Help Getting your Chinese Visa

In order to travel to China, you must have a Chinese visa.  There are several companies that help you with this process.  Typically, I am comfortable with doing my own paperwork, but we had a slight problem.  In order to get your visa for China, you must have at least 3 months left on your passport.  When we started to do the paperwork, we discovered that my son’s passport was actually expired!  This was the first time I had used an agency to expedite a passport application, but as soon as we received his passport, we immediately sent for his visa.

We used the VisaHQ service.  It was quick and easy to fill out.  Just remember if you are working for VIPKid,  you are not an employee.  You are an independent contractor.  They sent updates at every step along the way, and we got our visas very quickly (we did pay a bit extra to get them expedited, but at this point I was getting very nervous).  I did make a mistake when I was filling out our paperwork which resulted in a double charge, but they corrected it within a few hours (it may have been sooner, but I did not check until a few hours had passed).

I know that some people on our trip lived close enough to the places that handle the visas and they were able to do their own paperwork.  And while we are relatively close to Houston (about a 5 hour drive), I was not able to make the trip twice to drop off the paperwork and pick up the visas at this busy time of year.  It was much more economical and less stressful to pay VisaHQ to handle the paperwork for me.   I know there are other options available, but VisaHQ seemed the best fit for us.

Please let me know if you have any other questions.  If you would like to read more about our trip, click here to go to the Introduction.

Day 8 – On our own in Shanghai

This was the departure day for most of our group.  My son and I however had added on a few days on this trip to see Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland.  We had reservations this night for Toy Story Hotel at the Disneyland Resort.  We had found a friend who had the same itinerary so we decided to travel together.  The metro was easy to navigate to get to Disneyland, but I did not want to try to navigate it with our luggage, so we decided we would take a taxi.  However, we had all wished we could have seen the Yuyuan garden so we decided to visit there before we checked in at Disneyland.

Another one of our friends was on a later flight and decided to visit the garden with us, so we set out on the metro.  The metro is pretty simple.  It’s basically 5 CNY (less than $1) for each trip no matter how far it is.  You simply put in that you are purchasing one fare and it will spit out a ticket.  You do need to keep your ticket as you will run it through the machine again when you exit.  I did have a couple times that my ticket would say it was invalid and I had to pay an extra yuan to be able to get out.  This happened two different times randomly (and only to me, not my son) so I’m not sure what happened and no one spoke enough English to explain it to me.  Just be prepared with an extra yuan just in case.

We easily found the Yuyuan Garden metro stop (just a couple stops away from the stop nearest our hotel).  However, when we exited, we were a little unsure which exit to use.  As we were trying to read the signs a gentleman came up to us and started talking to us in English.  He explained that he was going to his shop in garden shopping center and he was happy for us to follow him.  As we walked to the garden center, we had a very nice chat and he showed us the best restaurant for the soup dumplings.  Before we parted company, he politely asked if he could show us his store.  Since we were in no particular hurry we went with him to see his beautiful store.

Our new friend had a very nice store that specializes in fresh-water pearls, jade, and tea.  He opened an oyster and let us see the pearls that are created by these creatures.  He explained that fresh-water pearls are more efficient than natural pearls as they can create multiple pearls in each oyster.  If I remember correctly, the oyster he opened for us had over 40 pearls!  He told us rather than growing from a grain of sand, the oyster farmers plant a small piece of oyster meat in the oyster as a “pearl seed”.  He showed us how to evaluate pearls by their shape, size, and color.  Of course, he showed us some of the beautiful things we could buy at a special price since we are now friends.  I will admit, I came home with a beautiful set of pearls with jade accents as well as a jade horse pendant.  The jewelry was beautiful and the prices were much more reasonable than what we had seen at other stores.  Before we left, our friend insisted on us joining him for a tea ceremony.  He had one of his employees make tea for us and we had a great time sharing this experience.

We then went to the restaurant known for having the best soup dumplings, Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant.  This restaurant was opened in 1900 and has been serving the Xiaolongbao since then.  There was quite a line waiting outside the restaurant.  But our friend told us not to worry, that there was a huge dining room that seated around 400 people on the second floor.  He was right, we only waited maybe 10 minutes before we were escorted to a table.  We ordered several varieties of the famous soup dumplings and they were served in just a few minutes.  This place is extremely busy, but so organized that even with the large number of customers, there is only a slight wait.  I must say, the wait was worth it!  This was one of the most delicious meals I have ever eaten.  We had the soup dumplings a couple of times on our trip, but none melted in your mouth like these.  If you ever get to Shanghai, please take the time and try this restaurant!  You won’t be sorry.

After the amazing lunch, we leisurely explored the Yuyuan garden.  It had many beautiful areas despite the time of year was not the best for the plants.  There were several buildings one could explore and many rock formations.  This is a beautiful place to take amazing pictures.  I would love to see this garden in full bloom.

