China - Beijing     Last Updated: 13-May-03


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Itinerary Map 

18 Oct. Beijing New city, and new tourist factory, in this case a Jade factory. We got a brief and information-free orientation on the types and qualities of jade and jadeite. One of the methods to identify true jade is a filter (whose characteristics were not described, and I could not quite figure out) which shows true jade as green color, while dye-injected jade turns red or something. Of course, it only works for green jade, not any other color, and they don't sell it or let you use it, so this is pretty useless. The only usable information is that Jadeite and Jade are harder than glass, so you can scratch glass plates with it, hence the test glass at almost every place which sells it. (Of course, there are many types and hardnesses of glass, and it is even possible to have other softer materials masquerade as a glass plate.) Anyway, they would gladly sell you a bracelet for $12,000.

You can identify real green jade with a special tool, which you can't get  All the tourist busses go through here 

A light rain greeted us at the Great Wall at Badaling, where a British tourist had been killed and robbed of his camcorder and clothing a few days earlier. (Of course, no one told us about this, but it was easy to find in Internet news.) Badaling, the closest section of the wall to Beijing, is the most common tourist site. It rises sharply up a hill, and this section of the wall has been almost completely restored. It is also extremely crowded; the steps up to the first few towers are so crowded with people that the traffic jam makes it almost impossible to move. I finally gave up and crossed the valley to the other side, where almost no one was on the wall. The rain had cleared the pollution out of the sky, and although there was some mist and rain, it was quite clear; we could even see to Northwest Beijing. The Autumn weather had also started some leaf color changes; the crisp crimson contrasted well with the deep green foliage and gray wall. The wall on the far side was also a good hike; although not as high as the popular portion, if gave a good workout and beautiful views. The wall is 4000 miles long, running from the sea to the Gobi desert, and most sections have degraded or been taken apart, but it would be interesting to see stretches which are not so heavily touristed.

Traffic jam!  Across the valley, where I climbed 
360-degree Panorama - the popular wallis across the valley 
In 2000, hundreds of couples were married, and placed these locks to signify their bonds, and then threw away the keys 
Watchtower  Solitude  Over the hills  Autumn    Autumn ivy and the wall  Persimmons are in season   

Whoops! Time for another factory tour, this time a government Friendship Store where Cloisonne (copper and enamel) ware is made. The store actually has a little of everything, and like all Government stores, the prices are not too bad, and are a little negotiable. There is an attached restaurant, where we had the usual overloaded lazy Susan.

Cloisonne enamelware starts with hand-placed copper wires to separate the color regions  Gaps are filled in with colored enamel, and then fired 

Friendship lunch - are you full yet? 

Rulers of the Ming Dynasty built elaborate subterranean tombs North of Beijing. Showing amazing restraint, China has decided that they should leave tombs for future generations to open. Not being greedy, they have only opened one tomb to date, Ding Ling's, the 13th Emperor of the Ming Dynasty. He was one of the bad hedonists; he mostly drank & screwed around. Still, the building grounds and relics were incredible. Highly recommended.

Charlie Brown - now, was he Ming Dynasty or Tang?  The area has 13 tombs; only one has been opened  Artifacts from Ding Ling are at the tomb of Chengzu Zhu Di, which has not yet been opened  No sexy service! 
4-star toilet!  In the toilet stall - what the hell is this? 
A true Ming Vase!  Pins  Gold wire helmet  Walking through the tomb - the colums are sandlewood, transported from Southern China in 1427. Imagine that!  The pagoda of another Ming tomb  A courtyard 

Near the center of the valley lies a walk guarded by marble philosophers, soldiers, and animals 

Ming Sacred Way, constructed from 1435 

Animals of the Main Sacred Way 

Our local guide, Jonathan, was very entrepreneurial. Fluent in English, funny, and clever, he still took many opportunities of his captive audience to sell us various items, ranging from group pictures to personalized name chops (carved stone stamps). Although I already have numerous ones from Japan (where I needed them officially), I decided to get one more, but this time saying "Foreign Devil" in Chinese.

Dinner was Peking Duck, and it was excellent. After showing is the full roasted duck, they brought out the carved meat and showed us the proper way to assemble the duck burrito. We also got the split duck head on the plate. I wanted to try the duck tongue, but it was impossible to eat. The brain was tasty, however. As usual, there was too much food, and we also got to have a sweet red wine.

