Hey, all! I hope your past week has left you happy and healthy. My heart has been back home and with my pals in St. Louis the past few days, but my sights are set onward and upward nonetheless. Week two began with our first official travel day: a two hour flight north from Hangzhou to Beijing, China's capital city. Flying domestically in China is essentially identical to flying within the States. The security process, even though I didn't have to take off my shoes (!!!), is statistically more effective than ours; that is to say, Chinese airports are more secure than those in the States, so I was told. Stepping out of the terminal, we were greeted by a cool Autumnal breeze. I welcomed it gladly. I love fall :))))
Our home for the week was a hotel called the Friendship Palace, and it certainly lived up to its name. We stayed in one building on what seemed to be an entire campus owned by the hotel. The architecture was modeled in the traditional Chinese style, but the interiors were all extremely modern. On our hotel's property (a short walk from our residency) was a TGIFridays. Actually, it's just called 'Fridays'? At any rate, so random. After a long morning of travel and a week of eating mostly local fare, we were all craving something familiar. I told myself at the beginning of this trip that I wasn't going to eat anything I could get back home, but when I tell you I needed some fries, I NEEDED some fries. As satisfying as they were, I learned one thing: eating Western food in China is considerably more expensive than eating Chinese food in China. Who'd have guessed?
We awoke early the next morning -- it was time to climb, baby! On the hour bus ride to The Great Wall of China, our tour guide for the excursion attempted to impart us with some history about what we were about to see. His English was a little difficult to understand, but I did clearly register one quote:
"You are not a hero unless you climb the Great Wall." -- Mao Zedong, founder of the People's Republic of China
The Great Wall of China is one of those landmarks that everyone has an image of in their mind: a sprawling line of tan stone against a background of mountains and greenery. It was exactly that, and also different than I had pictured? It certainly is a tourist attraction; our group added to the mass of charter buses near the point of access to the portion of the wall we were slated to climb. Beyond the ticket area and preceding the Wall itself were multiple coffee and gift shops.
We were given 2ish hours to make it as far up and down as we wanted, and I was determined to reach the top of our portion. I knew that it was going to be a bit of a hike to reach my goal, but I had not anticipated the severity of the incline or, consequently, the amount of distance there was to cover. Each step varied in height, so it was necessary to carefully monitor my footfalls to ensure the safety of myself and those around me. This kept both my mind and legs constantly working. There are landings with towers (presumably used in the past for watching/guarding? lol idrk don’t listen to me) every so often, as well as a small souvenir/refreshment shop near the halfway mark. Otherwise, the entire trek is uphill. My new friend/cast-mate Michael S. and I stuck together and helped each other maintain a quick but steady pace. As much as I fought showing it, my legs were BURNING. My poker face did get a few breaks, though; we stopped in almost every tower we encountered to peak out the arched windows and admire the landscape becoming increasingly smaller beneath us.
Approximantely 50 minutes and 3,000 steps later, we reached the top! The weather that day was chilly with a slight drizzle, which I was definitely thankful for right then. I was a sweaty mess. For some reason, I was expecting there to be some grand arrival point with a long, flat stretch of the Wall to walk around on. Instead, the peak was the juncture of two paths: the one leading back the way we came and one heading downward on an alternate route. I think the photos definitely speak for themselves on this one. The view was breathtaking. Navigating the inconsistent stairs heading down was just as difficult as it was going up, with the added fatigue of the climb we had just completed. My legs were shaking for the entire descent, and I was more than thankful for the railing when I accidentally gained too much momentum or tripped over myself (more than once). The Great Wall attracts so many different types of people; there was representation across the entire spectrum of age, race, and ability. Joining people from around the world in experiencing one of the Seven Wonders felt extremely unifying.
After our group reunited at the bus, we took a short ride to a Royal Quadrangle -- a centuries old residential area that I wish I could provide more details on but won’t for fear of misspeaking. The same guide that led us to the Wall toured us around the grounds. Again, I couldn't pick up on much of what he said EXCEPT that the color green represents longevity in Chinese culture. Still, the architecture was intricate and a treat to look at.
The next day (Monday) was another day off before our busy week ahead. The majority of the cast, save for a few recovering sickies (they're doing much better now, thankfully), decided to conquer the subway and explore further into Beijing's epicenter. The trains were clean, user friendly (there was English!), cheap (1 USD round trip), and fast. America's public transit system could definitely take some notes. Although the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square were both closed for public access that day, we found a charming mom and pop restaurant on a side street and enjoyed a family-style meal, complete with a turntable to facilitate the passing of dishes. From there, we checked out the National Centre for the Performing Arts and a flower exhibition in Zhongshan Park before catching a train back home.
We went back to work on our show the next morning and didn't stop until we opened Thursday evening. After our final dress rehearsal, our tour's local promoting company (Grand Boat) led us through a traditional blessing of the venue. Incense and comradery filled the air, and the ceremony finished with the sharing of a large spread of fruit, duck, and chicken. We performed for our first audience with full hearts and stomachs. Now, after 8 shows in 4 days, we have made it to our home for the next week: the Northeastern city of Harbin!
For the remainder of the trip, I will carry myself with the same insatiable appetite for excitement that Josh Friedrich yielded daily. Regarding the Snapchat message you sent me the day before your death that accessibility delayed my response to -- China is incredible.