From here we went back to the Bund Riverside Hotel to retrieve our luggage and then we left for the Disneyland Toy Story Hotel.  (I will write separate entries about Disney topics.)  That evening, my son and I went back into Shanghai on the metro for one of the best events of our trip.  I got to meet one of my darling students!  We enjoyed a meal at a mongolian restaurant.  They served many kinds of meet and a noodle soup that is one of my student’s favorite meals.  After the meal, we walked along the river to a nice little park.  Outside of the shopping center where we ate, a group of women were dancing, and in the park a man was doing Tai Chi under a street lamp (that would have made an amazing video, but I didn’t feel it was polite to interrupt him).  Then my student’s father escorted us back to the metro and we returned to our hotel.

This day, we walked 7 miles (partly because we got lost meeting my student and we re-traced our steps quite a bit).  But, this was such a great day because we did not have to keep up with the group and we could be more flexible.  (And of course everyday with DISNEY is great!)

I hope you have enjoyed my daily reports from the trip.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or comment below the post and I will answer as soon as possible.

Introduction to VIPKid Field Trip (November 2019)

Arrival in Beijing

Day One – Beijing – The Great Wall and the Golden Mask Dynasty

Day Two – Beijing (Summer Palace, VIPKid Headquarters, The Legend of Kung Fu)

Day Three – Beijing (Temple of Heaven, Tea Ceremony, Pearl Market, Peking Duck)

Day Four – Beijing (Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Hutong, Olympic Park)

Day Five – Bullet Train from Beijing to Shanghai

Day Six – Shanghai (Disneyland and VIPKid Meetup)

Day Seven – Shanghai (Bund, Yu Garden Shopping, Zhujiajiao River City)

Day Eight – On our own in Shanghai

Day 7 – Tour of Shanghai

This day was a very long, but exciting day.  We visited many of the main sites in Shanghai.  We started the morning by walking along the Bund.  This is where we could take iconic photos of Shanghai.  This area is extremely popular with the tourists, but it is much more busier at night.  It was nice to see the city during the day and the Bund was relatively quiet.

As a side note, there were vendors there selling drinks.  In general, most sodas are sold at room temperature.  If you want a cold soda, you must request it and you may actually pay a bit more if they are even available.  The day was pretty chilly so even at room temperature they were ok.  I had a delicious watermelon flavored Mirinda (a fruity drink similar to Fanta that is popular in Mexico).

After the Bund, we went shopping near the Yu (or Yuyuan) Garden.  We were given some time to explore on our own before lunch.  Inside this shopping center is the famous garden.  We were not given enough time to visit the garden, but we could spend some time exploring the shopping area.  There were all kinds of stores you could imagine.  There are also several of the original pork soup dumpling restaurants as well.  One of the areas had several craftsmen and women showing off their work as they made new creations.  This was very enjoyable and I did purchase a couple of small things from these artists.  We had lunch at a tea room right outside of the shopping center.  This was probably one of my favorite places that we visited.  In fact, we came back to this shopping center on day 8 on our own.

After a delicious lunch, we went to the water city of Zhujiajiao.  This town is over an hour bus ride from where we were in Shanghai.  At the bus terminal, there were plenty of western style toilets available.  First, we stopped in at one of the houses that has been turned into a museum.  It was beautiful!  The garden was amazing and I would love to see it when the plants are more lively.  Then we took a boat ride down the river similar to the gondola rides in Venice.  When we docked, we were able to wander along the river back to the bus and look at the variety of stores and food available.  I tried one of the sticky rice dumplings (Zongzi) that are popular for the Dragon Boat Festival.  There were many things available that I did not recognize, so it was very interesting to look around at all the stores and food vendors.   We wandered back to the bus and headed back into Shanghai.

We went to the other side of the Bund and got on a river boat.  The boat went up and down the Huangpu river by the famous Shanghai skyline.  We were able to upgrade to a special seating area for about $5.  This got us access to a special seating area on the top outside area of the boat along with a snack (a handful of cookies) and a drink (either a juice or a beer).  It was worth it for the amazing view and the chance to sit down!  There were other seats inside the boat (which were much warmer), but the view was often obstructed and the glass would cause issues if you were trying to take pictures.  The special seating area was not crowded so we were able to get amazing pictures of the Shanghai skyline!

After the river cruise, our bus dropped us off at the hotel.  Most of our group were leaving the next day.  My son and I chose to eat a simple meal at the hotel restaurant and go to be early.  We had walked 6.64 miles this day!  As we were saying our goodbyes, we had found that one of our travel companions had also booked the Toy Story Hotel for a couple of days (just like we had) so we made plans to meet up the next day and get a taxi to our next hotel together.  The travel agent handled shuttles to the airport the next day, but since we did not take advantage of this service I cannot tell much about it.  It seemed that they had several different drop-off times.  At this point, the hotel helped us with holding our luggage while we did some last-minute sight seeing and helped us find a taxi.

