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I'm a nomadic mama with four lovely daughters. We're travelling Australia in a small housebus — meeting inspiring people, learning lots and re-thinking everything. I feel passionately about travel, good design, alternative education and conscious parenting.

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28 August 14

The Great Wall at Mutianyu is a bit further out from Beijing which means fewer tourists. With our time in China so short, we hired a driver and English-speaking guide to take us to Mutianyu so we could see this man-made wonder for ourselves.

Linda was our guide for the day, chosen by our driver Konglin. She met us at our hotel and was an excellent fit for our family! By directly engaging the girls, she rapidly gained their trust as she pointed out sights along the road and answered our many questions.

Linda, highly-recommended English-speaking tour-guide, Beijing, China, August 2014
Linda talks the girls through the different coin denominations.

The drive took us an hour and a half in a northerly direction out of Beijing. We passed through the airport complex, huge export/customs facilities, small villages and farmlands. It was a fascinating drive, and Linda and Konglin could tell us a lot about what we were seeing.

When we reached the village of Mutianyu, it was raining very slightly. Linda explained the procedure. If she purchased tickets for us as a licensed tour-guide, we would receive a free shuttle-bus ride from the visitors centre to and from the base of the cable-car ride. To descend from the wall, there’s also the option a long toboggan ride, but Linda advised me that the girls were too young for that.

Mutianyu Great Wall visitors centre, Mutianyu, China, August 2014
The new visitors centre at Mutianyu has a copper ceiling, complete with footprints that fascinate the girls as they speculate how the prints were made!

Map in Mutianyu Great Wall visitors centre, Mutianyu, China, August 2014
Although not to scale, a large map on the wall shows the village of Mutianyu and its relationship to the restored section of the Great Wall that we'll visit.

Dried fruit in a shop, Mutianyu Great Wall visitors centre, Mutianyu, China, August 2014
Before we tackle anything strenous, we browse through the local shops for an energy-rich snack. Each of the girls finds something appealing among the selection of dried fruits on offer.

Mutianyu Great Wall visitors centre, Mutianyu, China, August 2014
The visitors centre complex is clean and tidy, lined with shops selling souvenirs and with signs in English clearly advertising where to go. We're visiting at an off-peak time, and I'm thankful we're avoiding the crowds.

Construction works at Mutianyu, China, August 2014
After an initial shuttle-bus ride, we're higher up the slope, and an intense amount of construction is underway.

Cable car at Mutianyu Great Wall, Mutianyu, China, August 2014
We climb into a cable car for the short, scenic ride up the mountain.

Riding the cable car at Mutianyu Great Wall, Mutianyu, China, August 2014
The girls scream in delight as the cable-car speeds up once it's cleared the depot. I seriously underestimated how much pleasure the cable-car ride would bring to our family! This is a definite highlight of our trip to Mutianyu.

Cable car at Mutianyu Great Wall, Mutianyu, China, August 2014
From the car, I can see the footpath that also leads to the wall. Linda says that it takes about forty minutes to walk up — she's done it once as a paid guide but doesn't care to make the trek again!

Mutianyu Great Wall, Mutianyu, China, August 2014
As we climb higher, the iconic lookout towers and wall are visible along the ridge.

Tourists photographing postcards, Mutianyu Great Wall, Mutianyu, China, August 2014
The day is overcast, with smog limiting the view. A pair of clever Russian tourists are taking pictures of postcards — a sure way to guarantee awesome photos to show the folks at home!

Mutianyu Great Wall, Mutianyu, China, August 2014
We climb a section of *very* steep stairs to reach the top. This section of the wall was restored in the 1980s.

Mutianyu Great Wall, Mutianyu, China, August 2014
From 1404, this watchtower served as a barracks for the soldiers who were assigned here.

Mutianyu Great Wall, Mutianyu, China, August 2014
It's a classic view, an amazing place to visit in person, and also *a lot* of steps. Three girls are eager to explore the next watchtower, so Linda accompanies them while I wait with Brioni.

Mutianyu Great Wall, Mutianyu, China, August 2014
I love the shape of the arrow-slit holes in the wall-sides.

