The spa is called The Brickyard and there is a restaurant nearby owned by the same people called is the Schoolhouse at MuTianYu (the facility used to be the village schoolhouse). I heard about this place and naturally put on my important business lady internet facade and wrote a very official email, to which I was offered free transportation (an hour and a half away from the city), a tour, and lunch! The car was departing at 9:00am, which was no big deal because I wake up at 4:00am most days anyway (thank you 13 hour time difference). It was a slightly awkward ride since the woman who picked me up spoke approximately zero English, and, wanting to take advantage of having a Chinese person my captive audience, I stumbled around conversational sentences trying to engage her. This was only a little successful because before I could get the words I wanted to say out of my mouth she was responding, at which point I was still trying to process the question I was asking and not receptive to an answer… but I would say I understood a good 65% of what was going on.
We wound our way up the mountain that seemed to just appear out of the smog after an hour of highways and flat-landed cities, and pulled into a precariously sloped driveway. I stepped out and straightened my dress, ready to make a professional impression.
I walked into a courtyard surrounded by buildings with selected panes replaced by stained glass (apparently they have a resident glass blower). Jim Spear, one of the owners, specializes in remodeling and refurbishing traditional Chinese homes using modern comfort and technology, therefore all the buildings were very inviting.
I was greeted by, to my surprise, and American from Seattle. I later found out that he is doing an internship at mutianyu developing fruit vinegars and liquors as a branch of the business. He works independently and experiments with ingredients of his own choosing, as is the structure of the internship. Where was this when I was looking for something to do in China?? Anyway, I wrote more about the internship and the resort’s eco-practices on my other blog if you are interested in reading more: http://anxinbeijing.tumblr.com/post/93055492258/the-brickyard
This guy’s name is Chris, and he sat down with me and just started talking. He was very sociable and would joke occasionally with the Chinese employees in slang-ridden Mandarin that I was not privy to. When he arrived in China 2 years ago, after finishing a degree at UW in Horticultural and sustainablitly something or other, he did not speak a lick of Chinese. Now he is pretty much fluent, I was very impressed. After about 2 hours of conversation and my grilling interview questions (“so, um, tell me about the farm, maybe, if you want to?” – okay, not THAT timidly ), I so candidly asked “It’s super nice of you to talk to me, but do you have a job to do or something?” Giving me a tour was his task of the morning, however, so that was cool.
Fun Fact: Michelle Obama visited the very place that I was sitting a year ago and Chris had the privilege of serving her water.
Chris did eventually have to go back to work, so another employee who spoke a little bit of English handed me a map and told me I could see the Great Wall while I was waiting for my car back to the city. On the map the path to the Wall was labeled “hike,” and as I was noticing this he looked at my feet and said “I think your shoes are not right.” To which I belligerently smiled and said, “I think it will be fine!”
It was a long mile uphill, and I was getting strange looks from locals as I traversed the rocky terrain in a cute pair of sandals and my cotton dress. When I got to the top, there was a certain point at which you had to present a ticket, so I stopped there and just looked up in awe at the ancient structure built atop a mountain to ward off potential nomadic enemies. I tried to take a picture, but they just don’t do it justice. Plus from that far away, it just looks so small!
Going down was almost worse than going up… I perpetually felt like I was going to tumble over and somersault down the road. I made it back without incident, and did quite enjoy the cumbersome walk regardless.
The ride back to the city was significantly less awkward, mainly because I was sound asleep. It was a day to remember, and one day I hope to return to The Brickyard with on a more spa-heavy excursion – and proper footwear.
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