Sunday, March 12th - The Forbidden City, our first goodbye and an important lesson

by Kristi Van Dyk


Yesterday was a much bigger day than anyone in our family ancitipated. Bigger in the sense that it was long, long, long! The day began leisurely enough, with our trip down for Benjamin's favorite meal of the day. We had cappuccinos and Western breakfasts before packing up our room to check out by 9:30 a.m. We met Judy at the front of the hotel, and she came bearing gifts. She brought two of her son's books for Benjamin to keep and a little tin box of Chinese Chocolates. We thanked her profusely and treasured up the special gifts. The Forbidden City is just minutes away from our hotel, so we had hardly gotten in the car when the driver let us out. Judy had been telling us that the typically bad Beijing traffic was even more out of control and security even greater because of the special sessions happening in the government right now. Up until Saturday, no one was allowed into Tianenman Square for the safety and security of the government officials. They opened just as we arrived (she said we were VIP, more VIP than Donald Trump and so they heard we were here and opened. She had a fantastic sense of humor), and Judy whisked us through the special "foreign tourists" gate. We passed through security screening twice, but there were lots of smiles as they watched Judy talk to Ben. Judy said in the public square, and elsewhere, people comment about her being crazy and "silly" to talk to a foreign boy in Mandarin. And they all mutter that she is out of her mind. BUT then, Benjamin would respond and these same people would immediately act shocked and point to their traveling companions to remark at Benjamin's Mandarin. At least twice some of the security in the city told us, as his parents, that his Mandarin was really very good. 


We enjoyed exploring this iconic Square and then took the underpass to the Forbidden City. Steve and I, having not studied this place in depth, were shocked at the absolute enormity of it all. All of it constructed in this location because the emperor believed it the most secure (Beijing is surrounded by mountains on three sides). The lengths the emperor took to protect himself and his family was incredible; there were gates and courts and more gates and more courtyards each with its own separate function (like a place to sip tea or hold a meeting). The painting had been expertly retouched, but (in genius fashion) they left some undone so that the original painting was exposed and people could see originals. There were stories of battles at various courtyards and damage caused by invading countries. There were stories of concubines turned into empresses and hosts of rules for wives and families and where they could exit and enter the city. Because this is a museum now, tourists take great delight in walking through the center of the gates (previously reserved only for the emperor himself and his wife, one time in her life, on their wedding day but never, ever, ever for a concubine or a common man). There were moats to prevent passage and large water basins around for fire protection. Judy said they even layered the concrete 15 layers deep to protect the emperor from someone who might attempt to invade by tunneling upward! It was fascinating, and HUGE. By around noon we were done with this tour and ready for lunch.


Judy, knowing our propensity for American food recommended that we simply eat in the train station, where there would be plenty of choices. Thus, we arrived at the train station nearly 3 hours before our train was set to depart. We learned to read the message board so we could determine where we should wait and then were able to watch how people queued up 30 minutes prior to boarding. As we had extra luggage to store, we were ready to follow this example when it was our turn.


The biggest piece of learning for the day was the sheer size of China. When we read that China is roughly the same size as the land mass of the United States, we were skeptical. We thought maybe it was close, but it really doesn't LOOK as big on the map :). So, we assumed (quite erroneously) that our bullet train rides would be short. In my head I expected an hour or two - getting us to Xi'an by dinner time. Well, no, the train from Beijing to Xi'an is 5.5 hours, covering approximately 1,100 km (or roughly the distance between Holland, MI and Chattanooga, TN) We weren't prepared to order food on the train (I couldn't even tell you what they offered) and by the time we arrived in Xi'an, it was 10:00 p.m. Our hotel was 45 minutes from the train station, so we were absolutely exhausted by the time we arrived. We survived last night on skittles, granola bars and water. My stomach is READY for breakfast this morning! Real food, please, of any variety. 

Having learned our lesson, we asked Celene, our guide here in Xi'an, about the length of train ride we are to take today - between Xi'an and Taiyuan. She said it's not quite 4 hours. So today, we are going to see the Terra Cotta Warriors, grab some lunch, and then navigate a new train station before commuting the distance roughly equivalent to driving between: Holland, MI and Bowling Green, KY. The difference of course is that we get to do it on a bullet train at the max speed of around 302 km/hr. 

I have thoroughly loved seeing the sites and visiting historic places. I would do it again in a heartbeat if we had a chance. BUT, I am thankful that the next location and hotel is a place we can sink into for several days. We need to do some laundry, we would like to get our bearings and feel "at home " with familiar surroundings for at least a few days. The next city we visit is not for a tourist event. There will be things to see and to learn, but the next morning, when I blog from our next location, it will be in anticipation of heading to Civil Affairs to meet our son.  

Today I pray for his heart the most - for his "lasts." I wonder if he knows they are his lasts... His last night in that bed he's known. His last morning to play and visit and have fun with the friends and caregivers, his last time in the city that has been his home. I wonder if he's anxious. I wonder if he's at all excited. I am positive he must be scared. As nervous as I am, I have the security of my husband and my son, I have my familiar things from home.  I can conquer unfamiliar obstacles because I'm securely attached. I pray, again, for supernatural peace for him - for the Lord to grip Him with a peace that passes all understanding. Today, I just pray ... 

I also got these adorable photos from home that made my heart soar - the girls are doing well. Happy to do special things with special people. 


Crafting, of course, a Miss Shari special. 




Missing them so dearly but so thankful for a God who isn't bound by time zones or borders or distance and is loving them through the hands and feet of their caregivers!