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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 bus and 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 on various 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 anything.

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 and gave 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 years ago 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 were 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 cobblestone 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 for Chinese people, not for 6-foot tall Americans.  It was very hard for me to use the handrails because I had to bend over to reach them. 

We walked from the entrance up to the first of many 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 like a 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 the wind to wait for the others.

The Great Wall of China is 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 guidebook that 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 50 years 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 permanently attached.  Then the piece is painted and glazed.

 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 really 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 trip. 

 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 grade 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