Journey to China

Survived the 2nd or was it the 3rd Day in Beijing. The food and the company remained great, but the volume of things to absorb was enough to overwhelm the senses. Simply too much to see and do.

The weather was cooler and a bit overcast. It threatened to rain a couple times but hospitably held off. The smog and traffic were as thick as ever. After breakfast we took another thrilling ride through unbelievably heavy traffic to the Temple of Heaven, filled with people dancing and exercising. Trying to absorb and remember the details was overwhelming. The pictures and a history book will have to do. Lunch was once again delicious.

After lunch we hit the political centre of China, Tiananmen Square. There were simply tens of thousands of people there. Police and military were also on parade. I suppose it would have been easy to get arrested if we had simply unfurled a protest banner, but since we were not in that mode it was not a problem. In fact we were treated very well. The most curious fact was several Chinese tourists approached me wanting to have their picture taken with me. With all the exotic sites around, I guess I was about the strangest. Long, tall, freaky people are a novelty.

By supper time we were exhausted but were revived by the beer and more dishes of food. Each restaurant has a slightly different offering and you take whatever. Been a good experience all round so far.

After supper we went to the Beijing Opera. It is highly stylized and had English subtitles. The makeup was amazing as were the acrobatics of the performers. Unfortunately everyone was so tired staying awake was unsuccessful and dreams of our beds were rampant. We check out Wed morning before another full day. Hope we can remember the instructions.

China Day 3

Early to rise and get on the internet, but pretty slow so don’t know how the message delivery was. Brekkie was great as usual and traffic a real snarl.

This morning we were off to the summer palace, the residence of the DRAGON LADY. Norma felt right at home. This Empress, the last in power before the Last Emperor (great movie to watch) was a real mean b@#$, who squandered the resources of the country building these beautiful grounds and living a lavish lifestyle. Jealousy will get us nowhere. But even she died of course.

The architecture, the flowers, the man-made lake, are all spectacular. The crowds were again very large and mostly Chinese, but amazing how orderly and how well everything flows. The sites are mostly outdoor viewing with little or no interior tours. Lots of walking. We finished with a cruise across the lake in a Dragon Boat. Again, spectacular views, and it saved many steps on our way back to the bus.

Next stop was the fresh water pearl factory where we were given a presentation on all things pearl. A taste for everyone’s budget, from a few bucks to many thousands. The Pearl was right in her glory, particularly when the sales lady used her as a demo for a string of gold pearls that ran about 100 grand or so. By the time I recovered from the shock, the Pearl had spent a delightful hour drooling and haggling. We all left happy.

Lunch was great, I think. They are all starting to blend together, No, this one was exceptional. More platters of something unusual, plus good beer. The last plate delivered to the table is always slices of watermelon. That signals the meal is over.

In the afternoon we stopped by the Olympic park site for a couple of snaps. One of the best features was the ‘Happy House’. The Happy House is Chinese slang for the toilet facilities. They are graded just like hotels from great, clean with privacy and paper and on down. Having a guide who includes the best in your itinerary is priority one. Ours was great and the Happy House at the Olympic Park was absolute best #1.

Feature of the afternoon was a tour of old Huton Beijing which means alley. There were many shops and small modest residential units. Housing compounds have communal ‘Happy Houses’ in many cases.

We all piled into rickshaws for an exciting ride around town. The drivers – all part comedian – kept up a steady chatter of our names, while weaving in and out of traffic and attempting to outdo each other. Car horns blaring, side swiping, and overtaking each other were standard fare. No motors, just pedal power and sweat. There were lots of electric cycles and some bikes, but nothing like the tens of thousands of bicycles we see in historical films.

We concluded it with a walk down the main boulevard and a stop at Starbucks. Vanilla Lattes! Yum! There was no effort by anyone to try and control which direction we wandered or who we tried to talk to. Although we were warned not to talk about Tianamen Square massacre and when we did inquire, everyone professed to know nothing about it.

Then supper. One of the best yet, but not with a #1 Happy House. Then a three hour rush to the airport through stop and go, but we made it and took our flight to Xi’an. Hit the bed about 2 a.m. Exhausted. More tomorrow.