How to be a tourist 101

We arrived to Beijing yesterday afternoon, feeling groggy and disgusting after sitting in the same seat for practically half a day. As we left the airport, we were welcomed by relatively clear skies. Our hotel was in the Olympic park area by the Bird’s Nest and other Olympic landmarks. It was easy to see our hotel was in the middle of a touristy area. Many of the buildings in this area seemed to be renovated to reflect traditional Chinese architecture. It looked like we had just stepped into Chinatown in any U.S. city. It just felt incredibly contrived.

After recovering from our travels, we rose bright and early the next day to visit one of the 7 wonders of the world: The Great Wall. You know how there are certain things that people build up so much that when you finally get a chance to visit them it’s a let down? Well the Great Wall is definitely not one of them. All you can see for miles is the wall snaking around the mountain. The way it curves up, down, and around the mountains, and doesn’t cut through them is stunning to see. And climbing the wall is no easy feat. As you work your way up the wall, it becomes steeper and steeper until you’re practically walking on a vertical plane. But for every out of shape tourist that is exhausted from this climb, there are old Chinese grandparents calmly doing the climb without a hitch.

But if we couldn’t walk on the wall, at least we could dance on it.

It was on the Great Wall that we learned our first lesson about being tourists in China: to the Chinese, we’re the foreign attraction. While there is the massive and impressive Great Wall to see, we were the ones they asked to take pictures with. We were approached countless times by people, with the little English they knew, to take pictures with them or sometimes they just wanted pictures of us. While we were admiring the landscape of the Great Wall, there was almost sure to be a group of Chinese people staring at us.

We returned to Beijing to prepare for our first performance at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. Our first show in China, we already had to battle challenges of hunger and fatigue after spending most of the day on the Great Wall. But our performance mode clicked in. We are able to pull together, focus our minds, and prepare for our show.

We performed for a small group of about 20, mostly non dancers. Susan led a couple of small improvisation exercises before we performed each of our pieces. It was fun being able to dance with people who were not only not accustomed to dance, but with people who we didn’t share a common language.

As audience members they were very receptive and willing to participate. They seemed genuinely interested in our movement and in the different improvisation exercises. They were excited to meet us and were incredibly gracious hosts to us. All in all, successful first day in China.