I remember when Mulan first came out in 1998, I felt like I had become a star. Everybody I saw came up to me and would tell me how I looked exactly like Mulan. I basked in the glory of it all, telling my friends that only I was the empowered girl of them all while they were all girly girls who dressed up in dresses. I quite literally chopped half of my hair off to imitate Mulan and would frequently look in the mirror and wipe sunblock off of only half of my face to recreate the famous reflection scene. In retrospect, I realize that all of my friends and myself included were just really racist and thought I looked like Mulan because I just happened to be one of the few Asians around. I guess it’s a little strong to call 6 year-olds racist, especially because regardless of the reason behind it, I was quite frankly flattered to be compared to a Disney Princess. My point is that 1) I still have the whole movie memorized, word for word and 2) my dream was to one day visit China and walk along the Great Wall, to fulfill my role as a female warrior princess against the Huns.
Now, fifteen years later, I finally fulfilled my destiny.
We were lucky enough to have access to a part of the Great Wall that hasn’t been restored, but isn’t too much in shambles that it’s inaccessible. So we got the real deal. We had to hike up the mountain and then climb up a very precarious ladder. I had just watched 007 on the plane, so I not only felt like Mulan, but a secret agent Mulan climbing into the misty ruins of the great empire.
I, of course, as Mulan reincarnate, had to experience both the military and religious aspects of this great country. So our wonderful hosts, the Tan family, took us to a zillion restaurants (which I’ll write about in the next post), but they also took us to the Lama Temple and the Long Life Temple, farther in the country side. Buddhism is the dominant religion in China, and it was in most of Asia, so it was amazing seeing the basis for much of the oriental religious tradition.
There were incense burning everywhere If you’ve seen Mulan, you know that the big climax comes when the Huns invade the Imperial City aka the Forbidden City (forbidden because it was the Emperor’s grounds), after Mulan has been dismissed because she has been exposed as a woman. Well, I got to walk through my hood!! Not only with this palace, but with everything in Beijing, I was struck by the scale of everything – tremendous. Restaurants are big, buildings are big, roads are big, the city is huge…the grandeur of this palace within the city was breathtaking – it was like a city within a city. Whereas in Japan, the architecture and gardens are precise and calculated to the most minute detail, the palace and the gardens were just so massive that with just color and a hint of organization, it gives the visitor a completely different experience.
Me jchillin’ with a Great Stone Dragon. It’s actually probably a lion or something, but I’m going to pretend I met the Great Stone Dragon that Mushu breaks (reference?) Such an angry dog to catch on fire like that…And of course, Princess Mulan occasionally needs to get out and have a few drinks, so I met up with my two friends Joey and Chelsea who took me out. One thing I was a little worried about was fake alcohol, because the Chinese are notorious for that. Considering the size of the country, I’m not surprised that counterfeit is easy. Anyway, they took me to a nice bar that is actually built against a stadium, along with many other bars and night spots. We then went to a club just near by, and afterwards, walked to what they called The Village, which was a lively area full of foreigners and drunk people being messes. I actually loved it so much and hope to go back.
I kept repeating myself while I was there, but there is something in the air in Beijing. It’s like something’s about to burst – something’s happening. It’s no wonder that China is going to be the new center of wealth and culture because I can breathe in the growth. My friends who had studied abroad there the past fall were telling me that three new subway stations had been built just since the Autumn – that’s fast. I think it’s the new land of opportunity. Beijing is the most interesting mixture of history and modernization. It’s the foundation for most Asian cultures and yet it is progressing at speeds that are incomprehensible. Everything was made in China back then, and it still is. I just couldn’t get over how different it was from anywhere I had ever been – even Seoul which is only two hours away. I loved how people, at least in the public sphere, mind their own business and seem to have their own agendas. There’s also kind of a comic side to the city, which I can’t quite explain but if Beijing itself was a person, it’s like they are stifling a laugh. Anyway, this princess is planning on going back soon, and it’s definitely worth a visit.