China, a land of paradoxes. Brunch in our hotel is an extravaganza beyond any we have experienced. We sit in our hotel’s window-walled dining room and watch the Chinese flag raised in front of Chanel and Louis Vuitton just across the street, as we eat waflles with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. On the sidewalk in front of us a pair of perfectly-in-unison Chinese soldiers patrols the area as groups of street sweepers pass by. A woman who seems to be in the process of moving struggles under her load of basins and bags and a sleeping pad. We are treated like royalty as we watch what is reality for so many Chinese. We are humbled – and we pray. I wear my BCS t-shirt loudly proclaiming “I CARRY HOPE” and I am just arrogant enough to beam it across Beijing as we sit talking around our breakfast table, blessing this land with freedom, with hope, with life, with a release of all the creativity hidden inside of her. China is a beautiful nation, filled with strong, perseverant, sacrificial, obedient people. They are ready to release more beauty, to build on the foundation of order already so prevalent in their nation, and to disrupt that perfect order with dangerous beauty. I carry excitement for China – a nation so poised to influence the world for good.
The Great Wall is surreal – 3,000 miles of the sweat and sacrifice and death of peasant workers, many of whose bones are entombed in the walls. It was kind of a great failure in terms of defending China, but as Quinn noted, a great success in terms of tourism. It is a marvel, much steeper to climb than I had every imagined, the steps worn smooth with generations of use. Deep grooves etch the slabs next to guardrails and I try to imagine all the feet that have traveled here before me. The steps are uneven, many a foot and a half high, it feels. We labor our way up, out of breath, taking deep lungfuls of acrid air. Golden lockets adorn the walls, tied on with red ribbon, lovers, leaving their mark at the wall. Graffiti is in all the languages of the nations, but the people around us on the walls are mostly Chinese. Couples climb hand in hand, boyfriends carrying expensive designer purses, or knock offs. Older people wait patiently for breath to return as the rest of us pass. A few babies, bundled within an inch of their lives beam rosily out at us from their heavy snow gear. Chinese children – the most beautiful of all creations, their hope is tangible, their joy explicit. We climb to tower 9 and take pictures here, there and everywhere before beginning our descent down on legs that feel like jelly, leaving me afraid of collapsing and taking down a horde of others with me, domino-like.
We eat a simple but decilious Beijing style Chinese lunch at the jade factory, where we watch carvers work with this national treasure, a stone they believe is alive and carries great power. I do not doubt that God gave them jade for a purpose – and I wonder how He sees it.
Now on to Hutong Lane, the old residential part of Beijing where “quadrangle houses” are still lived in. The area is a system of alleyways and homes, cramped so tightly together there is barely room to drive through. We explore in bicycle-driven rickshaws, Quinn and I sharing while David and Naomi follow behind. Our drivers shout loudly in Mandarin, caling to each other, and dogs wander. Small and exotic breeds of dogs who, we wonder, can’t possibly be strays? Housing prices in the Hutong area are exorbitant, with the location being a huge factor as well as the age and historic value of the area. However most homes have no private toilet and the entire area smells like raw sewage. We are invited into a local home where we view their luxury bathroom, a squatting toilet and sink to bathe in with their own sewer line to the street, an unheard of blessing in this part of the city. I marvel that something I take for granted, a full body shower, has never been experienced by many. Walking into the local market we take in cow stomachs, huge bamboo shoots, and entire rows of pickeled and fermented goods. The smell is overwhelming and we hear from our guide how delicious feremented raw eggs are with tofu, fortunately none are offered to us.
After a rest in our hotel room we wander back out to explore our city area at night. We are in the high rent shopping district and the sounds and lights are dazzling. Traffic in Beijing seems calm yet disorganized, with cars frequently entering our lane and heading towards us, head on. We narrowly miss being run over as we cross on a “walk” signal. Lesson learned. Everyone is tired and grumpy, jet lag has seriously kicked in. We look for American style food in the huge “western” mall. Unlike our experiences in Uganda, we see few caucasians shopping, and English is far less understood. We settle on American style food, almost a crime to eat in Beijing but we are looking for comfort. Pizza Hut looks promising from the mall directory but is nothing like one we have ever seen. The only indicator that it is Pizza Hut is the “hat” style red emblem next to Mandarin letters on front. It is 7 pm but we feel as if we have not slept in days. The menu, in typical style, is an extremely strange collection of foods and drinks. We try to order bottled water which they do not have and they serve us hot “pure water” in little plastic glasses and juice with ice, neither of which we entirely trust. David takes off to find bottled water and drags it back to the restaurant in a paper bag where we all thankfully drink. Quinn’s sour plum juice is brought back with no ice, now safer to drink, however it smells and tastes like smoke. We have no idea why. We end our day laughing. At ourselves, at Beijing, at language confusions, at culture crossing, and because we are slap-happy with sillyness.
Bed has never felt so good.