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Sunday, March 5, 2006
I got my omelet for breakfast, and ate too much
again. After breakfast, we piled into the
headed out to a jade factory. Jade is a
natural resource of China,
and is used to carve all kinds of figurines and jewelry.
The factor had some very cool stuff on
display. Near the entrance were two huge
jade ships. Each was about 3 feet long,
and had been carved out of a single piece of jade.
The detail was amazing. Masts and
sails and portholes, but the
coolest thing was the chains. Linked
chains had been carved out of that single piece of jade.
We were shown an assembly line of people working
stages of the jade carving and polishing process. We
learned about all the different kinds of
jade. Green jade is the most common, but
white and red jade are the most valuable.
Of course, the factory had a huge gift shop. I was extremely overpriced, and I didn’t buy
After the stop at the jade factory, we headed to
the Great Wall of China.
It took about an hour to get there.
We passed miles and miles of city, which all looked very similar. Huge high-rise apartment complexes stretched
as far as the eye could see. And
suddenly we were in open country. There
was no suburban-type area. The city just
ended and the country began.
The terrain became more and more mountainous. It probably would have been very pretty in
spring, but since it was March, everything was dead and brown. Leon pointed out the sites
us some history of the Great Wall as we drove.
We passed the Trans Siberian Rail Road, which
will take you from Beijing to Moscow
in about a week.
The Great Wall was originally built thousands of
to keep invaders out of China.
It fell into disrepair, and was built again
in the 1500s. It is long enough to
circle the globe if it were stretched out into a straight line. It is not true that you can see the Great
Wall from space. It is an urban legend
that it is the only man made structure visible from orbit.
You can read the de-bunking on Snopes. The
great wall is no wider than a standard
interstate highway, and you can’t see highways from space.
It just doesn’t make any sense that you could
see the Great Wall.
We finally arrived at the Great
Wall of China at Badaling. We
greeted by throngs of Hello People as we left the bus.
It was very cold. The sun was
shining, but it was terribly
windy up in the mountains.
From the parking lot, we headed up a steep
street. There were shops and restaurants
on both sides. At the top of the hill
was the Great Wall itself. It looks just
like all the pictures you’ve seen. It
goes on forever and ever, up and down through the mountains.
After a group picture, Leon
told us to go explore the Wall
and regroup in 2 hours. Walking on the
Wall is extremely difficult. It’s very
steep, and there are loose bricks everywhere.
Some of the steeper places have handrails, but they were built
Chinese people, not for 6-foot tall Americans.
It was very hard for me to use the handrails because I had to
to reach them.
We walked from the entrance up to the first of
towers. The climb was difficult, and I
could tell that it was going to be more precarious going back down. When we got to the first tower, I decided
that I wasn’t going on any further. I am
very clumsy and accident-prone to begin with, and this just didn’t seem
safe activity for me. Three other people
in our group had the same thought. We
walked back down to the shops and restaurants.
We browsed in the shops for awhile.
The weather warmed up a bit, and we sat in a beer garden out of
to wait for the others.
The Great Wall of China
supposed to be one of the wonders of the world.
It is breathtakingly beautiful up in the mountains.
However, it’s not something you’d want to
spend your whole day looking at. The
wall goes on as far as you can see, and it’s all pretty much the same.
Later, after we were back at the
hotel, I read in my Beijing
that area of the Great Wall at Badaling was actually constructed in the
1950’s. The original Great Wall was not
made of brick or stone. It was made of
tamped earth with wooden supports. It
didn’t even serve its function of keeping invaders out of China. Most of it was largely unguarded, and the
guards were easily bribed anyway.
The Great Wall was mostly
forgotten in history, until
someone had the bright idea to turn it into a tourist attraction about
ago. The section at Badaling was rebuilt
with bricks and stone, and the towers you’re used to seeing were added. So the whole thing is less than authentic.
The drive back down from the Wall
was not so fun. The roads were very
twisty, and the bus
driver took them at breakneck speeds. I
was feeling very carsick. I didn’t want
to take Dramamine, because I kept thinking that surely we must be
almost to the
bottom. But it went on and on and
on. I really thought I was going to be
sick by the time we finally arrived at our destination.
As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one
feeling that way. Just about everyone on
the bus was looking a little green.
Our next stop was a
Cloisonné factory. You have all
seen Cloisonne before, although
you probably didn’t know what it was called (I didn’t).
Cloisonne vases, knick-knacks and jewelry are
brightly colored, with a kind of mosaic patterned.
Copper wire divides each colored
section. Cloisonne is made of
brass. First, the brass shape is formed. Then the design is painted onto it. Next, copper wire is painstakingly laid along
the lines of the design. The whole thing
is then fired in a 1000 degree oven so that the copper wire becomes
attached. Then the piece is painted and
It was interesting to walk
through the factory and see all
of these steps. They had quite the
little sweat shop going there. The store
attached to the factory was huge, and they had a lot of really cute
pieces. Very expensive.
For lunch, we went to a small
Chinese restaurant. No one was very
hungry, due to the
carsickness. One of the girls on the
trip, Kris, is starting to drive me nuts.
Maybe it was because I was sick and cranky anyway, but she
started to get under my skin at lunch.
Kris is a typical sorority girl.
She’s about 30 years old and lives by herself in the city. She complains about everything.
We haven’t done a single thing on the trip
that she enjoyed. It seems like she
wants everything to be exactly as it is at home. I
am starting to wonder why she came on this
Kris has a really annoying way of
talking to Chinese
people. She speaks quickly and is not
careful about choosing simple words. If
the person doesn’t understand, she repeats the same thing again, but
louder. They’re not deaf; if you just
speak slowly and use simple words, they will usually understand. If someone is having trouble with what I’m
saying, I try to say it again using slightly different words. All Chinese people under the age of about 50
have taken 6 years of English, but most haven’t practiced it since
school. If you’re patient with them,
they will get it. I haven’t had much
trouble making myself understood.
Yelling at them is not the answer.
After lunch we went back to the
hotel to relax, shop, and
eat dinner on our own. After dinner,
Margaret and I both got massages. Two
girls came to our room and did the massages simultaneously. The seemed to be a bit older than the girl I
had the first time. They had us both sit
on the edge of the bathtub and soak our feet in tea together. There is a mirror on the wall behind the
bathtub, so we were sitting there looking at ourselves the whole time. This was just too much for Margaret, and she
got the giggles. She laughed so hard
that her girl had to stop the massage and wait for her to regain
control. Margaret is one of those
people who is just
constantly giggling, especially when it’s inappropriate.
Go to March 6