We are headed to Beijing tonight to spend the weekend there with some of our friends. While we are excited to go, we are having to face some challenges in preparing for the trip. For example, it is supposed to snow in Beijing this weekend and the warmest clothes JD and I currently have are sweatshirts. Our shipment arrives on Monday so no winter clothes for us until then. Luckily I bought the kids gloves in Beijing when I went last month with Julie. JD and the men are supposed to go to the Great Wall and hike tomorrow morning while the ladies go to a Christmas market. The wall be very cold and windy as it is in the mountains, not to mention it will probably be miserable if it snows. Sis and I are excited to see the Christmas bizarre/market. Bear will come with us as I do not think the Great Wall would be appropriate for him at this time of year.
Our next challenge is something that we have not had to think about living in the U.S.: Our car cannot be in Beijing until after 8p.m. China controls how many people enter and leave major cities by only allowing cars to drive within city limits with certain license plates during certain times. As JD’s company uses a fleet of vans, there have been times that we or others have had to use different vans because a certain van could not go here or there on certain days. For instance, our driver drove a different family’s van to pick us up from the airport when we first arrived because our van could not go to Beijing that day. I had to take a different van this morning to go to my prenatal appointment because our van could not go to Tianjin. Maybe we will one day we will have a better understanding about the rules and regulations for particular license plates. Luckily we have an amazing driver that works with an awesome group of drivers that keep things running smoothly for when we need or want to go somewhere. The only real hick up is when we expect to have something waiting for us in our van and we do not have our van – but C’est la vie!
So it was a rather interesting trip to Beijing. I felt bad for the men of the group. They were supposed to do something cool like visit the Great Wall, but unfortunately one member of the group became ill and with the bad weather, the expedition was canceled. I think most of the guys ended up doing actual work work Saturday morning while the kids and gals went off to the Christmas market. The market was great – I’m sure I could have spent a small fortune with all the neat treasures there were! Here is a picture of my finds that I just could not pass up: 2 hand painted glass ornaments (painted from the inside), a set of wooden Mary and Joseph ornaments, and a couple of hand carved wooden ornaments. (I bought a few other things, but as they are Christmas gifts, they are not included). Oh, and I bought a scarf for myself because it was cold and snowing.
After the Christmas market, we dropped the kids at the hotel with the men so they could go have pizza while the ladies went to the Pearl Market. JD said the pizza was amazing! I really did not pick anything up at the Pearl Market besides Christmas lights for a tree. I will do more shopping later, but right now it’s just fun to walk around and take in the market itself. As well as learn from the other gals about where to shop for items to get the best deals.
Hmmm…let me describe the Pearl Market for a minute. There are actually two Pearl Market buildings – the old and the new. Let us begin with the old. The old pearl market has 5 floors of vendors selling all things Chinese made. This one is often crowded and very touristy. If you want to buy anything you have to haggle and haggle hard. I learned this the hard way back in March when JD and I took our exploratory move trip to China to see if we could actually make living here work. JD and I spent a day in Beijing and ended up at the Pearl Market, where I found a pretty neat pair of shoes that were embroidered as well as a pair for Lucy. So seeing that I had already been pinned as a sucker, this little Chinese girl let me oggle them and I ended up way over paying for two pairs (one for me and one for Sis) of really cute, but cheaply made indoor shoes. I vowed to JD that they will always be a reminder not to get taken again! Anyway, the old Pearl Market is also a place where you can find pearls – lots and lots of pearl vendors (hence the name Pearl Market). It is pretty awesome to see so many pearls in one place (yes, I ended up bringing some back in March which I purchased (aka haggled) for what I believe is a fair price). The group of ladies I was with today had a completely different approach to the Pearl Market. Most of the shopping experience this time took place in the new Pearl Market. The new Pearl Market is nice, and so much less crowded than the old (many tourists do not even know it exists). There is a list of vendors that has gone around the expat community as where you go to get the automatic ‘friend’ price. This is wonderful because you know you are not getting gouged. This is where I discovered that you buy pearls. You pick one or two pearl vendors and do all of you business through them. I even had a custom made set of pink pearls made for my mother (on a past trip). The more you end up doing business, the better your prices will be. I even have one of the vendors as a friend on a texting app so I can send her a picture of something I want made and she will a) tell me the price it will be before hand and b) tell me what is possible and what is not, and c) let me further customize the piece if I want. It was super nice not having to haggle – simply because they want your repeat business! I bought my Christmas lights from the electronics guy in the basement of the new Pearl Market – and after paying $13 for a simple set of Christmas lights (48 bulbs) from IKEA it was completely awesome paying only $5 for a second set.
After our Pearl Market adventure, we all went out to dinner at a German restaurant. It was fabulous, and very tasty German food. I ordered the classic curry wurst (which is basically an equivalent of a German hot dog covered in curry ketchup). Why would I order this type of dish when there are much more interesting and wonderful German foods you may ask? – well, I haven’t had a proper tasting curry wurst since living in Germany 7 years ago. So let me tell you when I tasted it – it was amazing! JD had the Christmas special – duck legs with an amazing gravy that had a nice hint of citrus, red cabbage, poached pear with a nice berry chutney and German dumplings, Sis had Kase Spatzle, and Bear had a pretzel (we all shared though). Oh, not to mention JD was able to get his mass of bier! Overall pretty great Saturday!
Sunday was interesting and not as planned. I was going to get up and go to the Dirt Market with Julie. From my understanding the Dirt Market is like an outdoor flea market. However, it snowed and snowed (not like what the Midwest was just hit by, but a good inch). By the time we all got down to breakfast Sunday morning, all of the major roads out of Beijing were closed. You think snow brings the South to a stop – it completely halts a city like Beijing in China. At first we debated staying an extra night, but then remembered that we were getting our shipment on Monday so staying was out of the question. Many of the others had school and work on Monday, so it was decided that we would take the high-speed train back to TEDA. We got our tickets and had our drivers take us to the trains station. I felt bad for our drivers as they were either stuck in Beijing or taking the 7 hour back way home. (If we go on overnight trips and take our drivers, the drivers get compensated extra with overtime as well as given an allowance for hotels, etc. We also gave our drive an extra tip for each day we were there and a little more for having to be stuck in Beijing. We also gave him the day off on Monday). Once we got to the train station – it was a zoo! Here’s the pic! Yes those are people taking a picture of Bear while we wait.
Our train was supposed to leave at 1:00 pm, but was delayed and eventually canceled – we were able to be on the 4:00 train and at least our reserved seats were still good. You have never seen pushing or shoving until you experience getting on a train or platform in China. Sis literally almost got trampled even though we were trying to keeping both kids as close to us as humanly possible (thankfully JD was able to carry Bear). It is scary as a parent. Thankfully she did not get hurt and we got on the train. The train was supposed to take 59 minutes to get to Tianjin and just a little longer to make it to the TEDA area. Due to the snow, the train ride in it’s entirety took three hours (so much for our first high speed train experience – but oh’well, I’m sure the next time we will actually get to travel the high speeds). Luckily, one of the members in our group arranged for taxis to pick us up and take us home. It was treacherous walking from the train station to the taxis, but in the end we all made it safely home (even the drivers).
P.S. I wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving!!!!! May it be Blessed and Joyful! Thanksgiving is just another day here, but thankfully we will all go out and have a Thanksgiving feast Friday evening!