The Smiles of China - My Family Travels

     I had always been a fan of travel since I was a little girl. For most of my life, that had been the occasional trip to my grandma’s in Iowa, or a trip to Branson, Missouri for the shopping. That all changed when my dad was transferred to Seoul, South Korea for two years with his work in the US military. We were there for not even half a year before we put our unused luggage to the test.

During spring break of my fifth grade school year, my family and our close friends traveled together to Beijing, China. I had read about China, and loved Chinese food so I was really excited. By the end of the trip I had fallen in love with everything China.

We set off to the Seoul International Airport and had a thirty minute flight to China. By the time I finished reading a magazine, our plane landed in the Beijing Airport. Because we were on a tour, we had a bus waiting for us at the airport and then we headed off to our hotel, right in the middle of the city. That night, we headed to a restaurant right across the street, The Red Door.  It was the best Chinese food I have ever eaten in my entire life. Everything was fresh, and tasted amazing, but because we had not been raised in China and had no tolerance for the water, they had to get us water bottles.

The next day we got up bright and early, and headed to Tiananmen Square.  It was once the center of protests against the government, but is now a peaceful tourist attraction. The major attraction was the body of Chairman Mao. Mao Zedong became the dictator of China, and was the person responsible for bringing communism back to China. Because of the way he turned the country away, his body is kept in a room at Tiananmen Square for citizens to pay homage to their deceased leader and to educate tourists about his accomplishments.  This is such a huge attraction, and there were police everywhere making sure no harm came to Chairman Mao or anyone there. They asked everyone to take out their cameras because no one was allowed to take a picture of the body, but I accidently left mine in my coat pocket. The entire time I was inside, I was so nervous the police would find me and take me to jail. Thankfully, they did not notice and I was able to escape back to my family. While we had been inside the room, locals had been bombarding my mom to ask for pictures because they did not often seen blondes.  She must have posed for a dozen people before we were able to drag her away. We also all thought it was hilarious how they had a sign up with the countdown to the Beijing Olympics. It was more than two years away!

After we finished in Tiananmen Square, we headed next door to the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is an imperial palace that was built to hold the wives of the emperors of China.  Now, like Tiananmen Square, it is open to tourists. The whole palace had wonderful decorations and was built of wood, marble, and gilded in gold.  Most of the furniture that was used when the palace was first built is no longer there, but in some areas of the palace there are replicas of the furniture, like the throne in the hall of Preserving Harmony.

After the Forbidden City tour, we went back to the hotel. The following morning we went to the Temple of Heaven where emperors would go to pray in annual ceremonies for a plentiful harvest. The coolest part of the Temple of Heaven was the Echo Wall. When someone stands on the West side of the wall, and someone stands on the East end of the wall they are able to hear each other when they speak into it. My friend went to one end with her family, and my family stood at the other end and we were able to talk to each other. The sound was like talking through a telephone! There was also the Heavenly Center Throne that the Chinese believe if you stand on gives your voice a stately sound. Unfortunately, you were not allowed to stand on the stone, but I really wish I could have.

We went back to the hotel soon after leaving the Temple of Heaven and had dinner again at The Red Door, but had to go to bed early because the next day we were going to the Great Wall. The next morning we had a van pick us up and took off for the Great Wall. The van left the city, and then began to wind up the mountains for about an hour before arriving at the bottom of the mountain. We then had a short climb up the mountain before we got to the entrance. On the walk, there were dozens of booths with people selling different mementos and souvenirs about the Great Wall.  You had an option to climb up the Great Wall or ride up in cable cars. My dad, sister, and some of our friends decided to climb up the mountain, while my sister, my mom, and I with some other friends decided to ride in the cable cars. It was one of the scariest experiences of my lifetime. There was a thin cable holding us up from falling onto a mountain and to our deaths. Thankfully we made it up to the top just fine and I have never been happier about anything. The view was amazing and unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I knew why so many people had waited all their lives to see it. After we climbed back down to the bottom of the mountain we all got medals and ribbons that we got signed to show what day we climbed the Great Wall.

The next day we went to the dirt market which was a giant flea market on the outskirts of the city. They were selling antiques, souvenirs, and Chinese decorations. We wandered around the dirt market for hours buying tons of random things. I got some Chinese paper lanterns and hangings for my wall. I also got a really cool watch that had Chairman Mao on it, and the hands on the watch were his hands. After spending the whole day shopping at the dirt market, we headed back to the hotel for our last night in Beijing. We had all grown to love The Red Door, and the staff knew us after our frequent visits, so we went there for one last dinner. It was amazing, as usual.

                The next day we had an early flight back home to South Korea. We were all sad to leave but we knew we had to go. Being in China made me grateful for all that I have living in America. On the day we went to the Great Wall, when we were coming back to the hotel, there were a bunch of little children wandering around. They were all homeless, and were begging for food. All of us took out all the snack food we had and gave it to them. The smiles on their face made giving up our food so much better. Although I had been all over Beijing looking at their greatest landmarks, but seeing the smile on that little boys face was enough to make the trip  memorable for me.

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