Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Beijing - Dec. 31, 7:14 am

I’m finally on Beijing time! It didn’t take me very long, but I wouldn’t suggest the getting-sick-and-sleeping-for-13-hours route.

Yesterday morning, we headed out towards the Great Wall. In the snow! Dirty, brown, Beijing snow.

On the way there, we stopped at the Jade Factory. Despite it being a government sponsored tourist trap, it was interesting. We got to see “artisans” making jadewares. I kept thinking they were going to slice a finger off on the machines. The fact that they were using machines made me sad. I guess in my head, I pictured tiny chisels to make the intricate carvings. Even though there is over 1 billion people here, I’m not sure they could keep up with the tourist demand, from the looks of things at the Jade Factory.

Then we continued towards the Great Wall. We climbed and climbed and climbed 2500 feet (I think) to the seventh tower. There really isn’t that much to say, so I shall say it in bullet points.

- At tower 5, there was a gift shop where I picked up some perfectly kitchsy “I climbed the Great Wall” t-shirts. I tried not to feel cheated when I discovered that they sold the same t-shirts at the bottom.
- There were many women dressed inappropriately for climbing the Great Wall in the snow – namely, in 5-inch stiletto heels. Oh, those crazy Russians.
- I saw one person running down the snowy stairs. We talked to him; he was German.
- The thought that kept running through my head on the way up, as my heart and breathing rates increased, was the smog I was breathing in. I’m giving up smoking because I pretty much smoked 18 packs of cigarettes yesterday. The smog was so bad that, on top of the haze from the natural weather, I couldn’t see the 7th tower from the 6th tower. The aforementioned German estimated it to be 200 metres away.
- Opposite from the side of the Great Wall that we climbed was another “Great Wall.” As it turns out, it’s an imitation wall that the government constructed to try and ease some of the pressure off the real great wall. It didn’t work because no one goes there. But it’s there.

After the Great Wall, we went to lunch at this restaurant / friendship store. The restaurant was in the back, so we had to walk through the shop on the way in and out. According to our guide, a friendship store is a government run place that was one of the first places to sell Chinese goods to foreigners. I loved the little signs that said “government shop; fair prices; no negotiating”. I didn’t buy anything, but one of my traveling companions said that he was able to “negotiate” down on the premise that he didn’t have any more money.

After lunch, we drove through the traffic and pretty much went straight to dinner. After dinner, we went to a Shaolin Kung Fu show. I have to say, despite my low expectations and the cheesy nature of the show, I really enjoyed the show. I caught myself with my mouth wide open a few times. The show was a blend of martial arts and ballet, heavy on the ballet. I very much appreciated the martial arts. And I realized that if I ever go to the ballet, I want a seat near the front. I liked seeing the facial expressions and the sweaty brows and the, erm, ripply muscles. Anyway. That was the day. Today, we are off to Shanghai.

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