Introduction to VIPKid Field Trip (November 2019)

Arrival in Beijing

Day One – Beijing – The Great Wall and the Golden Mask Dynasty

Day Two – Beijing (Summer Palace, VIPKid Headquarters, The Legend of Kung Fu)

Day Three – Beijing (Temple of Heaven, Tea Ceremony, Pearl Market, Peking Duck)

Day Four – Beijing (Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Hutong, Olympic Park)

Day Five – Bullet Train from Beijing to Shanghai

Day Six – Shanghai (Disneyland and VIPKid Meetup)

Day Seven – Shanghai (Bund, Yu Garden Shopping, Zhujiajiao River City)

Day Eight – On our own in Shanghai

Day 6 – Free Day and Shanghai VIPKid Meetup

This day was a free day for most of the day until we had our Student Meetup that night.  I will have an article specifically about the Student Meetups.  We were not really given many options or information about this day.  Many of us had chatted about going to Shanghai Disneyland before the trip and a couple of the teachers had done the research on the best way to get there.  Some of the other teachers visited other areas in Shanghai, but I personally had not done much research other than Disneyland.  That being said, I had booked this trip with a few extra days to visit Disneyland in Shanghai and Hong Kong.  I am a HUGE Disney fan, and my biggest bucket list item is to see all the Disneylands in the world.  I took advantage of this opportunity and ticked two of them off of that list (now I only need to see Tokyo Disneyland!)  I had not really planned on doing Disney this day, but the appeal of visiting it with some of our new friends (a couple in particular were big Disney fans too) changed my mind.

On this day, we decided to get to Disneyland using the metro system.  It is actually quite easy to buy tickets.  The machines can be in English and you can pay per trip 5 CNY or less than a dollar!  We left about an hour before the gates opened at Disneyland (about 7:30 am) and the metro was already crowded.  The farther along the line we went, the more crowded it got until we started moving out of town toward Disney.  We did not get much of a chance to sit down.  Most of the ride we had to stand up and were packed in very close.  However, it was cheap and convenient and the Disney magical touches started as soon as we arrived at the Disneyland Metro Station.

I will not go into details about Shanghai Disneyland in this article.  I will have a separate article about Shanghai Disneyland.  We left the park around 1:30 in order to get back to the hotel in time for our meetup.  As I love Disney, this little taste of the park was worth it for me although this day we walked 7.56 miles!

Introduction to VIPKid Field Trip (November 2019)

Arrival in Beijing

Day One – Beijing – The Great Wall and the Golden Mask Dynasty

Day Two – Beijing (Summer Palace, VIPKid Headquarters, The Legend of Kung Fu)

Day Three – Beijing (Temple of Heaven, Tea Ceremony, Pearl Market, Peking Duck)

Day Four – Beijing (Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Hutong, Olympic Park)

Day Five – Bullet Train from Beijing to Shanghai

Day Six – Shanghai (Disneyland and VIPKid Meetup)

Day Seven – Shanghai (Bund, Yu Garden Shopping, Zhujiajiao River City)

Day Eight – On our own in Shanghai

Day 5 – Bullet Train from Beijing to Shanghai

This day was less walking than we had done the whole trip.  We took the Bullet Train from Beijing to Shanghai.  Before we left the US, we got a message from the travel agency asking if we would like to upgrade to First Class for $55 each.  We took the upgrade for the extra legroom.  I will say that we did not wander into the regular seats, but the teachers who did not choose the upgrade said the seats where quite small and very little leg room.  The First Class car was very comfortable and had a restroom readily available.  People came by offering snacks, meals, drinks, and even toy trains to purchase during the trip.  We did get a complimentary snack and a drink.  The snack had three kinds of cookies that were very good.  These were some of my favorite snacks on the trip!

The train ride was pretty uneventful.  It was quiet and comfortable and a nice rest for my weary legs and feet.  The train stations were well organized and the security checks were smooth and fast.  However, when we reached the train station in Shanghai, we seemed to have several delays.  First, one of our travelers accidentally dropped her phone in the tiny gap between the train and the platform!  We had to get security to help get it out (they used a long stick with a suction cup on the end to fish it out).  Then one of the group had wandered away and it took awhile for us to track her down.  Finally, we were able to load our bus and head to the Bund Riverside Hotel.

The hotel was very nice.  The check-in was a bit confusing as the tour guide (we had a different guide for Shanghai) took all of the passports and the desk clerks were going to process them after they gave us our room keys.  (Apparently, all hotels must keep copies or scans of guests passports).  This caused a problem for some of our teachers since they planned on leaving the hotel.  (You should always have your passport with you when traveling in China.)  This caused a little confusion and the check-in was not a smooth as in Beijing, but they had to deal with our whole group at one time.  We actually got our room assignments and keys very quickly.  They just asked for us to give them a bit of time before we collected our passports.

