March 17, 2014
Happy St. Patrick’s Day from China
We arrived at the Great Wall before most tourists. Peter is kind of a European Rick Steves. He operates on the early or late theory of planning, mostly the early. As a result we took a group picture in relative calm before venturing out on our own. Of course, we took the more challenging wall walk.
Sections of the wall date back to the Qin Dynasty with its nasty Emperor whose clay soldiers we saw a couple days ago. So they started the wall some 2200 years ago. Actually it was built on top of early earthen fortifications. The idea behind the wall was to keep out the marauding barbarians from the north. These mounted warriors loved to prey on the prosperous farming populations of China. The wall was added to by different dynasties with its culmination during the Ming who ruled China during Europe’s Age of Kings. The period represents a cultural high point in terms of sophistication and grandeur. The Wall was completed, the Forbidden City and the Ming Tombs were all built during their time. By the mid-1600s, the Manchus from the North conquered China and ruled until 1911. Since they were from the North, the wall was allowed to fall into disrepair and provide a large supply of building material for nearby residents. Sections of the wall have been restored so tourists could easily visit.
Since there were lots of stairs, Peggy was happy. Since I knew it was not going to fall down, I was happy. There were many slick and worn steps and paving stones. I was very glad it was dry although it was windy enough to keep grit sticking to you. We managed to climb to the Fourth South Tower and reached it before it was stormed by the later crowds. There were some very steep sections. In places it was kind of like a man-made Half Dome. They have added railings for assistance and the battlements blocked most of the wind. The young Japanese girl in high heels was not having a good time.
After our moments as king of the mountain, we retreated down the hill. We had plenty of company on their way up. We made a bee line for the government run “Friendship Store”. Peter had encouraged us to shop for fine goods in these stores because they were regulated and the quality was genuine. What we bought can remain secret for a while. I just need to advise my daughter to make sure her Jade ring is insured for enough. We left after adding to our US trade deficit. I guess I am a sucker for the “You exquisite taste” line.
We took a bus to a Jade factory and got some lessons on the manufacture of the carvings and jewelry. There was no hard sell and it was very pleasant. We then were served a delightful Beijing style lunch with some Chinese moonshine. Shopping was then easier.
We met the Ming Emperors, or at least their tombs, on the way back to Beijing. It was a lovely walk along the funeral pathway. Thirteen Emperors are buried here. Only one tomb has been excavated. The others remain un-dug or robbed. The large stone figures all had their symbolism and purpose. It made for great picture taking. The best was rubbing the turtle rear and head to assure a long life. It was the first turtle that I have ever seen with teeth and a grin.
Peter then had us drive by the 2008 Olympic venues including the bubble swimming pavilion and the Bird Nest. Even from a distance, they were quite impressive.
Tonight we are going to the most famous of the Peking Duck restaurants. I’ll eat my share and some for sister Vicki.
A nice young hotel employee just came by and showed us how to work the AC. I guess I do not need to look for a Chinese Motel 6 after all.