Starters  Filling us up before the duck  Shrimp 
The duck is fattened, killed, blown with air, dried, and roasted. The brain was tasty.  Take the pancake and spread with duck sauce, place scallion and duck, roll like a burrito. Gloves optional. 

19 Oct - Tienemin Square and the Emperor's Digs Today was cold, so the One-Dollar Army was successful in selling gloves and hats to the group at our first stop at Tienemin Square, outside of the Imperial Palace and Forbidden City. We did not have time to explore the square, which was full of tourists and soldiers, including many obvious undercover cops.

It's an outing for everyone  Lots of activity - and many undercover cops  We were well protected 

From there, we walked through the Imperial Palace into the Forbidden City, which are built in many concentric layers. I wonder what the emperors would think of the invasion of their sanctuary by all of these heathen foreigners, because they certainly overrun the magnificent place. It is hard to briefly describe the scale and detail of the city; so check out the photos and links. For much of the group, however, the highlight was the Fourbuck's which is right in the Forbidden City. For me, however, the highlight was the successful postcard exchange (for one of my SF postcards).

Entering the Imperial Palace  Eaves are protected by animals and dragons  The Forbidden City is contained within the Imperial Palace 
Protect Cultural relics (I know they're gonna hate me for this one...) 
Brasier detail - they were kept away from the wooden buildings, but were used to heat the stone floors   
A door  Yes, there really is a Fourbucks in the Forbidden city  Marion, how could you?  Bronze artifacts on display in the museum  Ceramic artifacts on display in the museum    Yes, there is a guy in the urn    Rock in the Emperor's garden  Outside the North Gate 
After lunch and a visit to an overpriced pearl factory (with freshwater pearls as their speciality), we moved on to the fabulous Summer Palace, which is built on its own lake, Kunming. Most famous as the preferred residence of the corrupt Qing Empress Dowager Cixi, it is composed of numerous different compounds and facilities. We heard tales of her meals, clothing, receptions, and habits, and saw many relics. We also saw some of the most aggressive hawkers that we had seen anywhere.

Lunch  More lunch  Watermelon signifies the end of the meal 

How many freshwater pearls are in an oyster?  Wow, these were expensive... 

Dragon boats ferry us to the Summer Palace  We're not the only ones aboard  Look! It's you!  If it sinks, Kunming Lake is probably shallow enough to walk  The Summer Palace  Famous murals  The longest covered walkway, in the shape of the Chinese character for 'bat'  Old trees  Save the railings!  Spare the rod - but notice the crown  The Summer Palace  17-arch bridge    Guardians outside the receiving hall  Guardians 

Dinner lost many of the tired and sick travelers, who instead opted to go back to the hotel. The final event was the Peking Opera, which some dubbed the Shrieking Opera. Based on the description of this venue as one toned down for tourists, and modified with acrobatics, I also decided to miss it. Stan & Trudy got a CD for me, so I'll see what it sounds like. (Postscript: yup, good name...)

20 Oct - the Tao of the Dirt Market

I met the group in the morning for breakfast, to say good-bye and see them off. Then I went to the real China (or at least Beijing), not just those sites deemed appropriate for the group. After the bullshit shop-a-thon of the past two weeks, I had to go to a real bazaar, the weekend Panjiayuan Market, also known as the Dirt Market (2). Silvia and Henry would have gone crazy, and would never have come home. Every souvenir you could imagine was here in this flea market, along with many you could not. There was an endless array of jade, Tibetan turquoise, tankas, furniture, books, statues, religious artifacts (from all known religions, probably), beads, silks, artifacts, antiques, "antiques," Mao-morabilia, bound-foot shoes, and on and on. It was easy to spend hours wandering up and down the countless aisles, where individual sellers had 2-meter booths where they plopped their goodies onto a blanket on the floor or small table. This one specialized in snuff bottles, that one in jade (or "jade"); she was selling dusty old books, and he was selling new magazines. This area had musical instruments, and dolls were over there. A guy had old cameras, while another had watches and bracelets, with some Communist medals mixed in. Most of it is open, under a large tin roof, but a whole section of permanent buildings houses furniture, antiques (old and new), and paintings. Books and sculptures are to the West, under the open sky. Everything is negotiable, and all parties and onlookers are disappointed if you don't negotiate. Men sit astride carts, waiting to haggle over the price of lugging your heavy, oversized purchases home, or at least out to a taxi.