That evening, we were pretty tired so we just chose to eat in the restaurant in the hotel.  There were actually two restaurants.  One was on the top floor and was out of our budget.  The other was a little less extravagant and offered a nice menu.  There were some issues in the translations of our orders.  The waiter did not speak much English and there were a few things that did not come out as expected, but no major problems (for example, I got a Coke instead of a Diet Coke).  I do want to mention, diet sodas in general are pretty rare in China.  Often the “diet” option, is the Coke Zero if there is a “diet” option.  If you MUST have diet drinks, you may want to plan an alternative.

This was one of the days that we walked the least…only 1.83 miles.  We did stand around quite a bit at the train station, and in my personal opinion, I have more problems standing still waiting than I do if I can actually walk.

Introduction to VIPKid Field Trip (November 2019)

Arrival in Beijing

Day One – Beijing – The Great Wall and the Golden Mask Dynasty

Day Two – Beijing (Summer Palace, VIPKid Headquarters, The Legend of Kung Fu)

Day Three – Beijing (Temple of Heaven, Tea Ceremony, Pearl Market, Peking Duck)

Day Four – Beijing (Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Hutong, Olympic Park)

Day Five – Bullet Train from Beijing to Shanghai

Day Six – Shanghai (Disneyland and VIPKid Meetup)

Day Seven – Shanghai (Bund, Yu Garden Shopping, Zhujiajiao River City)

Day Eight – On our own in Shanghai

Day 4 – Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Hutong, Olympic Park

This was probably one of the most exhausting days on the trip.  First of all, the complex that holds Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City is HUGE!  I felt that we did not spend much time here, other than simply walking through, but I think it would literally take a full day (or more) to truly explore the Forbidden City.  As a person who grew up in the 80s, a certain video from Tiananmen Square is permanently etched in my memory.  The moment we stood in the square, I had a very strange, monumental feeling come over me.  I could just feel the “weight” of this historical place.  That feeling stayed with me as we explored the Forbidden City that day.

Tiananmen Square was probably the only place that I truly felt that I was in a Communist country.  There were cameras and surveillance equipment everywhere.  We were also warned before we got of the bus, that we would NOT be discussing anything political outside of the bus that day.  In the middle of Tiananmen Square is the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao.  While that was not really featured on our tour, it was impossible not to notice the huge crowds of people gathering to enter to pay their respects (many bringing yellow flowers).  The military has a flag station near the entrance to the Forbidden City manned by soldiers from each of the branches of military.  And soldiers and police were patrolling all over.  Again, this was the one place on our whole trip that the Communist influence was the strongest.

The Forbidden City was absolutely breathtaking!  The day was a bit gloomy, but there were still large crowds.  We walked through the entire complex and got a good overview of the area.  However, I feel that this was the one place in which I would have really liked to spend more time.  There was so much to see and I feel that we missed a lot of the details.  I know that we had many things on our agenda and that others may have been satisfied with the time spent here, but I personally will plan a day or two at the Forbidden City if I ever get to return to Beijing.  (And I will rewatch The Last Emperor before I go!)

After the Forbidden City, we had a nice vegetarian lunch.  Then we took off for the Hutong Tour.  Thankfully, most of the tour was by Rickshaw so we did not have to walk!  We did go into a residence that is open to the public to demonstrate the basic living conditions in the Hutong.  By this time, the temperature was dropping and the weather was not cooperating with us.  We had one last stop at the Olympic Park.  Several people, including my son opted to stay inside the bus here.  I considered the option, but really needed to find a restroom.  After a significant walk, I did find a restroom and started to follow our group to the Bird’s Nest, but the wind was very strong and cold.  I gave up and waited for our group in the designated waiting area and had a nice hot chocolate and did some souvenir shopping for Christmas gifts.

Since we had walked 5.44 miles that day in the cold, we opted again to eat some food from the convenience store in the Penta Hotel lobby.  We ate a bit and prepared our bags for the trip to Shanghai the next day.

