It was just last year when I’d finally finished my goal of traveling to 50 cities in 90 weeks, documenting every experience, playing the scribe in my own life. Laying my ink jar (iPad) on the highest shelf in an attempt to publish it in book form, proved to be far more difficult than I could’ve imagined. I was suppressing the urge to write about my new travels, nearly punishing myself for not editing fast enough. It wasn’t until I was laying in bed during an all too short Beijing trip with one of my favorite crews to date, that I finally gave into the noise that was my mind. The noise that wouldn’t stop constructing sentence after sentence only to force me to do what I love most. My curtains were drawn after a six hour mini-venture of touring The Forbidden City when I knew that a nap wasn’t in my immediate future, but a 30-minute bath with scrap paper and a hotel pen would be. Considering it was my second bath today I felt slightly gluttonous but it was January 3rd, in a year that I was convinced would run smoother than the last and what better way to start it than to write about the city that inspired me to.
My time well spent in Beijing, though only a day and a half, was planned during our 13 hour flight across the pond. I’d picked the trip up for work and looked at the crew list worried, yet again, that I knew no one. Have you ever been stuck working with people you can’t stand? Imagine being suspended 45,000 feet in a metal tube with 200 passengers, forcing yourself to stay awake by talking to humans you have absolutely nothing in common with. It happens far too frequently but luckily this was not one of those times. We ranged from ages 24-56 but it didn’t matter because that 13 hour flight paled in comparison to what 13 hours should actually feel like.
Upon our arrival to the hotel we were greeted by gold and marble décor, double door after double door, and a Christmas tree as large as Kim Kardashian’s foyer, I’m assuming. After just enough time to shower and let our family know the plane didn’t crash, the five of us (David, Cody, Jess, Barbara, and myself) trekked the brisk 19° weather to see a Prada store about a hot pot restaurant.
David, who was from just 700 miles east, walked within ear shot of Barbara and I, telling us history and recollections from the 80’s as we soaked in the information like a sponge. This included the Wangfujing Snack Street decorated with bannered paper dragons and ready to eat scorpions on a stick, which was wicked.
We walked down this large, vibrantly lit road designed primarily for pedestrians that shined as bright as Vegas, looking mildly influenced by European culture while holding its asian charm.
The architecture was like that I’d only seen in photos; metal beams winding like Swiss rolls holding the floor to ceiling length windows in place as if it were sculpted out of clay, covered in chrome. It wasn’t until we were approaching the Prada store, glistening like golden glitter to the side of a 100 foot Christmas tree, that I realized we were at the restaurant.
Jess booked a reservation after the flight at Wangfujing Sea Fishing Pot, a 24 hour hot pot restaurant on the top floor. If you’re not familiar with hot pot, like myself before that day, it’s a popular Chinese cuisine where the meats and vegetables are cooked in one of two boiling broth pots sitting in the center of a circular dining table. You’re dawned with a robe and a hair tie, to help keep the intense smells from sticking to you and if you have to wait for a table, there’s a complimentary nail salon in the lobby and appetizers. If there was a way to cater to my sometimes boujee as fuck mentality, this was it.
Luckily, per our reservation, we were not only seated immediately but paid an extra 15 RMB, or $3.00, for a private dining room and a particularly interesting noodle show midway through dinner. Our more experienced colleagues made Barbara and I feel incredibly welcomed ordering food they thought we’d like while getting us to try food we knew we wouldn’t.
Lessons 1: Don’t try food you know you won’t like because spitting it out is offensive in every country. Fuck boiled pig blood curd and cartilage textured fungus *dramatically retches*.
It was an experience, I will not too soon forget including the “Welcome to China” sculpted dish the chef presented to Barbara and I at the end of our meal. Long story long, it was amazing. Minus the curdled pig’s blood.
With jetlag setting in, we went back to the hotel allowing me to pass out at 8pm only to rise at 5am, forcing me to wait three hours before going to my next mini-venture with Cody, Blake, and Omari. The Forbidden City, guarded by the Imperial Guard of Qing Dynasty, covers nearly 180 acres and withstands over 15 million visitors a year. The Palace was home to emperors for 500 years until the early 1900’s when it was turned into a museum for tourists like us. This city was huge. Walking in the main archways where empresses alike stood, was a very easy way to make you feel small and unimportant but considering it was nearing the negatives all I could think about was how many fingers I was willing to let break off for a good panoramic photo. Answer? The limit does not exist.
With the four of us being from three different countries , we wandered aimlessly through each temple sharing stories about our lives and upbringing while trying so desperately to stay warm. Becoming flight attendants not only for the adventure but simply because being homesick is real, and when you want to live somewhere so far from your family, you find a way to make it work. Omari visits his grandparents in Jamaica every couple months while I manage to visit family and friends on a monthly rotation like clockwork. We get to do this all while picking up trips to Beijing to experience a culture I otherwise would only know from pop culture and Wikipedia. We’re blessed, but it’s days like today when we don’t take it for granted that I’d say it’s well deserved.
Visiting other countries and new cities is something I know I sometimes abuse. I’ve been to London and sat in my room for the entirety of the layover and even to Hawaii where I’ve watched the beach from the window because I just wasn’t in the mood. Sometimes I feel guilty but more often than not, traveling takes away all your energy. The fact that I can go back to these cities quite literally whenever I want makes it easy to treat it as if you don’t need to do anything extraordinary because “there’s always next time”. Once I stopped blogging and just traveling for me, I was able to take a hard look at if I really love traveling for as often as I do it. I don’t. My blog jaded me in a sense to where I was always gone, always searching, only to learn that when I was able to enjoy the city I call my home, there was nothing I needed to search for. I’d sit in my Maui hotel looking at friends’ Snapchats wishing I was with them in Los Angeles or Chicago only to post pictures of the beach so I could see the comments of people wishing they were where I was, hoping to feel just a little grateful. It wasn’t until last year when I was able to tone down just how much I looked towards the next adventure, that I was able to appreciate what was right in front of me. Finding that glimmer of light in my day to day made me realize there’s nothing, no matter how small, that proves to be better than what you’re experiencing.
Going to Beijing helped remind me of that. Fresh into the new year and I was considering switching my trip so that I could have fun on New Year’s Eve without having to wake up early and *ugh* go to China. Keeping that trip was the first great decision I’d made and I hope it’s a precursor for how my year will go. A year of taking opportunities, giving into the noise, and knowing there’s never a time when you’ve “met enough people” or “had enough fun travel adventures”. Leaving on the flight home I had two seasons of Outlander downloaded but instead I chatted with the crew for the entire flight because you can never be over influenced by hilariously positive and multi-cultured humans. It was then I learned that Barbara is on a travel page that I frequent on Facebook and as it turned out she had been reading my blog and following my travels years before I’d ever met her. She, too, travels on her free time with her daughters who are my age and said reading my blog helped her get through how much they travel alone because if I could hit 15 countries by myself, so could they. This, Barbara is what made me want to write again, to inspire the 20 somethings of the world that think everything you see on social media is driven by deep pockets and constant admiration, when in reality all I takes is a plane ticket and leap of faith. Thank you, crew, for providing me with that leap of faith again, even if only for a few days.