Time to visit grandma!!

To be honest, China wasn’t in our original plans for travel- solely due to the fact that I didn’t expect them to open up the country to visitors so soon. But then… it happened. They opened for visitors, then they re-validated ten year visas that were canceled due to the pandemic. Suddenly, I was allowed to enter the country again. So of course, we reshuffled all of our plans just so I could visit my grandma for the first time in six years. Hugo, luckily for him, didn’t need a visa to enter China. So we were ready to go. We bought the tickets, spent 19 hours in Cairo (see last post), and then we finally arrived.

It’s so weird but to me, each country/city has like a distinct smell. Beijing smell is a mix of food, smoke, the people, the cars. It’s kind of… spiced? It was one of the first things I noticed. Like, “yes, this is China. I’m finally back”. For Hugo, he was more focused on the “I’m in Asia!” aspect. We arrived in the evening and after dropping off our stuff and taking a much-needed shower, we set out in search of food.

Overall, China has become much more convenient and efficient for Chinese citizens. Everything is super streamlined and accessible through your phone. You pay for everything and can get anything via your phone and (importantly) your national ID. For tourists though, it’s so incredibly difficult and frustrating to get basic services. For example, WeChat doesn’t let you use any paid service unless you are connected to a Chinese bank account and registered into the Chinese network. And WeChat has everything! Maps, taxi, food orders, etc. It’s the main way people pay for services. Street vendors have QR codes for payment. Thankfully, the other second-most used payment app, Alipay, recently allowed you to connect to a foreign bank account or card. So that’s what I downloaded to use. Unfortunately, not all vendors accent foreign cards via Alipay, so then you’re still stuck unless you transfer money directly onto Alipay (which I could not figure out how to do). Every time my family members would be like “oh just use _____ app for ______!” and I’d be like, I caaaaaan’t! I couldn’t even get a good app for maps until like the third day when my cousin downloaded the right one for me since Google Maps doesn’t work anymore. More on how frustrating things were as a tourist later on….

Anyway! So we set out in search of food, and I used Alipay to buy some stuff at a convenience store down the street from the apartment we were staying at. The store was basically unmanned except for one guy who cooks the food. Everything is automated. There was a machine to choose and order food, then the self-check-out machine. Also bought some meat buns for Hugo at another small store. When we got back to the place, that’s when I was texting my cousin trying to figure out plans for the next day. Originally, I had wanted to go to the Forbidden Palace (weird name, I don’t like it, I’m going to use Gu Gong instead ok) but apparently you now need tickets to enter!! Ok, no problem. I searched to see how to buy tickets. They’re sold out for the next week! 💀
My cousin picked a different temple for us to visit, the Lama temple aka Yong He Gong.

Next morning, we work up and planned to meet my cousin at the temple, conveniently just one station away. Which also I struggled to find out because Google maps doesn’t work anymore (it used to when I went last time six years ago but then China and Google broke up because of the US policy being sinophobic ANYWAY). So I did this weird search on like Baidu maps which kind of worked but everything is only in Chinese. I think most people use WeChat which has maps. When we got to the ticket machine, I discovered that they didn’t accept big bills. So then we went to McDonalds to get breakfast and change for the machine. Back at the machine, I found that it would not let me buy the ticket without an ID number. I tried my passport, no luck. They just wouldn’t let me pay. After panicking about being late and not understanding why I couldn’t buy a simple ticket when in the past it was so easy, I finally asked the security guard who informed me I had to go to the gate and talk to the person to buy a ticket. I mean, what the heck! How is someone who doesn’t speak Chinese supposed to figure that out I have no idea. Everyone else just beeps into the gate with their phone!! 😤😤😤 You see!!! So difficult if you’re just a visitor and not registered in China’s system. Who wants to talk to humans at the ticket gate these days. Especially every single time you want to use the metro. In the past, you just need a card which you just beep in and out, but now it’s gotta connect to your ID? via your phone? LISTEN! I lived in Beijing for like 3 months in 2011, I used to know how to do everything and I would take public transportation everywhere and now I am just confused! ok 😭


The trip was only supposed to take like twenty minutes but we arrived like an hour and a half later. So the second I saw my cousin I did a collapse-hug and whined about why things were so hard. We got tickets (cause apparently every single place needs tickets now when in the past none of them did) and went in.

It was soo crowded! So at the entrance of the temple you get a bundle of incense which you can use to pray at different spots/buddhas throughout. Traditionally, you take out three sticks, light them, and bow three times. You can then pray or make your wish. When you’re done, you bow three more times then throw the incense into a big pot of burning incense. The burned incense is then turned into jewelry or more incense.

We went to the temple’s jewelry(?) store outside which was less crowded then the one inside. We still had to wait like thirty minutes until we could go in though. Inside You can buy traditional bracelets, necklaces, prayer beads and such. They have meanings and act as like an amulet which might give you luck, protection, etc. Hugo got one for “good work” and I bought two prayer beads. Hugo also bought bracelets for his nieces. This is where I ran into the issue of the store not accepting international cards on Alipay, so my cousin paid.