Introduction to VIPKid Field Trip (November 2019)

Arrival in Beijing

Day One – Beijing – The Great Wall and the Golden Mask Dynasty

Day Two – Beijing (Summer Palace, VIPKid Headquarters, The Legend of Kung Fu)

Day Three – Beijing (Temple of Heaven, Tea Ceremony, Pearl Market, Peking Duck)

Day Four – Beijing (Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Hutong, Olympic Park)

Day Five – Bullet Train from Beijing to Shanghai

Day Six – Shanghai (Disneyland and VIPKid Meetup)

Day Seven – Shanghai (Bund, Yu Garden Shopping, Zhujiajiao River City)

Day Eight – On our own in Shanghai

 

Day Three – Temple of Heaven, Tea Ceremony, Pearl Market, Peking Duck

This day was packed!  Our first stop was the Temple of Heaven.  This was a religious temple used by the Ming and Qing Emperors for yearly prayers for the harvest.  The complex was absolutely beautiful and the area is free for “senior citizens” to visit.  In the park, there were groups of seniors doing exercise, playing cards, knitting, and I even saw one man drawing his friends as they played cards.  Our tour guide told us that on certain days, the parents with “single children” will gather and have matchmaking sessions (kind of like a match.com without the internet).

From the Temple of Heaven, we had a short walk to the Pearl Market.  Before we jumped into haggling for “high quality reproduction” handbags, we stopped at a tea house for a tea ceremony.  We got to try several flavors of traditional Chinese tea and they explained the health benefits that each tea can provide.  The tea was delicious and it was a great opportunity to try a few different kinds.  (This stop isn’t always on the China Highlights agenda.  They do offer tea for purchase and it is a bit pricey.  I know several members of our group spent quite a bit extra on tea.  This is another area you may want to add to your budget if you are interested in tea.  I did not purchase tea at this particular location because I was already going a bit over my budget).

The Pearl Market was filled with all kinds of little shops.  I have traveled quite a bit and am more or less familiar with the procedure of haggling, but I was not prepared for the haggling here.  First, the vendors are VERY aggressive.  They will follow you around and really pressure you to buy.  We found a building set (similar to Lego) that my son liked, but the price was almost 2000 CNY.  Also, I knew that we did not have room in our suitcase for the box and there was not going to be enough time for my son to assemble it before we needed to leave (it would have fit better assembled).  The sales lady was very pushy.  I told her I only had 200 CNY thinking that since that was a serious lowball offer she would leave me alone.  She came back with 350 CNY!  I realized then how seriously marked up the original price was on the products.  We continued looking around and she followed us eventually getting to 150 CNY for the set.  (We still couldn’t get it because that would mean getting luggage too!)  I did eventually bargain for a purse that I liked (not a knockoff…a simple embroidered design) and a few souvenirs, but the pressure of the haggling was too much and we left the shopping early and sat outside to rest our feet.

From the Pearl Market, we went to a restaurant near our hotel that served the famous Peking Duck.  I had tried Peking Duck at some point in my life (I believe in Disney World) but it was not in any way comparable with the meal we were served in China.  First, the duck I was served here in the US did not have the delicious crispy skin nor the “dressings” that were available to us in China.  I will say that the video showing the process of making Peking Duck was not exactly what I wanted to be watching at the table.  Nevertheless, the meal was fabulous and I highly recommend that even if you aren’t a fan of duck, you need to try this dish if you visit Beijing.

We had just a bit of time to relax at the hotel before we set off for the evening activity – our Beijing Student Meetup.  I will discuss the meetups in a separate article.  But the event was held in a beautiful upscale apartment complex and we were served another amazing meal.  By the time we were back to the hotel we were more than ready for sleep.  My app says that we walked 3.75 miles this day (if we would have continued shopping, I’m sure we would have done more)!

Take Aways:

  •  The Temple of Heaven is beautiful.  Spend some time watching all the activity in the area.
  • Do a tea ceremony if you get a chance!  (Make room in your budget if you want to buy some).
  • Haggling is pretty aggressive and expected.  Do not pay asking price on anything!
  • Make sure to try Peking Duck if you are ever in Beijing!

Introduction to VIPKid Field Trip (November 2019)

Arrival in Beijing

Day One – Beijing – The Great Wall and the Golden Mask Dynasty

Day Two – Beijing (Summer Palace, VIPKid Headquarters, The Legend of Kung Fu)

Day Three – Beijing (Temple of Heaven, Tea Ceremony, Pearl Market, Peking Duck)

Day Four – Beijing (Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Hutong, Olympic Park)

Day Five – Bullet Train from Beijing to Shanghai

Day Six – Shanghai (Disneyland and VIPKid Meetup)

Day Seven – Shanghai (Bund, Yu Garden Shopping, Zhujiajiao River City)

Day Eight – On our own in Shanghai

Day Two Beijing – The Summer Palace, VIPKid Headquarters, The Legend of KungFu

Day two in Beijing was a little bit harder to get up in the morning.  We had walked a lot the day before and jet lag was still causing us trouble sleeping through the night.  Our first stop was The Summer Palace.  On the way from where our bus left us to the entrance, there was a stand that had a selection of “snacks”.  There were the typical Beijing candied hawthorns and strawberries, but there was a table full of scorpions, worms, snakes, sea horses, starfish, and all sorts of other oddities.  A couple teachers were brave and tried the scorpions!  I did try one of the hawthorns and I do recommend them (although I have a fruit allergy so I only took a taste).  The Summer Palace, as the name suggests, was the summer home of the ruling family of China during the Qing Dynasty.  It is situated along a lake and the views are stunning!

