We had lots of fun activities planned.
One of the first nights we saw an acrobatics show together. I had seen the show twice before about four years ago, so I was anticipating all the same tricks as the previous viewings. I was pleasantly surprised when the entire show was revitalized, and the tricks had my stomach in knots as the performers continuously pushed their bodies to do extraordinary things. The final act, where motorcyclists rode around inside a large metal ball was particularly uncomfortable to watch--- in the best way
. Inside that ball, biker after biker entered and rode around the inside. Laura, sitting beside me, was screaming at them 'DON'T GO IN THERE, IT'S TOO MANY!'. Laura was filming the spectacle on her phone, and watching the footage was hilarious afterwards hearing her frantic and panicked commentary. The show was truly amazing, though, it really shows you death-defying stunts. Of course, in China, nobody was wearing harnesses or had safety nets, so it was even more scary and impressive.
We also went and visited the Summer Palace. The last time I was there with my friend visiting from home, and we ran all over the huge grounds to find the Marble Boat, only to find it undergoing renovations. The Marble Boat is a boat that was restored in 1893 after it was first built in 1755. It was restored by Empress Dowager Cixi, using the money allocated to build a new imperial navy. The boat this time, was uncovered and beautifully renovated. I have been to the Summer Palace a number of times now, including three times this year, but every time I go, I find there is more to discover, a little garden or temple that I hadn't noticed or been in before. It means that it is never boring, and there is always more to see.
Dad's 50th birthday was also here in China, and I chose a nice restaurant for us to go to together and celebrate
. I went there in May with some friends, and I loved it so much that I thought it would be the perfect place to take my family to. It is a restaurant hidden (very well!) in a hutong. You have to enter a courtyard shared with a few Chinese families to find it, so usually the waitress waits outside to find the lost patrons. We followed the directions written for us very carefully, and we made it without a problem. The fact that it is so hard to find really adds to the charm of the place, as it feels like you have found a secret that nobody else knows of. The restaurant holds a maximum of 25, further adding to the really intimate and traditional feel of the place. We sat in the kitchen, and watched the chefs prepare the 10 courses for us. The food was delicious, and I was really happy to see everyone having a good time. It was fantastic to celebrate with dad, and use it as an occasion to publicly tell him how good of a father he has been to us, as a father of four girls, inspiring all of us to work hard, study hard and become the best women we can be. As Laura and Hayley mentioned in their speech, all four of us wanted to become dentists when we were younger, simply because dad was our hero and we wanted to be exactly like him. Since then, he has been our biggest support as we have chosen our own paths. He has also been the best support since I received the scholarship and had this journey this year.
The Great Wall is a must-see if you ever make it to Beijing, so we hired a bus and travelled to Mutianyu, my favourite section of the wall
. I prefer this section, because it is restored well enough to picture the Great Wall when it was first made, but not as overrun with tourists and people selling fake merchandise as Badaling. We took the chairlift up. I had thought that it was a cable car, but it turned out to be a rickety chairlift up to the top. You get to see some beautiful views, though. We scaled the incredibly steep stairs as we worked our way to the edge of the section. There was a sign which indicated that we had reached the limit, but we saw a few people at a further tower, so we, too, decided to cross through and see the next one. That part of the wall was crumbling and filled with overgrown plants, which was probably the reason why they wanted you to stop, but it was actually my favourite part. We stood atop of the next tower, everything around us was breaking down, or had already disintegrated and it was sort of magical. Steve Medley was standing at another tower a few hundred meters away and could see and hear us as we played around (and simultaneously scaring mum in the process)
Going back down the way we came was the next problem, as the stairs were so steep, that the were easier to climb then to descend. We watched a few people try, so that they could do the whole 'trial and error' method for us. We ended up going down no problems. For future reference, a side step was the most effective way.
As Christmas time closes in, I had another visit from my family. This time, I have the biggest group visit yet- Mum, dad, Laura and Hayley (Elyse is in France for her exchange) and some family friends; Steve, Karen, Craig, James Medley and Rita, Craig's girlfriend. Steve, Karen and Rita had all never been to China before, so I was excited to show some people around my second home.