Two Sides of China

I feel that China demands to be taken on its own terms.  The longer that I live here the more that I come to realize just how impossible that it is to categorize China.

Take for example this weekend. We had four days off because of Mid-Autumn Festival. 

Stop one was a small eco village near the great wall.  We decided to rent one of the little houses that has been restored and remodeled to be fancy pants and pretty.  It ended up being way more room then we actually needed.  If we ever go again it will probably be with two or three other people.    But it was spectacular.  There was an indoor outdoor fireplace and a private green space.  I don’t usually notice how much time I spend indoors in Beijing.  I am pretty indoorsy (this may be one the single understatement of the century) naturally so generally I don’t mind.  But sitting outside on the grass reminded me that I haven’t done that since I was in the States in July.  The weather is finally starting to turn.  At the least it isn’t so hot that I am angry all the time anymore.  I need to make sure that this fall I put some effort into being outdoors before the air and the cold drive me back inside.

The village itself has a bunch of tourist running around and yet it still manages to feel like a normal small village in China.  I think that there has been some major efforts in preserving that feeling while making sure that the villager are able to take advantage of the money that tourist bring in.  We had a special harvest “feast” at one of the restaurants.  The specialization was hand pulled noodles (delicious) but there was some really interesting corn congee (with a very starchy sort of sweet corn) added, corn blinis and tiny little roasted chestnuts.  I have had roasted chestnuts before at the Christmas market in Germany but I was all excited to try them again.  Mostly because I had forgotten that they aren’t actually very good.  There were also dumplings and tiny dried plums to add to a  a sort of hot  Chinese brandy. 

We climbed the hidden wall the next day.  Or rather to the hidden wall.  The hidden wall refers to the parts of the Great Wall of China that have not been restored and are technically not open for visiting.  I am not going to lie.  The climb was a bitch and there were snakes.  Well one snake and a squirrel.  Also some spiders.  In the end it didn’t even matter because it was SO WORTH IT.  We were at the wall by ourselves and it felt a little bit as if we had time travelled.  If we were to do it again I would make sure that we could spend the day of there and take a picnic.  As it was we got there, took some pictures, tried to absorb the ambiance, and then had to get back to our house for our pickup.

This is one side of China.  The slow, relaxed China with 5000 years of history to take in.  This is the Wall and people selling you peaches on the street.  This might be closest to the idea of China that I had in my head before I came here.

The second half of our little jaunt was a mystery trip.  My husband enjoys planning them occasionally and as it means that I have no responsibilities other than showing up I am all for them.  Last month he had read an article about wine in China and found out that China’s largest vineyard (or largest something or other to do with wine as the vineyard itself wasn’t massive)

It is entirely possible that it was the tackiest place on Earth.  Obviously, I have not been everywhere on earth but this was pretty spectacular.  It was built in 2007 and modeled after small Italian/French winemaking villages.  Chintzy faux restoration décor? Check.  Village square complete with “church”? Check.  All the red wine in all the land?  Check.

This is primarily a Chinese tourist site.  Carsten and I were the only Westerners that we saw there the whole time.  Which lead to a whole lot of staring.  And pictures.  I am going to be in many a photo album labeled “That weird laowai couple we saw at the vineyard.” The people in Beijing are so used to foreigners that no one bothers to look at you on the street.  It is easy to forget that for much of the rest of China that is not the case.  The point is brought home when small children circle around three or four times to look at you again.

Speaking of children: There was a extraordinary amount of families with small children there. Am I missing an essential piece of parenting wisdom that says that two-year-old really love tours of wine cellars?  It doesn’t seem like the first place that I would think of to take toddlers but that was the majority of the other people there.  Add in to the mix about 50 couples taking wedding photos here, there, and everywhere and you got a rather dizzying experience.

We walked all around the vineyards and toured the Chateau and the wine cellar with the rest of the herds of tourists.  It felt a little like Disney land.  A sort of artificial and idealized version of something real.  We sort of wandered around in a daze of confusion, amusement, and relaxation.  It was a uniquely Chinese place.

The vineyard showed a second face of China.  But here are others.  If China is one thing it is complex.  I am looking forward to seeing how many sides of this country I can find.