Monday, July 20, 2015

Dan and Sue Do Beijing

Beijing World Youth Academy was the proud beneficiary of six weeks of summer vacation this year, as it is every year. Knowing that I would get bored, and perhaps growing a bit weary of Iowa themselves, my parents came to visit Beijing and me. We experienced everything that was possible to experience in this fair metropolis:

The Great Wall of China
Mom: "Even bigger and more impressive than what I expected! Awesome!"
Dad: "Stretches the imagination..."

Mutianyu Great Wall Toboggan
Mom: "My entire life is flashing before me!"
Dad: "Is this how I am going to die?"

Hanging out with Mr. Robert Wang at the Great Wall
Mom: "It was so kind of him to drive us out to the Great Wall!"
Dad: "I appreciated our open conversation about spiritual things."

My apartment
Mom: "What?? You don't use the kitchen?!"
Dad: "HQ for the Haggars in Beijing. Cozy, functional, and totally Reuben's personality!"

Beijing World Youth Academy
Mom: "Great to see a place that we've tried to picture in our minds for so long."
Dad: "So this is where Reuben lives and moves and has his being."

Food in Beijing
Mom: "Some of it was great! Some of it was...'What is this?'"
Dad: Emoji

Big ol' Japanese food meal
Mom: "I was fine until that big fish was brought in...I'm sure I saw his eyes moving!"
Dad: "Out of my comfort zone but turned out good."

Temple of Heaven
Mom: "The group of older Chinese men and women singing accompanied by a man on an accordion was unexpected and such a treat!  And also the small orchestra that was playing near the Temple of Heaven."
Dad: "The senior citizen music was heavenly!"

Beijing International Christian Fellowship
Mom: "It brought tears to my eyes to worship with Reub at his church - far from Iowa, but we serve the same God!"
Dad: "Rock solid, especially the bass player in the praise band."

After-church Indian food lunch party
Mom: "It was awesome to meet Reub's friends including the members of the worship team from church. Again, far from Iowa, but our focus in music is essentially the same - to honor God and invite others to worship through music."
Dad: "Cool, thoughtful folks full of life. So glad they are Reuben's friends and support."

The Green Place
Mom: "All right, I'll say it here.  This was one of the best meals we had in Beijing!  The fried bread - yum!"
Dad: "Why is it called the Green Place? Definitely down home!"

2008 Olympic complex
Mom: "The Olympic area was impressive.  However, I think I enjoyed just watching people more than the buildings.  Families out for a stroll, some informal dancing, and a breeze that cooled us off!"
Dad: "I think I sleep-walked through this one."

Silk Market
Mom: "Dan and Reuben showed their love by going with me, as they are not 'shop 'til you drop' people!"
Dan: "Forget the shopping! Give me my foot massage!"

Blue Frog dinner with Sam and Ben
Mom: "Are you kidding me? Hamburgers and fries? HURRAY!!"
Dad: "Love those guys, and the protein saved me."

Tiananmen Square
Mom: "Makes me want to read more about Chinese history and what happened there."
Dad: "Hot. Enjoyed getting to know Marina."

Mao's Mausoluem
Mom: "Is that really Mao? Or is that a mannequin? We're gonna have to talk to Michael about this!"
Dad: "It was an accomplishment to make it through [the line]."

The Forbidden City
Mom: "Beautiful! Super hot! Reub had supernatural powers in bringing us cold bottles of water!"
Dad: "Fascinating. Enjoyed the photo shoots with random Chinese tourists!"

Dinner at Ellen's house
Mom: "Ellen made chili for us - yes, chili!  How did she know it was one of our favorites?! She was an awesome hostess and her apartment was very classy!"
Dad: "Very, very good. Ellen made us feel at home with the Midwest chili!! A great hostess!"

Hai Di Lao hot pot
Mom: "This is amazing! Do the waiters expect us to get up and dance with them??!"
Dad: "The most interesting meal I have ever had, especially since I'm not sure what we ate."

Mom: "Reub, can they really drive a car down this street where we're all walking?"
Dad: "The most relaxing time I had - back at the apartment!"

Beijing's pollution
Mom: "Is that rain, or a dust storm?"
Dan: "Grimy! I am concerned for the long-range health of the people of Beijing - including Reuben Haggar."

Beijing's population and size
Mom: " simply unbelievable!"
Dad: "I'm not done counting them. They move too fast! But God knows each one and loves them all."

Beijing's traffic and transportation culture
Mom: "It is a maze! Watch for cars making left turns--there doesn't seem to be a right-of-way!"
Dad: "Impressed with Reuben's knowledge of the city and its transportation options."

