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Our Final Days in Beijing

our long weekend in Beijing

After getting settled in at our hotel and freshening up, we went exploring the area around our hotel to find a place to eat dinner. We found a Pizza Hut that looked great to us - a place where we could order for ourselves and get food we recognized! We were amused to see a phenomenon that Ruth had told us she's seen at other Pizza Huts - people stack melon neatly around the edge of their salad plate to make almost a bowl in which they can have a bigger salad than would ordinarily be possible. I pretended to be taking a picture of my wife to capture the scene below. I wonder if the woman knew I wasn't really taking a picture of Becka....

Where did you get that salad bowl?!

Saturday evening we took in an acrobatics show - Cirque du soleil. Incredible! If you ever get to Beijing, this is something you *must* include one evening! The kids looked like they ranged from maybe 9 or 10 years old through the young 20s. They did flips, mounts, juggling, balancing, and all sorts of other feats. Still pictures cannot adequately convey the marvels we saw, but that's the best I can do until you see a show yourself. Below is a picture of some boys who juggled three hats each. Each hat is a different color or design so that the audience can better see what they're actually doing as they juggle the hats off and on their heads. After doing flips as they juggled and even juggling from person to person in a line, they did a mount. Each level of boys was juggling the three hats from head to head in one direction and from one boy's hand to the next boy's hand in the opposite direction to keep the supply going.

boys juggling hats

One routine was boys climbing two poles, flipping from one pole to the other, flipping or sliding down the pole and catching themselves just before hitting the floor. Here's a shot of four boys who were holding themselves in place with their thighs.

4 boys on poles

The finale of this act was three boys hanging from wires with one or both feet, each one having around his neck a strap from which another boy was hanging and spinning around.

the pole boys finale

Not all of the acts were fast-moving athletics. One was a girl who could balance umbrellas on feet and hands. I struggled with envy as I considered how much trouble I have sometimes controlling just *one* umbrella with both hands! Below is a picture of the girl on her back, balanced on the feet of the boy on his back on the floor. If you can see the umbrellas well enough to count them, you'll see five!

five umbrellas on three appendages!

Towards the end of the whole program was an amazing group of girls on bicycles. First some girls rode in a fast circle around the stage.

girls riding fast in a circle

As their act progressed, other girls came out and jumped onto the moving bikes. Then the riders would switch positions while moving. Then the number of bikes diminished as more and more girls jumped onto one bike.

more and more riders on one bike

But we learned that that was not enough! They finally ended up with about a dozen girls on one moving bike.

a dozen cyclists on one bike!

Sunday morning after a sumptuous East-meets-West breakfast in our hotel (we decided that our breakfast would become one of our main meals of the day since it was an all you care to eat buffet included in the price of our rooms), we went back to one of our rooms to listen to an mp3 of one of our favorite speakers from back home. Afterwards we set off by taxi to visit the Temple of Heaven. We had heard that in this place where the emperors worshipped the One, True God. I have not yet studied this place sufficiently to know all the of biblical symbolism that it includes. Some of the parts of the Temple of Heaven that we would have liked to visit were closed for refurbishing, a common activity in Beijing right now with the recent influx of foreign tourists and in anticipation of the 2008 Olympics. What we could see, though, was beautiful - it had already undergone refurbishing. Below is a view of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

We went inside to inspect the Hall of Prayer more closely. Here's a shot of Yvonne and Jean on the steps on the way up.

 the steop to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

Upon closer inspection we saw the great beauty of this temple.

the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests up close

The inside of the Hall of Prayer is equally beautiful.

inside the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

In addition to the famous ancient cypress trees, we saw some interesting trees that we called "camouflage trees."

camouflage trees

After our visit we went to some shops to the east of the Temple of Heaven. The sign in front of one shop we passed caught my eye with its "Buddhism stuff" advertised. Seemed a bit lacking in reverence....

Buddhism stuff?

On Monday we visited a small part of the Great Wall called Badaling. It has been refurbished and was quite impressive. We learned that the Great Wall is 4,000 miles long and that some parts of it are crumbling badly. I'm sure that those parts are not readily accessible to tourists. Since it was raining, the weather was cooler and there were probably fewer visitors. But also the rain made our visit rather unpleasant and climbing the wall more difficult. Below is a picture of my wife and a "hole in the Wall."

Becka and a hole in the Wall

Because of the altitude, rain, and angle of the sidewalk, the three ladies ran out of steam in short order. I climbed a little higher and could have gone on, but from any place I could see little more than from where I'd already been. To continue on would have been selfish of me since the rest of the group would have been just standing in one place under umbrellas. Here's a picture of the ladies. You can detect the angle from the way they are standing to remain upright.

ladies on the Wall

On Tuesday we flew back to the good ol' USA. Our flight from Beijing to Chicago took us over Siberia, the Arctic Ocean, and Canada. From my window seat I saw a *lot* of uninhabited (uninhabitable?) land and the cracked ice on the Arctic Ocean. Below is a picture of the ocean below.

cracks in ice on the Arctic Ocean

The climate below our plane was a stark contrast to the tropics where we had lived and taught for three wonderful weeks!