One of the highlights of the Summer Palace is the Long Corridor.  It is a walkway along the side of the lake that gets a beautiful breeze.  There are paintings on every cross beam – every painting is very detailed and none of the paintings are repeated!  The paintings show landscapes, animals, and scenes from traditional stories.  We walked down the long corridor and took a boat across the lake.  Then we walked back across the 17 arch bridge.

I must note that as an American tour group, we seemed to be the entertainment for many of the other people visiting this site.  It was not unusual for them to be taking pictures or video of us.  They would often come ask to take selfies with us.  Be prepared if you are in a group to feel like you constantly have paparazzi following you!

After the summer palace, we had lunch at a popular restaurant Jin Ding Xu.  The food was again served family style and was very delicious.  It was interesting to see the video of the kitchen staff preparing the meal on a monitor on the wall.

Our afternoon was set aside for a visit to the VIPKid headquarters.  We were greeted at the bus by Eric Chong and Bryan.  We first visited the building where our beloved firemen work.  (The Firemen are the IT support at VIPKid.  They help us when we are having trouble connecting with our students).  They welcomed us and took us on a short tour around the building.  Then they surprised us with goodie bags each with a handwritten note.  From the “Firemen Headquarters” we went to the main office of VIPKid just a short drive away.

First, I must say, the VIPKid office is amazing!  We were greeted by several of the Learning Partners and Dino!  We were treated as very valued members of the company.  We were surprised again with goodie bags.  We got to visit the Dino exhibit were there were all sorts of Dinos available to be seen.  We toured the building and then were treated to presentations by several of our beloved staff (I got to hear Feifei tell us about the new option for teacher to apply on the phone app).  Then we got the surprise that Cindy Mi (VIPKid founder and CEO) was going to visit with us!

After our visit, some of us opted to see a Kung Fu Show at the Red Theater.  It was titled:  The Legend of Kung Fu Return of the Dragon. It was the story of a young boy who wanted to become a Kung Fu Master.  (This show was also not included in the original budget and cost 380 CNY ($55) each.  If you want to go to this show, you may want to add it to your budget).  The show was very good, but I was also very tired.  The theater was quite cold so I didn’t enjoy the show as much as I would have liked due to the cold and my tiredness.  I do recommend this show however!  It was very interesting to see the high level of training being demonstrated.

This night we were so exhausted that we really didn’t even want to eat.  I grabbed a few things at the convenience store in the lobby of the Penta hotel and took them to the room.  My phone says we walked a total of 4.1 miles this day.

Take Aways:

  •  If you are with a group, you may feel like you have paparazzi following you!
  • Candied Hawthorns are good!
  • Here’s your chance to eat some strange snacks outside the Summer Palace.
  • VIPKid Headquarters is amazing and the staff welcomed us whole-heartedly!
  • Our CEO Cindy Mi is awesome!
  • Add to your budget if you want to see the Kung Fu show.

Introduction to VIPKid Field Trip (November 2019)

Arrival in Beijing

Day One – Beijing – The Great Wall and the Golden Mask Dynasty

Day Two – Beijing (Summer Palace, VIPKid Headquarters, The Legend of Kung Fu)

Day Three – Beijing (Temple of Heaven, Tea Ceremony, Pearl Market, Peking Duck)

Day Four – Beijing (Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Hutong, Olympic Park)

Day Five – Bullet Train from Beijing to Shanghai

Day Six – Shanghai (Disneyland and VIPKid Meetup)

Day Seven – Shanghai (Bund, Yu Garden Shopping, Zhujiajiao River City)

Day Eight – On our own in Shanghai

Day One Beijing – The Great Wall and the Golden Mask Dynasty

Our first day was absolutely amazing!  After a nice breakfast at the Penta Hotel, we all loaded a bus and headed to our first destination:  The Great Wall at Mutianyu.  It was almost a 2 hour drive, but our tour guide Cactus kept us entertained and informed the whole way.  She told us about the history of Beijing and the Great Wall in particular.  She shared with us the saying:  不到长城非好汉 (bú dào Chángchéng fēi hǎohàn) —  “He who has never been to the Great Wall is not a true hero”.  We were assured that by the end of the day we would all be true heros!

We unloaded the bus at an area that had several shops, restaurants, and a restroom (very important).  Cactus suggested that if we could wait and walk a little further there was another facility with more “western” toilets available.  The toilet situation is a bit different in China.  Many of the toilets are more or less a hole in the ground – squatty potties.  It was good to know where we could use a “normal” toilet.  The morning was quite chilly, but the sun was shining bright.  (In fact, I’m squinting in most of my pictures).

