Great Wall Swingout 2010

Geoff and I left for China on Saturday, April 10th. We flew Air Canada with a short stop in Vancouver. I was pretty impressed by the vegetarian meals that we received on our way there. Not bad at all! The dessert even included chocolate cake from Sweets From The Earth which is a vegan baking company in Toronto.

My good friend Leru (who moved to China from Moscow) picked us up from the airport. We were pretty pooped so we basically just had dinner with her and then went straight to bed on Sunday evening. We were hosted by a great guy named Josh who is American but has been living in Beijing doing translation work the past 8 years. We didn’t actually even see him on Sunday because were were so sleepy and he didn’t get home until late.

Monday we wanted to have a little adventure but the weather was actually extremely cold, windy and grey. We headed to the area of the Temple of Heaven but when we arrived and saw that the sun still hadn’t popped out, we decided to get lunch at a place Leru had taken me too on my previous visit. What a great restaurant that is! When you arrive, all of the waiters start to yell in welcome, “Hey! Heyo eh hey! Hey!” It’s pretty hilarious. We had traditional Beijing noodles which are quite simple but delicious. They bring them to the table with several small dishes including different kinds of vegetables and beans that they noisily dump into the bowl of noodles for you. Then you add a soy bean paste to the noodles and mix it all up. Tasty, vegetarian (I’m pretty sure) and satisfying.
Then we hit the Pearl Market where Geoff picked up a gift for his Mother. That’s basically the only shopping that we did this trip which was a relief since I ended up doing so much shopping there the last time and I didn’t want to be pulled into that trap again. Finally there seemed to be enough sun so we went to the Temple of Heaven. It wasn’t perfect conditions for it but we did get a bit of sun and Geoff enjoyed taking photos of the temple and also the wonderful surrounding park grounds. We had a very nice walk around and spotted the main two types of local birds, one a lighter blue grey with a long tail and one that’s darker blue and black. We also got to speak into the echo wall (I sang T’aint What You Do) before heading back home.

For dinner we met up with my dear friends Zhenya and Johanna. He’s my old friend and dance partner from Moscow, also now living in China, and Johanna is from France. After we went out dancing. I think that first night of dancing was my top dance night of the season. I had a really great time and afterward we all went for Hong Kong style Dim Sum. Late night!

Tuesday we headed to the Summer Palace. It was sunny but very cold and extremely windy. We had a great time exploring the temples and walking around the lake though I started to feel extremely cold and tired from the constant wind. I also wasn’t wearing the right shoes for the rocky climbing conditions by the temple and on the way out I fell and mildly twisted my ankle. It wasn’t a disastrous twist though I felt panicked since I was in China to teach dance. I picked up an ankle brace and was careful with my injury for the coming days leading up to my workshops.

Visited the local dancers to watch their dance practice that night but went home pooped and slept hard.

Wednesday we explored a new shopping street that’s been designed in an old fashioned style. I really like that they’re trying to preserve a traditional feeling to the city. Geoff stopped in at a tailor and ordered two pairs of swing pants and a kung fu suit. Then we walked around Tianamon Square and over to Wang Fu Jing which is really touristy but also has the Night Market area. We weren’t there at night so we didn’t get to see the main strip of stands but there was an area to the side that had all of the usual disgusting bugs on a stick and other shocking foods. I stuck to my favourite candied strawberry kabobs.

Thursday was the Forbidden City! Unfortunately it was grey and cold again but we had a nice early start and avoided some of the main tourist groups. We walked around there for the morning and then I decided that I really missed the market area that I’d explored the last time I was in Beijing. We hopped on the subway and went out to Sihui East to explore the back streets and markets that I remembered so well and mostly it hadn’t changed which was nice.

That evening we went for hot pot which ended up not being so great. The last time I was in Beijing we had individual hot pot but this was a big shared hot pot. I wasn’t sticking to a vegetarian diet while I was away but still wanted to avoid too much meat. Since this was shared, everything that everyone at the table ordered went into the pot. This included cow stomach which looked like grey squid and was not at all appealing. I actually didn’t get nearly as grossed out as Geoff. He was so turned off by that meal, I felt terrible about it. The rest of the meat that went in was more normal but even so, it all kind of turned out grey from being boiled and just looked gross. I stuck to the tofu and fish balls and spinach but it was still kind of yucky since it was all cooked in the same pot.