We had some giant bowls of noodles at the place my cousin used to frequent a lot as a student.

Went home, got some stuff, and took an hour long taxi to get to the apartment of one of my aunt and uncles, where my grandma lives!!

Look so cute, she’s holding Hugo’s hand. 😀

Grandma is 93 years old. She struggles with walking and hearing. One of her ears is completely deaf and you gotta speak REAAAL LOUDLY into the other ear. Her eyesight is great though, as well as her memory and her brain power. She was very happy to see me and meet Hugo. It’s funny because for the longest time she called him 婷婷的小朋友 “Dorothy’s little friend” and now she calls him 婷婷的爱人”Dorothy’s lover”. She kept bringing up memories of when I was younger, saying that I took too many risks and would run off while my brother would always stay close.

My grandma is the kindest person I know. She never once raised her voice and me or my brother growing up. At the same time, she’s direct and very strong in the way she instructs you. For example, before I moved to Japan, I visited and she told me, “You can go to Japan but you can not stay more than five years and you can not marry a Japanese man”. I didn’t plan on doing either so it was easy for me to be like yes yes, of course. (Japan occupied China when she was young)

This time, she was like, “Come back in two years. With your child“. And I was like, yes, yes, of course. But my mind was like, “eeeeeeehhhhhhhhhhh, I don’t knoooooowwwwww.”

So yeah, after we took pictures, she spent like another thirty minutes sending the photos to her different friend groups (with a lot of patient help from my cousin), introducing Hugo. We ate snacks and fruits while my uncle and aunt made dumplings. Hugo’s stomach started to not feel good here so my aunt gave us a bottle of medicine, which, spoiler alert, helped us survive the next two months of travel. Oh this is also when my cousin found the correct Chinese maps app and downloaded it to my phone. Yaaay we have accurate maps with transportation information. After eating the very delicious dumplings, we headed home.

Why did we have stomach issues. Who knows, but it was not fun and I was working like this.

Next day, we went to the Great Wall with my mom’s childhood friend. We woke up extra early and they drove us to a parking lot where we then had to take a bus up to the actual wall area. Hugo and I were like the only ones who had physical tickets. Everyone else, as I understand it, bought tickets on their apps and the ticket was then registered to their ID card. They then just have to beep their national ID cards and get in. So convenient for them (is the trend).

It was sooooo crowded with people!

The further you walk, the less people there are. It was still nice since I haven’t gone since I was six years old. Also very crazy to think about how long the wall actually is and how it was built so long ago. :O There was a certain point where I gave up and Hugo went ahead of me for a while before coming back. Apparently, that was also a very steep area so I don’t regret not going with him hehe.

After this, mom’s childhood friend and her husband took us to eat at a famous restaurant well-known for the Beijing roasted duck. Even though it was an odd hour, like 4pm, the restaurant was still very crowded and we had to wait thirty minutes or so. It was very cool because we saw them roast them and put them in these huge oven fires and take them out. It seemed pretty pricey, but they treated us.

With full tummies, we walked around the area and then went home. They were very nice and I’m grateful they helped take us to the Great Wall because I definitely would have struggled on my own.

Our next two day’s adventure was just me trying to make up for the fact that we didn’t have tickets to places and no tour either. So with the help of my cousin and mom’s friend, I got a few tickets for some places and failed at other places. Even Tiananmen Square needs a ticket now!! It’s supposed to be a public square!!😤😤 Boooooo!!!!!

Here is a photo dump (click for larger):

We went to Tiananmen Square, took pictures of Gu Gong from the nearby Jingshan Park. We also went to Tian tan (temple of heaven) when it was raining heavily, and also did lots of shopping and bargaining. It was nice! There were a lot of tourists, mostly Chinese people from other areas that came to visit the capital city. My cousin said that because everything recently opened after three years, “everyone’s gone crazy”. People are soo excited to travel around. So tickets for places quickly sell out and there are really big crowds everywhere. There were not many foreign tourists though. And also surprisingly, not many Chinese tourists are going abroad either. They’re mostly “going crazy” domestically. Our flight to the Philippines was practically empty.

My dad also finally arrived so we visited my aunt and uncle’s house again on our last day. We had meant to go the day before but I fell asleep and woke up late. Also my dad missed his original flight to China from Japan and was also delayed a day. So we didn’t overlap as much for our travel dates as much as we had expected. I thought he was going to take us around touristing but that didn’t really happen after all. At my aunt and uncle’s house we looked through old photos, I cuddled the dog, Hugo gave my cousin’s kid a red envelope (we received many for our wedding congratulations as well), and then we all went out for a big family lunch. Almost all of my dad’s immediate family made it.

It was really nice to see all my aunts and uncles and cousins 🙂 (minus one set of aunt/uncle, and two cousins). The oldest and youngest members of the family folding napkins into origami was also a cute touch. I remember when my grandma used to fold origami clothes and stuff for me too when I was younger.

And that’s about it! We left China the next day and headed towards the Philippines. Which will be another post, another day.

Until then!

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