There are a couple of options to get up to the great wall.  You can hike up to the wall or you can take a chair lift.  Our group was given tickets to do the chair lift.  It was a little unnerving as I have only been on a chair life a couple of times in my life and they weren’t my favorite experiences.  I’m just always amazed at how much that little cable can withstand.  I did not get any pictures on my way up on the chair lift as I had a huge fear of dropping my phone!  That would have put a damper on the rest of my trip.  They did however conveniently have a camera taking pictures as you arrived at the top.

When we got to the top, the view was absolutely amazing.  After climbing a flight of uneven stairs, we were standing on The Great Wall of China!  We took a group photo, and had some time to explore.  From every angle, the view was spectacular!  I almost felt that I was in a dream walking on this historic site (that may have partly been a result of the jet lag too).  But we enjoyed the morning, soaked up the sights, and took many pictures.  There were other tour groups on the wall that day, but it wasn’t very crowded.  I know there was a group there with people from Mexico and Spain (they were speaking Spanish and I recognized the accents) and I think the other group was from Vietnam.

There are several options to get down from The Great Wall as well.  You can hike down, take the chair lift, or the option we chose…the toboggan.  I will admit, I was very nervous to get on the tobogan.  I did not have a good experience when I was a child on a water slide.  I got stuck and had to push my way down.  I was scared to death that I would need to push myself down The Great Wall.  As we were waiting our turn, the toboggan attendant started showing us his cell phone with pictures of sports players, actors, and even Michelle Obama.  Who would have thought that that many celebrities had taken this toboggan down from The Great Wall?

I swallowed my fear and got onto the “sled”.  The attendant wrapped my purse around the brake handle just to be safe.  The instructions were easy, push forward to go and pull back to stop.  They gave us a little push and off we went!  I will say, this was one of the most amazing experiences ever!  I would have even taken that scary chair lift again, just to be able to slide down the hill one more time!

Although China Highlights does not really allow much time for shopping, we stopped in a jade store where they demonstrated how the jade is carved.  The lady showed us some beautiful pieces and told us about some of the traditional carvings such as the money dragon, the jade bangle, and the dragon ball.  I did not end up buying anything at the store as I had not budgeted for this.  (The pieces were not cheap, but they were very high quality.  If you want to buy something here, you need at least $100 for some of the smaller pieces.)

As we got on the bus, one of the teachers asked, “what are we having for lunch?”  Without skipping a beat, Cactus answered, “Chinese food!”  We went to a restaurant that was like an indoor greenhouse.  There was a beautiful garden and tables set for us in one section of the garden.  Most of our meals were served family style.  Plates and plates of food are served on a large lazy susan in the middle of the table.  You simply served yourself as it was spun slowly around.  Many of the offerings were similar to what one might find on a Chinese buffet here in the United States.  However, there were many things that were unfamiliar.  It was quite an experience to try the new things.

This day was a bit shorter due to the travel time to and from The Great Wall.  Cactus offered us an option to see a show that night:  The Golden Mask Dynasty.  It was in a theater right outside of the Beijing Theme Park – Happy Valley.  (This was an optional activity that was not included in the original price of the tour.  It was an addition 580 CNY ($83) per person. If you decide to do this, you might want to include that in your budget).  The show is about a Queen who wears a Golden Mask and creates a great dynasty.  There are amazing dancers, acrobats, and costumes.  Some of the highlights include dancers with live peacocks on their heads!  At one point, the stage is flooded completely.  It is a beautiful show, although I had a bit of trouble keep with the storyline (again, this may have had a lot to do with jet lag).  I did enjoy it and if you like stage shows, I would recommend it.

We were pretty tired by the end of this day, but we were also hungry again.  We wandered down the street to the restaurant we had visited the day before and tried a couple more items on the menu.  Again, it was a very delicious and economical meal.  According to my phone, we walked 3.5 miles that day.  (We ended up walking around 60 miles on this trip.  I will report my mileage per day.  I highly suggest building up your stamina before the trip.)

Take Aways:

  •  The Great Wall is amazing!
  • Take the toboggan!  It is a blast!
  • Extra budget items:  Extra shows and jade products
  • You will walk a LOT on this trip!

