By far the most difficult thing about living abroad is being away my from family. I can deal with the normal day to day difficulties of not being able to read labels in the grocery stores, the woes of hailing the difficult to find cab on a Friday night, or the adventure even answering the phone can be. But sometimes, you notice that you’re fifteen hours difference from the people you want to call, and that’s one long plane ride. This distance can be the most noticeable during the holidays, because that’s when you’re used to spending time with everyone. I’ve tried every year to make an effort to bring some of home with me, and sometimes the easiest way to do that is with a big Christmas tree! Mine has ornaments from home, ranging from ones I made as a kid to ones I’ve bought on my travels. The important part is that it has lights, and now makes my living room look like it’s actually lived in.
Now that all of my shipments have arrived, my apartment can be a home again. No, not all the boxes are unpacked, but I’ve made some parts presentable. Look at this table, just waiting for you all to stop by and visit so I can impress you with my glorious new (to me) serve-ware and dishes:
One advantage to Beijing being seasonal is that it actually feels like Christmas is coming this year. In Lima around this time I was looking out at the gorgeous and sunny beach view I had from my apartment. That’s certainly not complaint-worthy, but it is a little hard to get into the winter wonderland spirit when it’s 85 degrees outside. Now, instead of seeing the surfers enjoy their waves, I walk along this Christmas season trying to avoid the ice on the walkways and making sure I have gloves with me before I leave the house. Although I’m sure this cold weather will get a bit tiresome by February, for now I am content to throw on my layers to go outside, because it means I can justify a nice warm cup of hot chocolate when I get home! ‘Tis the season, and how cold can it really get if my apartment floors are heated?
I’ve been in Beijing for almost two months, and although I haven’t made it to the most frequented tourist destinations yet (waiting to go with visitors!), I have been able to explore some of the areas within the Beijing municipality. A few weeks ago I joined a group of hikers (Beijing Hikers) for a nice walk on Longyunshan, also known as Dragon Cloud Mountain. On the bus ride there, I did catch a few glimpses of the Great Wall of China I’ll be visiting later. Once we had driven outside of the main part of the city, the roads, vehicles, and buildings all got smaller. I couldn’t help but compare the scenes to those I saw driving through small towns in Peru- it seemed like more of the same short flat adobe/brick buildings on the side of the road, with three wheeled vehicles being more prevalent than cars. There were still arrays of gas stations and painted signs of telecom companies. The only difference being that, instead of reading Spanish, it was Chinese characters that dominated these landscapes. I came to Beijing expecting it to be different from all else I’d seen, and it is, but it never ceases to amaze me how similar things can be!
After the more enlightening than expected bus trip, we arrived at the top of the mountain and began our hike. This was my first opportunity to use some of my new hiking gear, and I was excited. I had also prepared for really cold weather. That week the temperatures had dropped noticeably in Beijing, and if you’ve ever been caught hiking or camping in the rain, you know it’s best to layer up and stay dry. Luckily, once we started the hike the sun came out, and I was able to shed my jacket and hike comfortably up the mountain. There were still parts with unmelted snow, but the clear air and sunshine made the weather feel refreshing.
Putting nature aside for a moment, I have to mention another key part of the hike- this mountain was actually the setting of a few different kung fu movies over the years, so as I hiked along the landscape, admiring the views of the river and the canyon, I also came across several old set pieces. The most prominent was an old (now “haunted”) house, and the second was a cave. We couldn’t help lifting up the fake boulders we found in the cave and pretending to throw them with our feigned mighty strength.
Overall, I enjoyed getting out of my daily routine of the Beijing downtown business district to see a different side of China. I made some new friends with the other hikers in my group, and got to walk around in the sunshine. I’m not sure when my next hike will be (it’s pretty freezing outside these days), but I look forward to seeing what next adventure awaits me.