Monday June 11, Day 9
Joined small group tour, with some Australians and Dutch. Guide by the name of Lily. Pleasant enough and mostly understandable English. She repeated herself often and also spelled words a lot, which were both good as we didn’t always get her the first time around.
First stop was the Beijing Dragon Land Superior Jade Gallery. Annoying, but after the Silk Factory in Suzhou, we knew more or less what to expect. 20% of the “Gallery” was a well done and interesting exhibition on the history of Jade. The other 80% was a major store, with over one hundred salespeople and the highest prices for Jade products in Beijing. We looked at the stunning artwork, was inspired to then shop for a cheap knockoff of one of the popular items (the dragon-phoenix ball, concentric spheres carved out of one piece of jade – which I did bargain down in the market to 20 Yuan (3 dollars) as opposed to several hundred in the store), and then waited outside for our next stop.
The Ming Tombs. Not as crazy as the Egyptians, they had a somewhat less developed expectation of physical life after death. The Chinese are highly superstitious and only visit graves in the morning, therefore the Tomb (and the tourist trap) trumped the Great Wall in our day’s priorities. The Tomb grounds were interesting and picturesque. The actual tomb itself, 27 meters below ground (she kept repeating this fact) was more interesting than impressive, especially the carved marble thrones and the boxes (replicas) that once contained mounds of jewels that the Emperor expected to use once he transcended from life to death to life again. (Made me wonder about our own concepts of Tchiyat Hametim and if someone will be standing by with some fresh clothing for us, or how exactly that’s going to work).
Because the dead are “Yin” and the living are “Yang”, the living need to step in a certain way and say a certain phrase when they leave the threshold of the dead. Though I think halachically it may be more an issue of Chukay Emori than any Avoda Zara, we chose to step over with the alternate foot (different for men and women) and not chant whatever Chinese mumbo-jumbo the others were saying as they stepped through the arches of the Tomb area.
On the way to the Great Wall, we drove further inland and into the mountains. There is something unique about these mountains. They are angular, some almost look like perfect triangles with a heavy green cover. It reminded me of all the Chinese movies depicting monasteries on the top of such mountains (we saw a few such structures in the distance).
The Great Wall. I didn’t realize this, but it is NOT one continuous structure, but rather there are several Great Walls. We went to the Mutianyu Great Wall. Impressive. Beautiful. Big. GREAT. The name is well deserved. A ski lift saved us from a 40 minute hike to get from the parking area to the wall. The wall itself is tiring as it is. The wall goes on and on for as far as you can see in either direction. The deterrent impact of the wall must have been significant. We could just imagine an army reaching the wall and seeing no end in sight just giving up and heading back home.
On the way down we slid down a toboggan for about ten minutes which was huge fun.
On the return to Beijing (over an hour drive) we drive by Olympic Village, the Bird’s Nest (stadium) and the Water Cube (olympic pools). Cool architecture.
The trip ended at the Beijing Dong Wu Silk Museum, which you will have guessed by now was significantly more store than museum. I cut out of the whole thing to go to a supermarket across the street and get batteries for our camera (we’ve taken over 600 pictures already…).
After arriving at the hotel, we made a quick Manna Chamah and made our way to town and the night market of Wangfujing. Besides typical Chinese tourist chachkes, one could feast on squid, snake, frogs, starfish, still wriggling horse-fish, and multiple other creatures we weren’t sure as to their origin. The most popular way to eat them is like a kebob, grilled on a stick and you’d see everyone walking around the market carrying and chomping on these sumptuous treats.
To get there and back, we tried out the Beijing subway system. Older than the Shanghai system and not as well designed for the humongous crowds. We caught the tail end of rush hour and joined a sea of humanity moving tiredly but purposefully through the network of underground tunnels. I can’t recall the last time I moved with so many people, so close together for so long. We probably walked for close to a mile in a tunnel two car-widths wide that was packed from wall to wall with people, all moving in the same direction. All you could see behind you and in front of you was the press of bodies moving forward.
Tomorrow, The Forbidden City…