Channeling China : Beijing’s Bricks

After a day and a half off, and surviving Bangkok, Thailand, my stewardess roster brought me to Beijing, China.

Beijing, or Peking, the capital city of The Peoples Republic of China, is incredibly populated and is the second largest metropolis in all of China according to its density, and is three times the size of Hong Kong.  Beijing is home to 19.6 million people!

Wanting to get out of this density with its smog and thick pollution, car horns blaring and chaotic traffic, I decided to venture to the Great Wall. With a thirty three hour layover, time was on my side to see some sights, get some exercise and gain some culture. I booked an early shuttle from my hotel to first, the Ming Tombs and then the Great Wall; or a section of it at least. 53533040-the-great-wall-in-the-mist-china

Built originally to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire against intrusion by various nomadic groups, it wasn’t formally stated, but this refers to the Mongolian people, the Great Wall was expanded and reconstructed time and time again with each new Emperor that came into power. In its entirety, it has been concluded that the structure with all its branches delineating  Inner Mongolia, stretches 5,500 miles.

Built at a great cost to human life, The Great Wall consumed hundreds of thousands of workers, perhaps even up to one million. As my new friends and I were passing through a tunnel, I could swear to you that one of these workers- past,  gave me a ghostly tap on the shoulder. It could have been the breeze, or perhaps it was the very putrid fragrance from the stink weeds nearby that were getting to my head.

The Chinese Emperors kept concubines with them in the Forbidden City. By the Qing dynasty there were around 20,000. They served a dual purpose – to ensure the Emperor a very good chance of producing an heir and, of course, limitless opportunities to indulge his more licentious instincts. There was also a very convenient Daoist theory that helped the Emperor justify requiring the favour of 20,000 different women. According to the theory, the Emperor represented the extreme of Yang, and so therefore it was essential for the harmony of the cosmos that he have sex with as many women (women are yin) as possible.

Sacrifices: Men and Women Alike

It was not just men who were dying in masses. Women sacrificed themselves by the thousands in honor of their Emperor. Ancient Emperors would take thousands of mistresses; some as young as twelve years old. These young concubines would participate “willingly” in a suicide offering themselves to their Emperor. They would ceremoniously tie a noose around their neck and take their own life. I am confused as they were ordered to do this, but it was themselves who took their own life; it would be a sin otherwise. Murder disguised. Religion and its cultures can be quite manipulative and continues to be.

I traversed a large section of this beholding and immensely breathtaking fortification, called, Juyongguan Pass.  Also known as Badaling. Most of what we see today was reconstructed, extended and repaired during the Ming Era forward. Interestingly, as recent as 2009, 180 miles of undetected portions of the wall were discovered. The sections had been submerged, over time, by sandstorms.

The terrain was treacherous and not what I expected as there were parts where you had to pull yourself up using the side of the wall; it was incredibly steep.  I looked around  in awe of how well the elderly Chinese people near me were faring so well in the heat.  I sat down to catch my breath. An elderly woman sat down beside me.

Wine and Women

In an attempt to be friendly and inviting, since she practically sat right on top of me, forgetting not everyone in the world speaks English, I said to her something referencing my knowledge on the Ming Dynasty and that the stones and brick we were currently sitting on was built in the Ming Era – Seven centuries ago! Regardless whether she understood me or not, I felt the need to express my appreciation out loud. She caught me off guard by stating there were many Emperors who had their “days with the wall”.  She told me some were bad Emperors and they just wanted wine and women. They did nothing for China, she said, Ming was good. She smiled, exposing blackened teeth, and then she waddled away.

