As with all of my interesting travel destinations, this was a work trip, in every sense of the word. I arrived Tuesday evening for a conference on Wednesday through Friday, and flew out Saturday at noon. This means that opportunities for sight-seeing were limited, especially once you consider the exhaustion of changing time-zones in addition to being at a conference in the first place (group activities started at breakfast and went until the end of dinner). I contemplated going out for drinks after dinner, but the sleep-deprivation coma always seemed to kick in before I could get my butt out the hotel door.
Thankfully, astronomy conferences tend to anticipate the crazy-busy tired attendee who doesn’t bother taking a day of vacation (or more) to fully enjoy the local sights, and a whole afternoon of the program was dedicated to an outing to the Great Wall. If only I had remembered to bring a warmer coat! I lasted all of 30 minutes walking up and down an impressively steep length of the Great Wall, snapped some photos of the views (which were extraordinary), had my picture taken with some Chinese tourists (apparently Americans are somewhat of a curiosity), and promptly bolted back to the warm bus to regain the feeling in my hands and face.
It will come as no surprise to many of you that my favorite part of the trip was the food. I wasn’t sure whether I was mentally prepared to eat Chinese food for three meals a day (yes, including breakfast). It wasn’t even hard. My biggest worry was that there would be too much meat and that I would end up feeling sick, since Peter and I cook and eat meat maybe once a week to once a month. But no, there was unimaginable variety of vegetables, noodles, and rice at the hotel restaurant (where we ate all but one of our meals). The one meal we ate elsewhere was in a stunning, very fancy restaurant with live performers during dinner and a never-ending line of food brought to our table. A dish of donkey meat was one of my favorites, along with a very spicy beef dish, and some marinated lotus root. I wish I had taken more pictures of the fancy restaurant and its lantern-lit gardens, but the experience was so captivating that I totally forgot to be a tourist.