That night we went back home instead of joining some of the other people for a bit of dancing. I wanted to rest my ankle and also save my energy for the main event which would start on Friday. I ended up hanging out with Josh and Kerry (another lovely American living in Beijing)  until pretty late which was great. Geoff had a big gin and tonic to wash away the memories of the boiled stomach.

Friday morning I got together with Zhenya to prepare our performance for the evening. We practiced for a couple of hours and then I met up with Josh and Kerry for a porridge lunch. It was such a simple and nice meal after the hot pot the night before. Both Josh and Kerry have fantastic Mandarin skills so I felt in such good hands whenever I was with them. Geoff spent the morning at the military museum. We rested that afternoon and then made our way to the dance that night.

The first dance of the weekend was kind of chaotic since people were arriving and registering for the event. I didn’t do a ton of social dancing but Zhenya and I did get to do our performance which was nice. My heel caught a chip on the floor for one move though I don’t think it showed. At some point I’ll get some videos up.

Saturday was my big teaching day. I taught 5 classes. Jazz in the morning, 2 Lindy Hop c;asses with Zhenya, Blues with Zhenya, and then one more Jazz class at the end of the day. Boy was I wiped out but it was terrific. I always love teaching and it was fantastic to work with these groups of dancers. I felt really satisfied at the end of the day.

We got really lost on the way to the dance that night and so didn’t arrive until quite late. It was pretty far and the first taxi driver took us to the wrong place, though at least in the right neighbourhood. The second taxi driver didn’t have to take us very far but he tried to rip us off. Kind of funny in retrospect but what a jerk. He gave me a really good dirty look as we were leaving. Then to find the place we were required to go down a few dark streets that made it complicated to find and the phone Josh had lent me for the trip was almost out of batteries (my fault) so it was a bit sketchy. We did make it though and we stayed for a little while but I was pooped from the classes and from being lost. I did get to wear my favourite red dress though, and my little navy hat, which made me happy.

Sunday was the Great Wall! We got to ride up in a private car with Josh and Kerry instead of taking one of the buses with all the other people. As much as I do love all the dancers there, it was nice to have some quiet and we really enjoyed the ride. Kerry is a very courageous driver! When we got to the wall most people stayed in one spot to dance but we were so thrilled with the good weather (finally) and to be at the wall that we spent the full afternoon hiking. I didn’t actually do any social dancing but we did film my jazz routine on the wall which should make for a funny video once we get that organized.

The wall was just so fantastic and it felt great to be there with Geoff since it was his first time. I really enjoyed that whole day and can’t wait to see Geoff’s photos.

We stopped by the dance on Sunday but we were too tired to participate. I made a big boo boo at the wall and didn’t stretch properly. My legs were so wobbly from all of the stairs and my calves, which are extremely prone to muscle exhaustion, were absolutely dead. As I write this, they are still completely tense and sore from the stair climb at the wall. I should have known better.

Monday we went to the Lama Temple and saw the giant Buddha which is 18 metres tall and very impressive. That evening I taught a couple of private lessons and then we went dancing one last time.
Tuesday before heading to the airport we went to a temple that was near our home and it had a really fascinating Taoist display of different “departments” of Taoist practice. These departments, depicted with life sized statues, including everything from the Department of Happiness or the Department of Longevity to the Departments of Obscenities, the Department of Suppressing Schemes, the Department of Flying Birds and the Department of Wandering Ghosts. It was really interesting!

We had a wonderful group lunch with Josh, Leru, Zhenya and Johanna before heading home. The flight back wasn’t as long as the flight there but I do have to make one comment. As impressed as I was by the vegetarian meals on the way to China, the meals on the way back were PATHETIC. No protein whatsoever. Soggy vegetables with potatoes twice and the snack was white bread with a piece of tomato in between. Terrible! I’ll be complaining to Air Canada about it.

So that’s my long summary of the trip. I probably should have included more details about the tourist sites but hopefully the photos (coming later) will show more than words would describe.

It was a great trip, but I’m also happy to be home!