner from our rental in Sanlitun.
We were fast friends with Alex as he and D are around the same age. We usually don’t meet too many people on our travels, so it was really fun to have someone to go out with once in a while. Alex gave us an excellent introduction to the Beijing nightlife scene. There was definitely one night where way too many drinks were consumed.
We also met with D’s aunt, but unfortunately forgot to get a picture together. After a great conversation over lunch, I was convinced that D is basically a younger, male version of her.
Got pampered with a day at the baths
When we first moved to Pennsylvania, one of my mom’s best friends (from the dumplings picture above) put us in contact with her family in same city. If not for them, our years in PA would have been a lot more lonely (and maybe even Santa-less). Since then Uncle Shen (as we call him) has remarried and moved back to Beijing. It was nice to see with him again after all these years and to meet his new wife.
They invited us out to a day at the thermal baths. This is apparently a popular activity for Beijing’s retired population. A day pass at the spa not only includes entry to the baths but also to the elaborate lunch and dinner buffet. We were very well fed and pampered that day.
Attempted to see the Beijing peach blossoms
Beijing’s peach blossoms are very locally famous and can be considered on the same caliber as Netherland’s tulips or Japan’s sakuras. So one very early morning, we piled into my aunt and uncle’s car to make the 1.5 hour drive out there. Unfortunately, when we arrived, most of the blossoms had already died, but we did see a few trees with flowers still hanging on.
The peach blossoms were a disappointment, and so the next day, we made up for it and…
Visited the tulip fields!
Am I in Beijing or am I in the Netherlands?! Last year when D and I were in Holland, we didn’t go to see the famous tulips, but now we got to see them just outside of Beijing (at the International Flower Port). I can always count on my aunt and uncle to bring us to interesting places that normal tourists don’t visit.
Ate A LOT of food
I gained so much weight in Beijing and I attribute it to too much good food and everyone overfeeding us (though a lot of it is self-incurred too). Among the most memorable:
Got impromptu Lasik surgery
I already wrote about how this impromptu decision was made. I plan on doing a detailed post all about my experience soon! This took me out of action for a few days, where I did nothing but listen to audio books and nap.
Petted a giant panda!
One of my mom’s best friend’s son now works at the Beijing Zoo… in the panda house, no less! He seriously has my dream job! I may never get to be a panda caretaker, but I can visit them and even get to pet + feed a baby panda!
And finally, saw the Great Wall
Finally 2 days before we were due to leave, we made it to the Great Wall! My aunt and uncle took us to the Simatai section (a less touristed one) and truly, on a weekday, there were barely any other people. Words completely fail me and I will probably have a post coming up with just 50 pictures from the Great Wall, but for now, here’s a sneak peak!
After coming down from the Great Wall, we all headed to my grandma’s house for our send-off dinner. We gorged on a delicious spread of dumplings and my favorite home-style dishes. We talked about how fast the month flew by.
“That’s too bad that you guys didn’t see any of the important things,” my uncle said.
“What are you talking about?” I replied. “We did all of the most important things.”
We spent a lot of time with family. We reunited with long lost relatives. We visited a couple of local sites. We experienced Beijing night life. And of course, we ate a ridiculous amount of food, both expensive and cheap. And we even got to pet a panda!
I can’t think of anything I missed. :)