Reluctant to wake up early over the weekend, we nevertheless did so that we could go on a grand mini-adventure! Greeted by a choking wall of white smog that made it difficult to even see the next door building, Enkui and his wife picked us up early yesterday morning and we headed to the Western Qing tombs about an hour outside of Baoding.
It was quite an interesting adventure because of how different it was from the seven months we’ve been here. First of all, we were traveling by private car and got to take the highways (all toll roads), we experienced filling up at a gas station (where the attendants fill up your tank and gas is measured in liters per 100 kilometers), and we had Chinese caretakers that ushered us around the tourist site. We were essentially Chinese tourists (rather than laowai) for a day. And it was great!
As a UNESCO World Heritage site, the mausoleum complex is remarkably big and really can only be explored by car and with the help of a local guide. In all there are 78 royal member buried on the grounds comprised of four emperors of the Qing dynasty and their respective royal households including family members and concubines. We didn’t see all there was to see but after several hours of exploring and wandering, I’d begun to lost count of how many tombs we did see. One of the most striking things to me is that there are farmers and other villagers living basically in the complex. The tourist sites (such as the tombs and the temple) are all guarded and you can only get in with a ticket, but immediately outside the walls there are families living in old servants buildings and their own homes. Even the building the emperor used to change his clothes in at the entrance of the mausoleum grounds is now home to a farmer (a fact I found astounding since I got fussed at for walking on the middle path of the road where historically only the emperor was allowed to walk).
You can definitely see the resemblance to the Forbidden City in Beijing:
The day was filled with speaking in Chinglish, laughing, and hanging out with our friends and it was absolutely magnificent. Even though we originally hadn’t wanted to get up and go, I’m so glad that we did. It was an excellent way to spend a Saturday and welcome in the spring.
Today, we woke up and the smog was all gone. The weather has actually the best we’ve seen this year and we celebrated by going outside in short sleeve shirts without jackets, eating pizza and ice cream, getting coffee, wandering around a park and then going shopping in a new grocery store where we found peanut butter, fruit and M&Ms!
It’s hard to believe we’re already halfway through this semester and we’ll be on a flight headed back home in only 71 days. But as the weather gets nicer and nicer, we get more excited about what’s left to come during this grand adventure in the Orient.
Thank you for reading and until next time,