Wednesday, December 03, 2008

(there's actually a new post from our first day below, they got out of order, sorry)
Beijing Day 2:
Today started bright and early. We had our first buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Then, we met our guide Cecilia to begin our day. It was decided that, because the weather has been getting colder and windier, we would do the Great Wall today. The area of the wall we visited was about an hour’s drive or so outside BJ central. On the way, we went to a jade factory. It seems to be a pretty common tourist stop. First they showed us how the jade is carved and the different types and quality. I was able to choose a very pretty green and white bangle, a carved family ball, and a purple jade and sterling silver pendant. I wanted to choose a bangle for Georgiana when she’s older but they need to be somewhat carefully chosen for size. It is something I plan to do eventually though. Cecilia explained that it is common for the bangles to be passed on mother to daughter but, its unlikely that Georgiana will have hands as large as mine. We’ll have to get her one of her own.

After doing our best to keep the Chinese economy going through our efforts as the jade factory, we continued to Badaling to climb the wall. For anyone who’s already done it, you realize that “climb” is definitely the word to associate with the physical aspect of moving up the steps. Its apparently about 3600 steps to the top. Some of them are 1” high, some more like 20” which makes it very difficult to do. There is a handrail which was quite helpful for pulling yourself up. We made it about halfway between the second and third towers and then called it quits. The backs of my legs are going to remember it tomorrow I fear. I was really thrilled to finally get a chance to walk on the wall. I missed doing it last time due to snow so it was very important to me this time. I was very glad to have done it in the winter, I cannot even imagine trying to walk up the wall in the summer. For me, today was perfect.

While we were at the wall, we ran into a group of Spanish families with recently adopted babies in tow. They were so cute!!! We’ve encountered very few Americans or even Caucasians. Its definitely low season for tourism and most of the touristy places are devoid of customers but filled with helpful employees.

Once we had finished at the wall, we moved on to lunch at tourist type restaurant called the Golden Palace. Its above a cloisonne factory/store. Almost all our meals are included in the price of the tour including this one. For drinks you could have soft drink, beer or water but only one glass. It was funny because we asked to purchase another bottle of water which they brought to the table right away. But, it required an immediate payment of 5 yuan. No providing of a bill at the end of the meal!

After a very tasty lunch consisting of far too many plates of food for two people, we visited the cloisonne factory and learned how incredibly labor intensive a craft it is. Really unbelievable and gives me a whole new appreciation for the art! The store attached to the factory is HUGE!!! There were cloisonne vases of all types, colors and designs. Some of them were tens of 1000’s of dollars. They even had some that were probably about 10 feet tall that looked like they’d be in a palace! For average folks like us, they had hundreds of small items like Christmas ornaments and other ornaments. I also came across a beautiful purple jade carving of goldfish and flowers that I couldn’t let pass by. The purchase of items here is quite a bit different from at home. First, if you express any interest in an item (or even if you don’t!) the sales people point out its virtues and encourage you to look. Prices are negotiable but that often requires a manager to come over with his calculator to offer you a better price. Negotiations ensue, which in these government stores seems to involve a little less flexibility --or we’re just not very good at it. Once you agree on a price, there is a lot of activity. Many workers spring to action wrapping and boxing things and making sure that you see each item be placed into it carton. So far, I’ve stayed behind and watch them wrap up the items while Bobby goes somewhere else to pay. Each time we arrive at one of these places they immediately give you a little slip of paper--they’re “quality guarantee” of sorts. What’s strange is that so far, they’ve always wanted to see that slip of paper again when you buy something. Why? I have no idea. They’re just little printed up pieces of paper, everyone gets one and they’re not individualized in any way. I asked Cecilia about this and she gave me an answer that I didn’t really understand. OK, whatever.

Then we were off to the Summer Palace which was built by the Dowager Empress CiXi. A neat story goes along with that and it made me want to read more about her. She started out as a concubine and with the birth of the only male heir to the throne, eventually became the de facto ruler of China!!! Cecilia explained that during her life she nearly bankrupted the Chinese Navy to build the palace and this caused China to be weak when attacked by foreigners later. CiXi also imprisoned her son for years before her death and had a habit of having people who disagreed with her executed! Wow, what a woman she must have been, right?

The most impressive part of the palace was, like at Temple of Heaven, The Long Corridor. This one was longer and each 6 foot or so section had beautiful paintings of scenes from famous Chinese stories including The Monkey King and the Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet. Cecilia said there are over 10,000 individual paintings in the corridor. I learned that the Chinese version of Valentine’s Day is on July 7th. Fun! We’re lucky, because in preparation for the Olympics, all the paintings of the historical buildings were redone. They’re really quite beautiful.
Later, we went to a pearl store and learned about cultured and fresh water pearls. Some of them were really beautiful and, again, many of some really impressive prices to go along with them. There was a single strand of enormous pearls (approx. ½-¾” in diameter each) for 128000 Y = about $19,000 US! We also learned a little bit about how to tell real from fake and good and bad quality. Cecilia took us there for information in preparation for the BJ pearl market we’re going to visit later in the week.

Then it was time for dinner. We had a very nice meal (again, way too much food) and it was back to our hotel for us. It was a very big day!! A little culture, a little shopping, pretty great overall!


Billy and Maggie said...

Sounds like a really nice day indeed. The Great Wall is something that I know I wont get to far in conquering..thats fine cause Im taking a lot of pictures for memory lol. Sounds like you guys had pretty unique shopping experiences, looking forward to taking all that in when we travel.

Beeb said...

Glad to see you've made it safe and sound and are filling your time so well. I'm sure the Chinese economy appreciates the support!
I hope your pictures are up and running soon - I can't wait to see G in your arms!

Jen said...

Your Beijing tour sounds exactly like mine. I think my guide was also named Cecelia, haha! Anyway, holding down your fort at work, going okay so far... can't wait for u to post pics of baby g!