Tour of Beijing
The next morning we ate the buffet breakfast in the hotel. The buffet had
western and Chinese foods. The food, both western and Chinese, was quite
good, although I admit that we often didn't know exactly what the Chinese
food was. Our group then took a bus to the Forbidden City. When we
got off the bus we were immediately surrounded by vendors selling postcards,
pens, art work, etc. We spent about an hour and a half touring the Palace
Museum. Cynthia, our guide, told us several stories about the emperors
and explained many of the buildings to us. The Palace Museum is huge,
177+ acres with dozens of buildings. This is where for 560 years,
24 Sons of Heaven ruled China. The details in the buildings were
incredible. Dragons at the ends of roof tiles, stone carvings, elaborately
painted ceilings. Bronze statues, huge water pots, and sundials placed
around the palaces. Huge, intricately carved thrones gilded in gold and
painted with imperial yellow. The buildings were marked with signs
in both English and Chinese, but were very brief. I have no doubt
that you could spend days touring this site and still not see everything
there is to see.
We again boarded our bus and set out to see the Great Wall. The drive
through the city was very interesting. We saw some very familiar sights
such as Mc Donald's and Dairy Queen, but also some very different sights.
The streets were crowded with bicycles and buses that were filled to capacity
and then some. Small shops lined the streets. Carts with coal brick where
here and there. One of the more unusual things we saw was a man go
by on a three wheel bicycle with a full size refrigerator on board.
We stopped at large Friendship Store and had lunch and did some shopping.
I bought a very nice cloisonné clock, Ginger bought some fresh water pearls
and a silk jacket. The selection was wonderful, the prices were not the
cheapest, about mid range, cloisonné was abundant and priced good (bracelet
about $2.00 U.S.). In this store, as in all the stores we went in, you
make your selections, the sales clerk writes up a sales order, you take
the sales order to a central cashier, pay for the goods, then return to
the sales clerk with your receipt and pick up the merchandise. It is a
rather time consuming process.
We then took a divided highway, new and very nicely done, to the Great
Wall. In contrast to the city, the traffic on the highway was very light.
I noted that most of the buildings were brick, and many had broken or missing
mortar. We pulled into the parking
lot at the Great Wall and got off the bus. This was not the location that
I have seen in the many travel guides. It didn't have a cable car, and
there were relatively few vendors. They were selling books, postcards,
wood carvings. A few had portable tables setup with a variety of
merchandise. Our guides told us that there is a Chinese saying "One is
not a real man until he has climbed the Great Wall." I noted that they
did not join us in the climb. The section of the wall we visited looked
like it had been recently refurbished. The steps on the wall were of greatly
varying heights, some 3 or 4 inches, others perhaps a foot high.
It was 40 degrees F. and sunny. The air here was much clearer than in the
heart of Beijing. There was construction near the entrance to the wall,
it looked like they were building a gift shop or welcome center. We explored
the wall for about an hour then boarded the bus and went to a fresh water
The pearl factory had a short tour showing us where the pearls came
from, the three colors of pearls, (cream, blush and purple), how they are
graded and sized, drilled and strung. The pearls were not the typical irregular
pearls you find here in the states, rather, they were particularly round
and well matched in each strand. A nice strand of about 18 inches cost
about $90.00 U.S. We also learned about "pearl cream". The pearls which
are not suitable for jewelry are crushed and the powder is used in a cream
for the skin. Our guides explained that it helps keep skin young
looking. We there were ushered into a showroom with pearl jewelry
of every description. I decided that I didn't need a pearl tie, or
a pearl vest, but Ginger decided that a few more necklaces wouldn't hurt.
After this shopping extravaganza, we again boarded the bus and traveled
back to the heart of Beijing. We arrived at Tiananmen Square just
before dusk. It was starting to get cold, but we took a walking tour
through the square with our guide pointing out Chairman Mao Memorial Hall,
the Great Hall of the People, The Monument to the People's Heroes, as well
as Tiananmen, the gate to the Imperial City. People were flying kites
and strolling about. There were vendors here as well, selling kites
(plastic kites in the form of birds and butterflies) and post cards. Unlike
the vendors at the Great Wall and the Palace Museum, these guys would not
leave us alone. Ignoring them didn't seem to work, polite "no"s turned
to "NO" then to "NO!!". I tried to do a 360 degree pan with my video camera
to capture the square and ended up with a lovely shot of vendors trying
to sell me stuff. Since it was getting cold and dark, we headed back
to our hotel.
We repacked our bags, adding the treasures from the days shopping, while
discarding the heavy long underwear that we brought especially for Beijing.
After dinner at the hotel, we sent email to our family and APC friends.
During the night, while trying to find the bathroom in the dark, I stubbed
my toe against a chair and laid the side of my big toe open. I used
an alcohol swab from the Texas
Medical Kit to clean the wound (OUCH!!!), laid the skin back in place
and bandaged it up.
The bags needed to be out in the hall for the porters at 6:30 AM, and
I, as group leader, needed to count the bags and sign the receipt. Tired
and jet lagged, I was wondering why I had said yes to being group leader.
After breakfast we loaded on to our bus and went to the airport for our
flight to Nanjing. Again, the airport was quite crowed and getting
boarding passes took some time for our group. The airport is older, and
reminded me of a typical American airport in the 1960's. The gates
were sectioned off by glass walls framed with wood. They did have a smoker's
lounge, the glass walls making look as if the smokers were swimming in
a aquarium of smoke. Our plane, a Boeing 737, was nearly new and service
was quick and efficient during the hour and a half plane ride. Unlike domestic
U.S. travel, except for our group, the entire plane was filled with men
in business suits. There were no children, families, and very few women.
The lunch was noodles and mushrooms.