BEIJING - When my Dad announced that our 2011 family summer vacation would be spent in China, I started packing — weeks in advance.
I’ve always wanted to visit China; the culture and history, which I’ve read about in school, fascinates me.
The thought of standing on the Great Wall; visiting the biggest toy soldier collection ever assembled in Xi’an; seeing playful pandas; exploring the tombs of emperors laid to rest 3,000 years ago all sounded so cool.
My brother Jascha and I might be young, but we’re well-travelled: we’ve been to Israel, India, Dubai, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and France, where they were amused at my attempts to speak the language. But at least I tried!
Travelling with the family is great. We have fun together, and Dad plans everything perfectly, so things always run smoothly.
The day we arrived in Beijing was so amazing. I was now in a country with a 5,000-year history. Our guide Kim met us at the airport and got us into vacation mode with a quick tour around Beijing, China’s capital and second-largest city.
Early the next morning, we visited the Badaling section of the Great Wall. As we neared the greatest man-made structure ever built, it dawned on me that I was visiting the No. 1 Wonder of the World.
“You can climb (the Wall) the easy way,” Kim said, “or the hard way.” The easy way has more people, so we opt for the less crowded but more challenging hard way. On the climb we had to fight the feeling we were falling backwards — this section of the Wall is steep! It was a tough climb, but worth it because when we reached the top, the view of the surrounding mountains was absolutely stunning.
“Is that the CN Tower I see over there?” joked my brother.
What a way to start our China tour, which only got better in the days to come as we made stops in Beijing at:
• The Ming Tombs, where we walked the Sacred Way — a long, straight path flanked by statues of legendary Chinese officials. The Sacred Way was believed to be the road leading to heaven that only emperors could walk on. We rented a buggy so we could ride the long, impressive road. People walking past smiled at us and waved. I told my brother they were probably laughing at how lazy we were being.
• Tiananmen Square, the second largest city square in the world, and the Palace Museum inside the Forbidden City, where artifacts from Chinese dynasties are showcased.
• The Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven, which I thought were the most beautiful and magnificent buildings we saw in Beijing.
• The Beijing Zoo, a real treat for my younger brother who especially enjoyed the pandas.
• The Silk Market, where I used my newfound bargaining skills to help my Mom with her shopping.
• The Legend of Kung Fu show, where we learned the story of a young boy who wanted to become a Shaolin monk.
My favourite things in Beijing was touring a hutong (ancient courtyard homes) in a cycle rickshaw. Michael, our guide, was funny and told us interesting stories as we peddled down the narrow lanes to the hutongs. He pointed to some red beams above the doorways and told us that the number of beams indicated how wealthy a family was.
At one hutong, a man who was a retired chef taught us the art of making dumplings. He patiently showed us how to put the filling in the dumplings and, after many tries, we made the “perfect dumpling.” I thought mine tasted best, but my family told me otherwise.
After Beijing, we left for Xi’an, the home of the Terracotta Warriors, the giant clay soldiers who were assembled to protect China’s first emperor Qin in death.
We arrived in Xi’an in the afternoon and two things immediately came to mind — wow, it’s hot here and it’s very green: Xi’an is full of trees and beautiful flowers.
Our new guide, Jenny took us to the Wild Goose Pagoda, an ancient Buddhist temple where we learned how to write our names using Chinese characters. Then we visited the City Wall where we climbed to the top and saw how it surrounds the old town, which once served as China’s capital.
At the Tang Dynasty show we had dinner and saw performers in beautiful traditional costumes dance and play instruments from China’s great dynasty era.
But the biggest thrill for me in Xi’an was our visit to the Terracotta Army.
My brother and I couldn’t believe how good these 3,000-year-old soldiers, their chariots and horses still look after all these years under ground.
The guide told us how they were buried in a pit to protect the emperor and how we could distinguish the soldiers from the generals.
She also supplied other neat facts about how the army is being restored — almost all the warriors were found broken in pieces when they were discovered in the 1970s.
Above: China's old water towns offer insight into its past as does the ancient statues Keanu and Jascha found.
Our next stop, Shanghai, brought us back to the modern world. After ancient Xi’an, it took a few days to get used to futuristic Shanghai. It’s China’s largest city and it overwhelms you with a forest of high-rise office and condo towers that look like something out of a sci-fi movie.
This is my kind of town.
We visited the Shanghai World Financial Centre, the second-tallest building in the world, where we had dinner at the 100 Century Avenue restaurant located on the 89th floor. What a view!
From the 100th floor observation deck, we got an amazing view of downtown Shanghai and the busy Huangpu River, which separates old colonial Shanghai known as the Bund from its futuristic section, Pudong.
The next day we visited beautiful Yuyuan Garden and travelled just outside Shanghai to Zhujiajiao, an ancient water town where we cruised on narrow canals and under arched stone bridges.
That evening back in Shanghai, we saw an acrobatics show that was mind-blowing. We also saw the Ocean Aquarium, with its vast collection of fish and underwater creatures, and got great food and more amazing views of the city’s skyline at the CHAR Grill. I probably spent more time taking pictures than I did eating!
The next day, we left Shanghai for Macau and Hong Kong, and our family vacation to mainland China was over.
It was an incredible adventure and education for my brother and me.
Now I’m ready for my teacher’s next Chinese history quiz.