Final thoughts

Mom: "The best part of the trip was spending time with Reuben and getting to see his world, including clapping to turn the lights on in the hallway of his apartment building or listening to him talk to a taxi driver about where we wanted to go.  Thanks, Reub, for an awesome trip and for being such a great tour guide!  We appreciate all you did for us to make us comfortable, including giving us your bed to sleep in! And we can't forget the peanut butter & jelly sandwiches--superb!"

Dad: "We are so grateful for the opportunity to visit with our son Reuben and to meet many of the important people in his life. Spending time with them and especially with Ellen is a highlight of our trip. The quality time and conversation with Reuben Haggar made every challenge worth the journey."

Reuben: "Mom and Dad, thanks so, so, so, so much for coming! It means a ton to me that you spent the time and money and effort to come check out where I live, what I do, and whom I hang out with. It was awesome having you guys here, and I loved getting to share with you not just the places that are part of my life now, but also so many good conversations. You are the best parents ever! Love ya!"

Bonus pictures! And bonus captions!

My mom and a fish head.

Bonus quote: "I wouldn't have survived Tiananmen Square without the umbrella!" since it was super hot and we stood in the sun for 1.5 hours. I take back much (but not all) of my "non-rain umbrella usage" slandering.

Post-mausoluem/Pre-Forbidden City peanut butter and jelly picnic!

While I waited in line to buy tickets to the Forbidden City, my mom just started pulling strangers aside and taking photographs! Or was it the other way around?

Represent, represent: two generations of Lebanese food lovers.

Mom lookin' good at Mutianyu.

A BWYA summer staff photo: Mr. Wang and Mr. Haggar.

Dan exploring.


It makes me happy that the music at the Temple of Heaven was what my parents found the most interesting, and not the stunning architecture, the timeless colors, or the ancient beauty.

The Water Cube in the dark.

Three-fifths (or is Simon sort of present with us also, in that shirt?) of the Haggar clan in front of the Gate of Heavenly Place, south of the Forbidden City.

There he is. The construction doesn't look very good.

Trying to spice up our poses, here.

Dan, Sue, and Marina were quite popular with the Chinese tourists...

The Forbidden City Photo Shoot, No. 32,019.

The Forbidden City Photo Shoot, No. 39,101.

This is where I live and where they stayed.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Wuyi Shan

At the tail end of the Xiamen excursion that Ellen and I made, she had some work stuff/business to take care of, so I found myself with a few days to kill. Xiamen was neat, but we'd pretty much seen the sights and wonders that are worth seeing. So, Ellen shipped me off to Wuyi Shan, a mountainous area in the northern part of the province (Fujian) in which Xiamen lies:


Wuyi Shan is a mountain range exploding with green; the hills and rock formations there are covered in subtropical jungle, different sorts of animal life, and tourism. I had heard it mentioned several times by various travelers; it was always described as a "must see" area. Although it was not exactly what I pictured, Wuyi Shan proved to be pretty sweet. I'd go back. And live there. With my cavewife and cavechildren.

The parts of Wuyi Shan that are accessible to tourists such as myself have been tamed and civilized by the Chinese tourism industry in a way common to many awesome natural areas in China. First, the Chinese tourism industry notices that hordes of people want to go to a place out in the mountains, desert, swampland, gorge, or some other relatively inaccessible or difficult-to-reach/traverse place. Then, in order to maximize access and profits, the Chinese tourism industry places some different vestiges of civilization (bathrooms, seating, offices, etc.) and builds roads within the tourism area. They populate the tourism area with shuttle buses and tickets and fees that shouldn't be charged for a person to see something natural. Then, when travelers come to the tourism area, they can buy an all-inclusive ticket to the entire tourist area, or parts of it, and pay extra to be shuttled around. If a tourist has a car, maybe they can drive themselves around. Then the tourists go in, get on the shuttle bus, and go to the first spot in the tourism area that they want to see. When they are done, they wait for a shuttle bus to take them to the next spot in the tourism area that they want to see. And so on, and so forth, until they have seen all the spots that they want to visit in the tourism area.

There are cons and pros to this system.

Cons: It usually costs a lot to get into any place that employs this system; if there are a lot of people, the buses and lines for them get very crowded; in really mountainous places, some of the authenticity of the natural world is lost as buses zoom by and allow just anyone - even high-heel-wearing ladies or really old folks who would die after one day out in the elements - to visit the natural world, even if they maybe shouldn't be out there; tourists don't have to use their brains to get around because they can just blindly get on a bus and go.