Mutianyu Great Wall, Mutianyu, China, August 2014
At the base of the cable-car depot, I stop to admire the classic Chinese architecture on display.

Mutianyu Great Wall, Mutianyu, China, August 2014
Aisha finds a straw broom that is used to sweep the flagstones clean. In a couple months, this area will be fully paved.

Mutianyu Great Wall, Mutianyu, China, August 2014
While local Mutianyu villagers have traditionally been able to supplement their farming income by selling souvenirs to tourists, big money has moved in relatively recently — funding the extensive development.

Lana with her face in the wind, August 2014
On the quick shuttle-bus ride down the mountain, Lana revels at the feeling of the wind on her face. Again, I underestimated how much a simple pleasure like this can impress a child. Lana's window on the bus has a permanent screen, so she's never experienced this kind of sensation before.

Our trip to Mutianyu exceeded my expectations — especially in the company of Linda! The girls remained enthusiastic about the historic elements, we didn’t have to wade through crowds of tourists, and our impression of the Great Wall is that it is an awesome monument that we’re glad to have seen for ourselves!

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27 August 14

I love to see rainbows within innovative design. We often see such a modest spectrum of colour within good design that it’s refreshing to find designers who embrace the whole rainbow! Today we visited one of the world’s best examples of colour-well-done in a children’s bookstore.

Some designs are iconic, and when the Japanese firm SAKO was awarded China’s 2007 official interior design award for a commercial space for their colourful and innovative interior of a children’s bookstore, they received a lot of international attention. The world was starting to pay attention to the construction projects happening in Beijing ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games, and suddenly Asia was where cutting-edge — and sometimes gaudy — design was being show-cased.

Our hotel’s proximity to the Kids Republic Bookstore in the Chaoyang District of Beijing means that a visit to see the rainbows and browse the books was the perfect excuse to lure the girls out of the hotel and explore some of the city on foot. The location of the bookstore was a bit tricky to work out (given that I don’t read Mandarin). However, I pinpointed its location on maps as Pupulan Huibenguan and despite some online confusion, it’s definitely located in Building 13.

Poplar Kids Republic Bookstore, Chaoyang District, Beijing, August 2014
The bottom floors of the SOHO office buildings are comprised of retail spaces, and Kids Republic's presence is obvious by the colourful circles in the windows.

Removing shoes, Poplar Kids Republic Bookstore, Chaoyang District, Beijing, August 2014
An assorted selection of shoes inside the entrance prompts us to remove our own. The rainbow of carpet begins at the front step and continues in an unbroken ribbon up the stairs, around the shop, and back down along the wall to the front door.

Poplar Kids Republic Bookstore, Chaoyang District, Beijing, August 2014
An open-door reveals that the side room — used for story-time and workshops — continues the rainbow theme along the walls.

Poplar Kids Republic Bookstore, Chaoyang District, Beijing, August 2014
I follow the girls as they make their way up the stairs, listening to them identifying their favourite colours in the carpet.

Poplar Kids Republic Bookstore, Chaoyang District, Beijing, August 2014
It *is* a bookstore, after all, and amidst the rainbows, we're greeted by a great selection of Chinese books and a few choices in English.

Poplar Kids Republic Bookstore, Chaoyang District, Beijing, August 2014
The bright colours entice the younger girls to climb as many of the bookcases as they can.

Poplar Kids Republic Bookstore, Chaoyang District, Beijing, August 2014
But sadly for us, all of the reading nooks are already occupied.

Reading a book, Poplar Kids Republic Bookstore, Chaoyang District, Beijing, August 2014
The girls find a book that interests them and settle in a concave rainbow dish of carpet.

Aisha reading a book, Poplar Kids Republic Bookstore, Chaoyang District, Beijing, August 2014
All the English-language books are wrapped in plastic, so we look at picture books instead.

Chinglish children's storybook, August 2014
The girls finally locate a bilingual storybook, and I read the Chinglish words aloud while Lana helpfully points out a woolly-meat asleep in the pasture.

Poplar Kids Republic Bookstore, Chaoyang District, Beijing, August 2014
Kids Republic Bookstore is beautiful, colourful and very enticing. We're only disappointed by the size — all this rainbow ribbon is squeezed into quite a small space!