I was swarmed a few times. Tourists; Chinese men and women stopping me to have their picture taken with myself. Sometimes not asking, just snapping away.  The Chinese call my hair “pale hair” and as it was charming , I complied, holding up the peace sign and grinning with random, shy and pleasant fellow- wall walkers. I really should have touched up my darkening roots 😉

Finding My Way Back

After only a few miles on foot, it was time to meet up with my hired shuttle back to my hotel and catch three hours sleep before the long flight home to Dubai, and dammit, we were running very late. Rush –hour traffic. The shuttle had three more stops before my hotel and I asked to be let off, right there on the chaotic street. I had to find a taxi very fast as the three hours rest I had planned  was now “out the window”;  wake up call for my flight was in less than an hour. I had no idea where I was and thank the heavens or perhaps just sheer luck, my room key had the hotel address, in full, inscribed on it. It was a mistake to leave my hotel without having business cards, address and phone numbers in case of an emergency.

After trying desperately to flag down a cab for half an hour, I began to worry. Out into traffic I went, tapping on occupied cabs, asking if I could please jump in. It was a difficult task without an ounce of the native language. Beautifully, moments later, a man came running towards me, through a sea of people in the crowd, from up the block! In very broken English he spoke something and motioned me to come join his commute. Down the block was his waiting taxi. I thanked him non-stop for his rescue! My new young friend, Lewis (English name, of course!) was very chatty en route to my lodgings and although I was stressed and exhausted, I was entertained and felt at ease now that I was certain I wouldn’t be fired. I learned that Lewis is a DJ and seemed very excited we are now friends as he would like me to teach him English. He said I would make a very beautiful teacher. Slightly blushing and amused, I am laughing right now as he was very sweet. I am not sure what I just entered, here, but I did give him my email address as I was so thankful for his rescue. He has emailed me seven times. Oh boy…

Motherhood, Plus Benefits

Home now, I must book my flight to Munich, Germany. If I can find accommodation I will spending three wonderful days off experiencing Oktoberfest. Cheers!


Flight Attendant Mom

Travel Stories : Bouncing East to West

Flight Attendant Layovers: Days go by and by and by. Since Seoul I have travelled to Sydney, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand. I have also just returned from New York City. The six day Auzzie trip, including three energy – testing layovers, is long and always fueled with excitement; plans are made and us flight attendants are off experiencing all we can in the limited hours we have. Endurance is stretched and I am quite in awe, at times, as to how we perform so professionally, elegantly and with such patience on the flights. Like speed – dating, we are speed travelling, and then we put on our uniforms and act the part with sincerity and care for complete strangers. Once I return to my apartment in Dubai, I used to be torn between catching up with my friends, should they be in the city, and retreating to my pajamas or to the beach. One involves eventful escapades and the other a blissful near- coma experience. One entails make-up and fuss and the other, acceptable neglect! My friends usually win the “fight” and I thank them for their always exuberant energy and impossible- to- decline invitations! Have I mentioned how these friends are my family?

Picture Dubai the Palm

Tonight, however, I decline. I am a Mom! Exhausted from a Saudi Arabia, five hour “turn- around” that turned into a fourteen hour day as we experienced delays on ground, and in the air, the latter due to trials and practices in Dubai airspace by aviators around the world preparing for “The Most Expensive Show in the World”: The Dubai Airshow. Today’s operational flight drafted me to find allowances in myself that I did not know existed. The Islamic peoples are currently conducting their pilgrimage to the Mecca, and full, demanding flights kept crew on their toes. Adhering to their culture and protecting their zam zam water onboard that they collected from the fountain located in the Mecca, careful not to touch men in passing after they have vowed to Miqat and are in their Ihram dressing after a long procedure of washing in the lavatories – picture men of all ages and shapes in nearly nothing, draped in white cloth and as one looks down the aircraft cabins there is a sea of white clothed passengers. I have spoken Arabic I didn’t even know I knew! Dutifully, I informed passengers of the direction of the Qibla and gave space for prayer on the aircraft.

Home Sweet Home! I miss my husband and son!
Presently, I am at a restless – rest now, rewarded with work well done, but beaten. Fatigued, but gladly in a comfortable and familiar room. My bedroom. Not another hotel room with strange sounds and smells, where I worry to wake up in alarming wonder, initially, as to where I am. My family is near me sleeping and I cannot wait to wake to them!