Sunday, August 12, 2007

Goldilocks and the Forbidden City

We’ve been in Beijing for almost two weeks now, but the kids and I still hadn’t ventured past Shunyi district, the northeastern corner of the city where we live. So yesterday we decided to check out Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City – that way, if we get kicked out or medevaced next week (hey, you know us – it could happen), we could still say we’d been.

We hired a taxi to drive us in – our car won’t arrive for another month or two. The driver dropped us off at Tiananmen Square, where we were immediately swarmed by hawkers with hats, with postcards, with popsicles, with water, and with an inability to understand the word “no.” Still, we managed to run that gauntlet and set out across the Square, which is mostly famous to us westerners for that iconic picture of the student staring down the tank back in 1989. Tiananmen is three times bigger than Red Square in Moscow, but to my eye, it isn’t nearly as impressive. Just a sizzling concrete square with cars zooming around its outer edges. No onion domes or anything.

We headed north across the Square toward the Forbidden City, a walled complex which once housed the emperor, his concubines and his eunuch guards (nope, we were tempted, but we didn’t tell Shay what a eunuch is). Here we were, surrounded by shards of Chinese history: imperial palaces, Mao’s mausoleum, the Monument to the People’s Heroes. And what do you think the Chinese were most interested in?

Us.

They were fascinated by our three beautiful children. Partly it was Shay’s blue eyes, partly Aidan’s curls, but mostly, I think, it was just the fact that there were three of them. In a country where the one-child policy is somewhat rigidly enforced, a three-child family is something of a circus. Throw in the hair color, and we could’ve sold tickets. Everyone wanted to touch Aidan’s curly hair. They all “ni hao’ed” Kyra, who mostly smiled back. And I can definitely count to three now. When Bart disappeared for a few minutes to find some drinks, we were suddenly surrounded by Chinese tourists, who thrust cameras in our faces and made their kids pose with Aidan and Shay. Then they’d ask me “one, two, three blah blah blah?” I’d smile and nod “one, two, three,” pointing at the kids and then myself. Cue the popping flashbulbs.
The Forbidden City is massive. We must’ve walked a mile, end to end, and then out the north gate and back again to the beginning, where we squeezed our way onto the metro for the ride to the China World mall, where we hoped to find some food to sooth our three savage beasts and some seats to rest our rears.

You know how men don’t like to ask for directions? Well, picture that you’re in a crowded Beijing shopping mall with no maps, three whiny kids and 5 very grumbly stomachs. Quick, ladies: what do you do? That’s right. You ask for directions. Now, picture this: the only one among you who speaks Chinese is… a man.

We strolled that mall for quite awhile before we gave up on finding a kid-friendly restaurant and headed for Starbucks instead. Never did ask for directions. I've gotta learn some Chinese..

After filling up on caffeine and cocoa, we hopped on the River Garden shuttle bus, a decrepit old thing that wheezed its way back north to our housing complex, dropping us right around the dinner hour. We ordered pizza and Chinese food from a nearby restaurant (who knew? I thought it was only in Los Angeles that you could order pizza and Chinese from the same restaurant, but apparently it’s big here, too).

We washed the kids thoroughly – they’d been petted and patted quite a bit – and tucked them into bed. Shay tugged on his hair and said “I wish my hair was curly like Aidan’s.” I suppose he was feeling jealous of the attention that had been heaped on his flaxen-haired little brother. Aidan, ever-helpful, piped up from the bottom bunk “well, it’s not curly, Shay. Only I have curly hair.”

The moral of the story is this: when you come to visit us in Beijing, wear comfortable walking shoes, pack snacks and prepare to pose like a rock star. But please don’t ask me to walk the length of the Forbidden City again.
In Tiananmen Square; Forbidden City behind us
The circus begins

Inside the Forbidden City

The moat outside the Forbidden City

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