Dirt Market - it's huge  Hectares of books  Cultural trinkets 
What do you want? 
Need to take a leek? 
Everything  Trucked in  Bound-foot shoes  Tiny teapots  Mao-morabilia 

Every kind of statue 

It was eventually time for lunch, and I saw that most people, buyers and sellers alike, were eating noodles from cups and Styrofoam containers, so I went to search for the food carts. I found only two types - an open-air cafeteria-style line of steam tables (pick what you want and pay for it by…weight…volume…type?), and a string of tables displaying packaged Cup Noodles. Since the first line looked a little (or a lot) questionable, I decided to go with the packages, which I had also seen many people eating. I looked for a type with the character for "là" (spicy), and was invited to sit down. I was told that the price was 4 yuan, and I asked if that was the Chinese price or the foreigner price. (Let's be clear - they spoke absolutely no English except for "OK" and "hello," and I know nothing but "hello," "thank you," "spicy," and "foreigner." I have since learned to say "very very spicy.") The guy got agitated, and indicated that that was the price that everyone paid at all booths. A woman at the booth was trying to talk to me, and then soon moved into talking about me, to much laughter from everyone around. So, I played the part, although sometimes unknowingly. They gave me a little plastic fork, but while I was waiting for the soup to rehydrate (and tried not to think about the origin of the water), I asked for chopsticks. A little later, I noticed that everyone was eating with little plastic forks… The guy asked me if I wanted a hard-boiled egg, and was surprised when I understood the unique hand sign for five jiao (1/2 yuan, or about 6 cents). Two locals bought and sat down, and the guy really went out of his way to show me what he was charging them, that it was the same as me. A bit later, a Chinese-speaking Westerner sat down, and the abusive woman tried to get him to tell me some stuff in English. Clearly, he was not interested, and started to join in the foreigner bashing, to increased laughter from the crowd. He seemed to really get into it. Everyone had a good time, including me, even if I was completely clueless (although most of it was obvious to observe). Even so, the service did not suck, and the noodles were good.

Cup'O'Lunch, with the wrong tools  My hecklers 

The Red Gate Gallery in the Dongbianmen Watchtower shows modern Chinese art, and they had a show by Wang Yuping, an artist who spent some time in Vermont. He had a clever series of paintings viewing his world through a peephole, including his son, his sister, a policeman, and himself with a bloody nose. While he was living in Vermont, he was quite isolated, and, speaking no English, it got to him. He was reminded of an historic classical Chinese artist who found himself similarly isolated, and he eventually realized that he could get through painter's block by showing what was around, which was mostly fish. So, he also painted fish, as huge impressionistic panels, and also as neckties on the peephole series. Funny stuff, interestingly done. The Watchtower dates to some old Dynasty, and guards the East flank of Beijing. It is undergoing extensive renovation, and the gallery occupies two floors in this fascinatingly incongruous space. A park at its base is also being fixed up (with a workforce of at least 200 people). There I found trash cans with a special space for placing batteries for recycling. It is wonderful, but since it is in every trashcan, I really wonder how many batteries they need to discard, especially since none of them had any there.

The Watchtower    On the Watchtower wall 
Wang Yuping in the Redgate Gallery 
Reconstruction  Taking a nap 

Active recycling? 

From there I taxied to the Dongue Si Daoist temple, since I had never been to a Daoist temple. Being completely uneducated, I did not see much different from many Buddhist temples. The same guardians were at the gates, in the same poses. Incense burned. Stone sculptures commemorated donations by individuals and organizations. Buddhist-looking gods were in the innermost sanctuaries. The biggest difference which I saw was an emphasis on teaching - there were numerous alcove rooms with scenes depicting teachings of some ancient scholars or gods. Each was a diorama with full-sized painted mannequins, gesticulating contemplatively. Also, many prayer tags were tied all around the temple, particularly on a large tree near the entrance.

Dongue Si Daoist temple  Prayer-tag-encrusted tree 

Donation monuments  Lord Binglinggong  Inner courtyard 

Finally, ready for some Western food, I had dinner at Durty Nellie's Irish Pub. A great tomato & mozzarella salad, and a pork chop with chips, washed down by a local Tsing Tao beer. The waitress was very interested in my habanero shaker, and wanted to sample it. She shared it with her co-workers, and they were amazed. Some of them came out to look, whisper, point, and laugh.

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