While Beijing’s Kids Republic is no longer as bright and shiny as when they first opened their doors six years ago, the concept of colours, round reading-nooks and climbing structures — in a bookstore! — is worth emulating. I’m glad we’ve seen it for ourselves — we like to add colours into our bus’ interior — and I hope to see more well-designed rainbows in our future travels!

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26 August 14

Our first day of travel took over 21 hours to go from door to door. Door-in-Melbourne to door-in-Beijing. Who knew China was so far away?

I spent much of the night repacking our downsized belongings into our hand-luggage plus one suitcase combination. This was a treasure hunt because in the last couple of days, we’ve been living with friends in Melbourne and, inevitably, all the girls’ belongings were strewn across the house: the snorkelling mask was in the bath, the boots in the hallway, the charging cords in the kitchen, my computer equipment in the office, toys were hiding in the playroom and our winter clothes were unpacked in the bedroom!

We’d gone from summery days on the Gold Coast back to winter in Victoria, and I knew that the Beijing temperatures would be 30ºC+ during our visit! So we needed to wear extra-warm clothes to the airport and change at some point into cooler clothes for our stop-over in Malaysia and then our arrival in Beijing. Planning and considering the individual needs and preferences of five people and packing to suit… “challenging” is what I call it! I spend time talking with each girl about what they like, helping them to visualise what they’ll need and want in another location, and we together we prioritise the allocated space.

From the age of six, I was travelling internationally to boarding school, and while I had my mother to help me pack en route to school, I’m certain I was packing independently for the return journey! Nine-year-old Aisha appears to have inherited my mother’s superb-packing gene — she loves to roll and fold all her items until new spaces magically appear into which more items can be stuffed!

Calista looking out a plane window, August 2014
It's Calista's turn to sit next to the window and she reports on what she sees.

Calista was watching out the plane’s window when we passed over the the Hibiscus Resort in Malaysia. She spotted the unusual flower-shaped, floating hotel and called me over to have a look.

Despite the duration of today’s travel, it wasn’t so exhausting. We had snacks to keep us going in the airports, and the girls played when it was appropriate. In Kuala Lumpur, we lingered alongside our departure gate so the girls could continue their boisterous game with their toys right up to the last minute. I like to let the girls play freely and noisily — if they’re not affecting any other travellers. It helps that we’re travelling within Asia where children are treasured; I don’t know if it would be the same in Western countries.

During the day, we met another British-Australian family with a girl named Aisha. They had lived and worked for many years in Afganistan, which is where they got their Aisha’s name from! One other family travelled all the way from Melbourne to Beijing on the same two flights; we sat alongside each other in the different departure lounges and watched each other at play, with our children occasionally interacting.

Girls on a plane to China, August 2014
On our second flight of the day, the girls have rotated positions, and I'm seated across the aisle from them.

In Beijing, we were the last to come off the plane. It takes us longer because we have to re-pack all the items we’ve used during the flight! Lana was fast asleep, so I was glad I had my Ergo carrier handy. I strapped her onto my back and with three girls in tow, we caught up with the rest of the plane’s passengers in the lines at immigration. Because of the cost of Chinese visas, I opted to stay in China for fewer than 72 hours, which meant that our passports were stamped with a transit visa by the immigration officer. I just needed to provide proof of our onward flight. It was all straight-forward but very slow.

By the time we emerged from the airport, I was congratulating myself on having pre-booked a driver to pick us up and deliver us to our hotel. It was wonderful to be greeted by name by Konglin and escorted to a waiting car. At 2am, the city’s legendary traffic was a myth, and I enjoyed the long drive into the CBD while the girls alternated between dozing and watching the sights flash by.

Our hotel is comfortable, and all four girls headed straight to bed. We don’t have anything planned for tomorrow, so after waking them so early this morning, it’ll be a relief to let them all sleep as long as they need to. There’s plenty of room for them to play until we decide to go out an explore the city, and our view of Beijing skyscrapers reminds us that we’ve reached this iconic Asian city at last!

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