I got the idea of that title from the Lonely Planet Guidebook of China. All copyrights reserved for them, so on and so forth. It has been some time since I last posted, but I do have a good reason. I was traveling in China’s interior, specifically Inner Mongolia and Beijing, for nearly a week. Since my friend Steve and I did so much during that brief time, I was debating how to phrase this post, and I think the title works just fine. China is a land of superlatives, everything is louder, bigger and greater.
Apparently weddings in China are much louder and more exciting than their American counterparts. Unless this Chinese wedding was not reflective of the typical Chinese wedding, it was exceptionally exciting. Prior to the celebration ceremony at the restaurant, the bride and groom entered their new apartment for some ceremonial functions with their parents. To be more accurate, they exerted a great deal of physical effort in their attempt to enter their apartment. First the groom had to carry his bride piggy-back on his way to the entrance. Then the bride had to push her way through about five or six relatives who refused to let her enter the apartment. I guess they don’t want to make weddings too much of a push-over in China. Needless to say, the bride finally broke through the human wall after about 15 minutes.
Also, throughout convenient or possibly inconvenient stages of the wedding, fireworks loudly proclaimed another wedding in China. First there some red-coated firecrackers shaped in a heart that exploded in rapid fire succession outside the apartment, and then there were some friendly parting firecrackers as we left for the restaurant. In front of the restaurant, there were four cannons positioned in a row to further the joyful celebration and of course the complementary packs of deafening, feisty firecrackers. If weddings are just a foretaste of the Chinese New Year, I may not be able to sleep for several days. Maybe I’ll invest in sound-deafening headphones.
The food at Chinese weddings is fantastic, and it never ends. After the first 10 dishes, I thought they might have exhausted their food supply, but they were just beginning. After the first layer of dishes had covered the lazy susan (circular glass wheel), the waiters began to quite naturally pile more dishes upon the first layer. By the end, I think they had successfully created three layers of dishes. So, yes, there was plenty of food to eat at the wedding. Although I only recognized about 1/4 of the dishes, it was a delightful experience all the same.
Let’s move from weddings to transportation. China now has one of the fastest trains in the world (250 km/h or thereabouts), and of course one of those trains hit another one recently, which does not help my tenuous trust in Chinese transportation. I took one of the slightly fast trains (200 km/h) from Qingdao to Beijing for a 5-hour ride. Then I flew with Steve and River to Baotou. That was the fun part of the trip. Traveling back to Beijing was not fun. Our dear friend River decided to purchase tickets last minute, which resulted in no tickets at all. However, we decided to get on the train anyways and buy tickets on the train itself. We successfully purchased tickets, but unfortunately we were delegated to the standing section (the compartment between the train cars) for a 12-hour train ride over night. This lovely section was where the smokers huffed and puffed and liberally spread their ash before returning to their seats. Even if I had wanted a seat, I would not have gotten one. Every seat was occupied, and no one was about to give up his for me. After a cramped, sleepless night (maybe 2 hours of rest), we arrived in Beijing. Although the standing tickets were obscenely cheap (100 rmb), I have promised myself to never purchase a standing ticket again for an overnight trip.
China’s ancient and modern sites are the biggest in the world. Tienanmen Square is the largest public square in the world. Sorry Moscow. I saw it, but didn’t actually walk there. The Forbidden City is the largest palace complex in the world. Pretty cool. You will be footsore by the end of the day, though. After my sleepless night, I toured the Forbidden City with River and Steve. During my conscious moments, I was impressed by the grandeur and immensity of the complex. Apparently any commoner who unlawfully entered this complex would be beheaded. Nobody tried to behead me, but I did feel like someone had dropped a bag full of bricks on my head. I also liked the rock gardens, and the giant moat surrounding the whole area. Not an easy-access building by any means.
The Great Wall is by far the biggest, greatest, grandest ancient wonder of the world. Although it’s only 15 or 20 feet high, it look like some fantastic undulating serpent winding through mountain peaks and valleys. Steve and I explored the Badaling section, but we did it the hard way. Most visitors prefer the leisurely cable car ride up to the watchtower. We opted for the hike up the wall. Even better, we bypassed one “forbidden” section of the wall and explored the wall less traveled by. Besides a section of railroad tracks that separated two parts of the wall, we encountered few obstacles. Probably the worst obstacle were our legs. I don’t mind walking up steps, but when you’re walking up absurdly large stone steps for 10 minutes straight, you begin to dislike steps. I liked the view up top, but my body didn’t appreciate my abusing it. Next time I hope we have more time to explore one of the greatest wonders of the world. But for now, I had better give my legs several months to recuperate.