Day 3 Beijing

I got up at 6am and stretched and did Ba Duan Jin (八段錦).  Then Norman and I went down to get breakfast where I met the rest of the group.  They were all very nice and personable.  The weather was sunny and beautiful with a nice breeze and perfect temperatures.  I was well rested and did not feel any of the effects of jet lag or the time change.  I was very excited and ready to get my tour of China underway.

Cloisonne Factory

Cloisonne VaseFirst we went to see a government sponsored factory where they make cloisonne art, vases, bracelets and other pieces.  We watched workers hand make the art each intent on the intricate details.  The factory was separated into several small rooms where a few workers would attend to their task.  Some took thin strips of brass and cut them down and bent them into shapes which where then attached to the vase with a strong adhesive.  Then in the next room they would apply layers of pigment in the grooves left by the bands of brass.  They would blend pigments and and bake and repeat the process three or four times until the recesses where filled.  Then the device bakes at high temperatures to cure the pigment.  After which it goes to a room where the vase is attached to a spinning wheel and water is poured over it as it spins.  There a worker would polish it in the water until the whole vase is smooth and the brass exposed brash shines brightly.

The gift shop at the factory had some truly amazing pieces of art.  everything from vases, to knick knacks, to chopsticks and figurines could be found.  The only thing is that since these types of factories are sponsored by the government, and the tour agencies get a kick back for bringing tour groups through, the prices are high and the shops will not negotiate at these types of establishments.

Great Wall

Great WallWe spent the rest of the morning at the Great Wall (Chángchéng 長城).  The view from atop the wall was absolutely amazing!  The steps were uneven in height which occasionally made climbing interesting.  It was a little tiring climbing up so many steps but I was so excited and in awe that I barely noticed.  There was an easier climb and a more difficult one.  The more difficult one appeared to be a much steeper climb and since we had a fairly widely varied age group we chose to walk the slightly easier path.  As you climb the steps you come across several guard outposts on top of the walls.  These short towers had a small interior with arched windows looking out in all directions and steep stairs that were more like a ladder that led to the roof of the structure.  I wandered around and followed several forks of the wall and visited several of the small guard towers.  This part of the wall is a large tourist attraction and so has been restored by the government.  The larger gates that we pass through to park and to enter the wall are truly impressive, towering high above.  Even with the restoration and the addition of some modern items such as railings, warning signs, and security cameras, there is still an ancient feeling to the sturdy wall that has defended China for centuries.

Our GroupSome members of our group were frequently stopped by Chinese tourists so they could take pictures with us.  Blond and red hair are so rare that a couple of the girls in our group were stopped repeatedly for pictures.  A few of the taller gentlemen were stopped for pictures as well.  Melissa and I even had to pose for a few shots with a pair of Chinese ladies while on our way back down from the top of the wall.

When we were done we decided to stop and buy t-shirts to commemorate our visit.  Our tour guide Coco and Sigung Eric Lee negotiated a good deal for us by setting up a rate if we all bought as a group.  This set the stalls of vendors ablaze.  All of the vendors are side by side and all are selling almost identical items.  While on the bus the vendors would hold up five fingers trying to entice us off the bus by offering us five Yuan for items and when we got off the bus jacking up the prices.  We spent time haggling for items.  I discovered that I knew enough numbers to haggle for items, ask ‘How Much?’ something was, and get sizes.  George and Sylvia were looking for something for their baby and the vendor at the booth must have caught on to that word.  He picked up a Red Army hat and an English book of the sayings of Mao.  He offered them to George and when he refused them the vendor shook them at him and said, “For your baby!”  Even though it gets very hectic and chaotic haggling is actually an entertaining experience.

Jade Factory

After the great wall we visited another tourist factory that creates works of art from Jade.  Some of the pieces were massive and truly impressive.  A large fountain shaped like a cauldron in the front lobby caught my eye.  And several life size replicas of Terra Cotta warriors carved of jade were truly awe inspiring.

At this factory we learned how to tell real jade from the many fakes that are out there.  We watched some workers who worked in a small glass room etching and carving smaller pieces of jade.  Then the led us through their show room to the restaurant for lunch.  Lunch was very good and then it was back through the show room to leave.  They had many carvings, bracelets, necklaces, and other assorted items for sale.  Though beautiful the prices are a bit much.

De Tombs

De Tomb Village GateLater that afternoon we made our way into the countryside to visit the De Tombs.  Though part of the Ming Tombs this tomb has not been commercialized yet and so no other tourists were present.  We first stopped in the local village of the people that care and maintain the grounds of the tomb.  They are a poor village by our standards and consist of approximately 2,000 people.  The wall surrounding the village was quite old and the doors that permitted entrance were massive and made of wood.  We were introduced to the chief of the clan that lived in the village.  Life is very simple and peaceful here.  We watched a group of older men playing poker and another out on the street corner getting a shave and a hair cut.  Children ran and played all around us.  Though their life seems poor and difficult to us, they have no real stress and really seem to enjoy what they have.

The Old BridgeAs the sun started to set we went down the road to the tomb itself.  We stopped briefly at an old bridge that marks where the old road once came in to the tombs.  The tombs themselves are surrounded by persimmon trees with persimmons the size of your fist on them.  This tree was special and could only be planted near the tombs of the emperor.  The De TombThe gates to the inner part of the tomb were closed.  It was a little disappointing to not be able to enter into the surrounding wall of the tomb but I did peak through the doors.  The sunset slowly into the mountains in the west and was absolutely beautiful and the moon was rising in the east.  It was so nice being in the mountains here where the air was fresh with evening coming on.  When we were done it was back on the bus to head back to the city.

After we got back to the city we went to dinner and met some of Sigung Eric Lee’s friends including Da Ming who is a famous director in China and who lived and worked on movies in Hollywood including the Kill Bill series.  He was a very interesting person to talk to and very easy going.  After dinner we went back to the hotel.  It had been a very long day and I was ready for a good night’s sleep.

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