What was your favorite thing? What was the best part of the trip?
Those are the questions you always get after a vacation, especially one that takes you to the other side of the world. I get those questions several times a day as I see clients for the first time post travel. What was the best thing about visiting Beijing? I took a lot of time before I went back to work to ponder the answer.
A place called Tea Street, but officially known as Maliandao Tea Market, could easily be at the top of the Best of Beijing list. A long avenue lined with tea shops leading to a four story “tea mall” is my idea of heaven! I felt especially proud there too, using my Mandarin to ask the price of yi liang of keemun and negotiate a little off the cost of a nice pu erh.
Eating a steaming platter of dumplings while Matt Damon does the same a table away could also be a contender for top trip moment. He’s shooting a film about the Great Wall and must have the same Lonely Planet guide we do. (Or his assistant does). By the way, he’s more handsome in person. Oh…and the dumplings were amazing too.
Crossing the Great Wall off my 100 Dreams List might have been my first choice for the best thing in Beijing if it wasn’t for the long lines, the mad dash for a seat on the train and the HUGE crowds. It was such a lovely day that apparently the rest of Beijing decided to go the Wall too. After a full day of climbing, it felt like everyone decided to leave at the same time as well. We waited over an hour in line to board the train home and then I thought a fight was going to break out over the crush to claim a seat.
It wasn’t anything that I saw or did that was the best thing about visiting Beijing. It one of the things that makes China seem even more far away than it is.
I loved the space that being disconnected gives you.
The Chinese government blocks Facebook, Instagram and most social media sites. It restricts access to information, keeping you from YouTube and The New York Times I keep my phone in airplane mode to avoid phone calls (and their insane charges overseas). No one is texting me because they think they can’t. When I go to China I become unplugged in a way I can’t seem to do anywhere else. (Except on an plane. Please FDA don’t allow texts and calls on airplanes.)
I understand the constant connection is my own doing. I also understand such heavy handed control of the media is not good for the citizens of China. Yet I love how time slowed down each day and my ability to be fully present. Brian said I was wide eyed with awe at the Forbidden City. Perhaps when you really see something, when you are fully in the moment, that’s how it looks…awe.
People in China do tend to move slower too. (Except when racing for the train to Badaling.) Young people are glued to their phones on the subway, but even with eyes up they don’t appear to be in a rush to get anywhere. No one is rushing you away from the table after dumplings are gone. The crossing signal counts down from 60 before the light changes to red from green. Men and women gather in parks early (but not too early) for Qigong and later for some unnamed form of line dancing. I really wanted to join them. I wondered why we don’t do the same things here. Maybe it’s because moving that slowly wouldn’t register on our FitBits.
Don’t worry, I’m not packing up my practice and moving to the other side of the world. I love my clean air, cute cat videos and speaking my mind too much. I don’t think I would like being that unplugged ALL the time either. I’m just starting to learn to be in the now and not worry about the next. I’m finally letting go of my fear of missing out. Travel helps me understand that I am exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to do and there is no need to worry about anything else.
I also know I don’t have to take a 15 hour flight to find some space. There are plenty of opportunities in my own back yard, in my own home even. So if you don’t get answers to my tweets quite as quickly as you used to don’t be alarmed. I’ve just put my phone in airplane mode to sip tea and tune into the world around me.
No comment needed, just unplug and go be in awe of something.