When I booked our hotel in the hutong, I ignored all the advice that suggested staying near Beijing centre because getting into Beijing by taxi could be time consuming. Wary of ignoring this advice, I decided that we should take the subway which was supposed to be around the corner. We walked out of the hutong alley onto the main road which was gritty, and big city grimy. The air was thick, hot and reminded me of childhood summers in the Midwest of America where the humid heat shocked your lungs as you stepped out from the air-conditioning. Having spent the last 12 years in England, I enjoyed the experience of this memory. Despite seeing a legless man pushing himself on a scooter begging for money, the kids said nothing. He did not request money from us, but instead stared curiously at us, the only Westerners in sight. As we walked on, we passed a stand where they were selling turtles and fish. Not knowing if these were for pets, food, or medicine I hoped the children woudn't ask questions... atleast not yet. The subway was easy to find. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was very clean, cool, incredibly easy to use and cost a mere 80 pence for the four of us to travel. We put our bags through security before entering which made me wonder that if China can put security in their underground system, then couldn't London do the same? The Beijing subway was incredibly simple to navigate. All the stops were listed in Chinese and Pinyin on the subway columns at each platform. The stop you were on was marked and the direction that train was going was shown. When I lived in New York City, you felt you were becoming a local when you could act like you weren't lost on the subway system. After three years of living there I once spent an hour and a half waiting for a train at 2am when I suddenly realised it was the wrong platform. I was sober. Atleast I was when I figured out I was at the wrong platform. After using the subway in Beijing once, I felt I mastered Beijing subways. Yes, this was most likely me being over exuberant and cocky, but it felt fantastic not feeling like I was completely lost in a big city. I loved it.
A couple of stops, an easy transfer and one more additional stop, we ended up at Tiananmen Square. We bought water to cope with the heat and found our way to the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was crowded and again, I was surprised how few Westerners were there. In a crowd of hundreds we maybe saw two or three. And there were no Western children. Maybe this is because other parents were smart enough not to travel with their children during the hottest month in Beijing. Regardless, my children quickly became a hot commodity for family photos. Chinese families left and right requested my children pose for pictures. Very little English was spoken but the request was made clear and my children posed with Mums and Dads, and children and Grandparents. My six year old daughter was very unsure about this (see photo) until someone explained it was because she is pretty. I'm not sure what she was thinking before this. My 8 year old son loved his Rock Star-like status and happily posed and smiled and held toddlers hands and wrapped his arms around other kids. Several times I toyed with saying "no thank you" to these requests for photos as it seemed odd to stand back while my kids were photographed with other families. I wasn't sure how my daughter, who is shy, was feeling about having her hand grabbed by someone elses granny and placed in a strange kid's hand while Mummy and Daddy stepped away from them to be out of the picture. Lost for what to do, and seeing that people were genuinely loving the children, I went with the flow and hoped for no lasting psychological damage. I'm glad I did because this scene was a common one. Resistance was futile. At times we just wanted to move out of the heat, but overall, it was a beautiful interaction between people of different cultures enjoying and appreciating the differences between us. Grandmothers would thank me by touching my hand and were generous and laughed appreciatively of my attempted response in garbled Chinese. I realised that this interaction was very special and unique. I certainly would not have experienced this if I had been traveling without my generous, understanding, and accepting children. Again, and as always, I learn from my children.