Pros: tourists can get around pretty easily; tourists don't have to spend an inordinate amount of time pouring over a map trying to figure out how to get to the next spot they want to see because they can just get on a bus and go; tourists can go on their own and put annoying tour guides out of business because they are not necessary!

That being said, I had a tour guide. Ellen hooked me up with one, which I had reservations about. In the end, I think I would have been fine within Wuyi Shan, navigating the shuttle bus system on my own, but the tour guide did pick me up from the airport, transport me to my hotel, make sure I got to Wuyi Shan safely, feed me more than once, and bring me back to the airport on my twenty-four-hour visit to this misty wonderland. So there was some merit to being carted around. And, for the record, my tour guide wasn't annoying; she didn't have a flag for me to follow or a mini-PA system that many Chinese tour guides tote.

I also must mention this cool Chinese family that we ran into almost immediately. There were five of them: a grandpa, a dad, a mom, a son, and a daughter - and the son went to college in Boston, so he immediately got enlisted to talk to me, the foreigner, with whom no one else was able to communicate effectively. His name was Greg, and he and his family were and are good people. If I was on a family outing, and my kid was in college, and we never got to see him, I wouldn't want some abrasive tour guide and a bearded foreigner horning in, but they embraced us and we spent the majority of the day together. It seems like, more often than not, when I am traveling "alone" in China, God blesses me with new friends who speak English. Crazy.

Anyway! We entered the Wuyi Shan scenic area and went to four places. They were all sweet. So I will write about all of them, although in truth the pictures are much more valuable than my description of the experience in each spot.

(1) 天游峰 - Heavenly Journey Peak

天游峰 is a big ol' rock hill that has a heapload of stairs for visitors to climb up in order to stare in rapture out over forests and cliffs in every direction. The climb was only about four hundred meters, but, as is obvious in the photos, I sweat a good deal and felt wise to have purchased four bottles of water before leaving the hotel. It had rained during the night prior to my visit and was still sprinkling a bit as I left the hotel, so there were awesome, mysterious clouds and misty remnants of forgotten lore creeping about the hills when we were at the top of 天游峰.

(2) 竹筏漂流 - Bamboo Rafting

Bamboo rafting was the banner-waving event at Wuyi Shan. I got in the raft with the super-kind family I was with and off we went for an hour of just straight chillin'. The dudes hauling us along Nine-Bend River were in light-hearted moods; they pointed out all the different things that different rock formations looked like, including the sinking Titanic, the Sydney Opera House, and your mom's large buttocks. They also thought I was Russian. There were fish to feed, burial places in the cliffs, and photographers a-waitin' to sell you a picture of yourself aboard the raft. Overall, it was peaceful and beautiful, despite the bright orange of life vests in the hundreds of other rafts floating down the river around us. 

(3) 一线天 - One Line Sky

One Line Sky place was essentially a huge, huge rock with a narrow fissure running down the middle, a fissure through which thin tourists could walk. I read somewhere that the narrowest that the path became was thirty centimeters, and I believe it; if you were big - not even huge and fat, but just large and muscular - you would not be able to make it through. The path through the fissure was maybe 150 meters long, and it was dripping and slippery, and one could see - as the name of this spot implies - a line that was the sky, and that was it. I liked it. There wasn't a lot of hoopla that anyone could make of it; it was just a narrow path through a huge, huge rock. Or maybe it was two huge, huge rocks that were very close together. Or maybe it had been one huge, huge rock once, but erosion had worn it down into two huge, huge rocks. Who knows.

(4) 虎啸岩 - Tiger Howling Rock

My tour guide lady didn't seem to be very eager to bring me here, but we went and she waited for me at the bottom while I booked it to the top. This place - Tiger Howling Rock - was a big hill with a winding set of stairs on the face of a pretty steep stone face and a path that wound around and around to the peak. The view from the top was amazing. When I got there, many loud female tourists were yammering and taking pictures, but after a while they left, and it was only me. Only me! And then it started to rain, and I rushed down and away.

Conclusion: You may have judged from the length of the cons and the length of the pros that I didn't really love the Chinese tourism shuttle bus system, and having a tour guide with whom I struggled to communicate (my fault; my Chinese is still very awful) was not always what I wanted, and going to Wuyi Shan with Ellen - whom I'd spent the last few days in Xiamen with but whom I'd had to leave behind to come here - would have been more awesome, but: Wuyi Shan made me happy. It was dark and mysterious and had good places to climb, and it was beautiful and fun.