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2 weeks ago we had visitors! Mom, Grandma, and my mom’s friend Deb came to visit for a few days. Their tour coincided nicely with our New Year’s holiday break, so we were able to show them Beijing without being interrupted by pesky work.

They flew in on the night of the 29th, but since I had work on the morning of the 30th I didn’t meet up with them until they’d had a chance to get a good night’s sleep. On the afternoon of the 30th we headed up through Tian’anmen Square, through Zhongshan Park, and around the front of the Forbidden City. Unfortunately, it was 4:15 by the time we got there, and it closes at 4:30. We decided to save it for another day.

The next morning, we headed up to Changping, the Beijing suburb where our school is located. After blatantly ignoring the security procedures, they got a whirlwind tour of our school and apartment. After stopping in “downtown” Changping for lunch, we caught a cab to the Great Wall at Juyongguan, about a 40 minute ride. As one would expect on December 30th in the mountains in northern China, it was quite chilly. This had a dubious upside; since it was the epitome of the off-season, the place was nearly deserted. Everyone made it up onto the great wall and walked for a few minutes, but only Deb decided to climb all the way up to a peak. The rest of us were quite happy to sit around a heater in a little coffeeshop and wait for her to return. She did, and we headed back to Beijing. A quick tour of our Beijing apartment, and they were off to their hotel to sleep.

The night was far too short, as we met at their hotel at 5:30 AM to start our day’s adventure: the terra-cotta warriors of Xi’an. Keep in mind, Xi’an is halfway across the country from Beijing. The subway brought us to the airport in time for our 8:00 flight, which took about 2 hours to land us in Xi’an.

A bus from the airport took us to the city center, the train station. After a bit of wandering, we found the next bus, which then took 45 minutes to weave its way out of the city and into the surrounding hills. At the end of the line we finally arrived at the warriors about 11:30.

Though they’re stuck in the middle of nowhere, the terra-cotta army is every bit as impressive as you might imagine. The sheer scale of it is boggling; even more so when you consider that every one was handmade at one of the many workshops scattered around China and then shipped to their final resting place. Though most were broken when the roofs of their underground chambers collapsed, the warriors are remarkably preserved after over a thousand years. Their faces are distinctively sculpted, and in some cases traces of the original paints remain. The museum wisely left large sections of the site unrestored, so that you can see the warriors before and after reconstruction. It’s an awe-inspiring monument to one man’s ambition.

After wading back through the crapvendors that surround any tourist site, we got on a bus back to the center of Xi’an, where we had dinner before heading back to the airport to catch our return flight at 7:00. Arriving in Beijing around 9, we were thoroughly exhausted and went to bed.

A leisurely morning was followed by a visit to the Forbidden City, followed by an extended shopping trip in the Hongqiao Market. That night we had Peking Duck in the most famous restaurant in the city, Quanjude. Much fun (and a bit of wine) was had by all. We said our goodbyes back at the hotel that night, since they had to catch the airport shuttle early the next morning.

It was wonderful to have people come and visit; we get a bit tired of seeing the same people day after day. And the Christmas and other gifts they brought were very much appreciated (I was running low on deodorant, and Nichole was suffering from a severe lack of mint M&Ms). I think everyone had a good time, especially Grandma. How many octogenarians get to walk on the Great Wall?

(our picture uploader isn’t working at the moment. I’ll post photos when it works.)

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