Introduction to VIPKid Field Trip (November 2019)

Arrival in Beijing

Day One – Beijing – The Great Wall and the Golden Mask Dynasty

Day Two – Beijing (Summer Palace, VIPKid Headquarters, The Legend of Kung Fu)

Day Three – Beijing (Temple of Heaven, Tea Ceremony, Pearl Market, Peking Duck)

Day Four – Beijing (Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Hutong, Olympic Park)

Day Five – Bullet Train from Beijing to Shanghai

Day Six – Shanghai (Disneyland and VIPKid Meetup)

Day Seven – Shanghai (Bund, Yu Garden Shopping, Zhujiajiao River City)

Day Eight – On our own in Shanghai

Flight and Arrival in Beijing

Our adventure started on November 12, 2019 when our flight left DFW airport at 10:35 in the morning.  Upon arrival at the gate, we met a couple of the other VIPKid teachers (and family members) mostly since I had worn my bright orange “Teacher Twila” shirt.  TIP:  There will be a list of flights in the Facebook group and you can see if anyone else is on your flight.  Wearing my VIPKid shirt made it easy for us to find each other.  So if you can, wear orange or a Dino sticker or something that identifies you as VIPKid.  We grabbed some breakfast as I wasn’t sure if/when the meals would be served on flight.

We had a direct flight on American Airlines from Dallas-Fort Worth to Beijing.  The flight was right at 14 hours long.  We were served two meals and a snack.  A few hours into the flight the overhead lights were dimmed and the windows were tinted to simulate “night time” to help acclimate to the time difference.  There was a huge choice of in-flight entertainment including music, movies, and games.  I caught up on several movies that I had not seen yet including:  Pokemon Detective Pikachu, Dark Phoenix, Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Isn’t it Romantic, and The Hustle.

We arrived in Beijing around 3pm.  Getting our luggage and the immigration check was relatively simple.  There were machines that took your fingerprints before you got to the agent.  I had some difficulty getting them to read my prints until the assistant came and used a baby wipe on my fingers.  The person from China Highlights transfers was waiting for us as we exited the secured area.  We had to wait for awhile as they sorted out a mix-up caused by delayed flights.  We waited next to a vending machine and Isaac and I tried a couple of the drinks.  He ended up with a Minute Maid orange juice (we noticed the logo after he started drinking it) and I had some kind of a peach flavored juice.  Many of the vending machines do not serve the drinks cold.  If it doesn’t specifically say “cold” chances are that you will get a room temperature drink.  Soon, we piled into a van and headed for the Penta Hotel.

Check-in at the hotel was very easy.  Since we were arriving in several smaller groups, we just went up individually, showed our passports, and were given a room key.  (This was a bit different in Shanghai as we all arrived at the same time.)  It was about 6pm when we were checked in.  We took a few minutes to put our things in the room and freshen up a bit before we met several other teachers in the lobby to go explore to find some food.

We wandered down the street where the hotel was located and there were many food selections.  A couple of them looked pricey and a couple looked more like “street-food”.  We chose one that wasn’t too crowded mostly because it had an English menu with pictures.  The server could speak just a little English.  Ordering was accomplished mostly by pointing.  This would be very difficult if you had diet restrictions and you need to ask questions before you order.  My son and I actually ended up with a very tasty meal including drinks for less than $9.  I had the twice-cooked pork and he had a beef bowl.  As a side note, getting silverware is not always easy.  We had practiced using chopsticks before the trip and used chopsticks throughout the trip.  You might get a spoon, but forks seem to be pretty rare.

After our meal, we went back to our hotel and prepared for the next day.  The first night in China was a bit restless.  We were both awake off and on throughout the morning hours.  I think the jet lag getting to China was not as bad because we had stayed awake much of the flight and we were going to see so many new and exciting things.  I did have some “gummy” melatonin chews that we took each night before bed, and we took a probiotic each morning to try to avoid any tummy issues.

Take Aways:

  •  Wear something to identify you as a VIPKid teacher to find your travel companions quicker.
  • Immigration was not very difficult and they are prepared for large groups.  We had a very smooth experience arriving in Beijing.
  • The travel agent made things at the hotel very seamless as well.
  • Look for restaurants that have menus with English and/or pictures.
  • Practice using chopsticks so that you aren’t lost if they can’t provide a fork (or bring some plastic silverware).
  • Melatonin, Allergy Medicine, Ibuprofen, Imodium, Tums, and Probiotics were in our bag for the trip.  (Thankfully we didn’t need the Imodium or Tums but you never know!)
  • Your sleep schedule is going to be messed up….but it will be worth it.

 

Introduction to VIPKid Field Trip (November 2019)

Arrival in Beijing

Day One – Beijing – The Great Wall and the Golden Mask Dynasty

Day Two – Beijing (Summer Palace, VIPKid Headquarters, The Legend of Kung Fu)

Day Three – Beijing (Temple of Heaven, Tea Ceremony, Pearl Market, Peking Duck)

Day Four – Beijing (Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Hutong, Olympic Park)

Day Five – Bullet Train from Beijing to Shanghai

Day Six – Shanghai (Disneyland and VIPKid Meetup)

Day Seven – Shanghai (Bund, Yu Garden Shopping, Zhujiajiao River City)

Day Eight – On our own in Shanghai