China Tour, Shanghai - Beijing, Oct 2016 travel blog


We got off to a great start with an early breakfast and set off to the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China at Juyong Pass. After fighting a little traffic it was smooth sailing as we were going out of the city against traffic. The trip out to the Great Wall was to take a little over an hour but since we were making great time and the temperatures were still a little chilly, we decided to sneak in an indoor activity before attempting to conquer the Wall.

On the way, we took a little time to appreciate the intricacies of the quality and workmanship of jade, one of the precious stones of China at the Runze Jade Garden. Jadeite, a harder version of the jade mineral, is more expensive and usually reserved for jewelry. The softer version of the stone is used for sculptures and other trinkets that do not need strength.

After watching the artisans at work and hearing a brief presentation on recognizing fake (glass) jewelry, we were introduced to the showroom where there seemed to be an item for every taste and pocket. There were some items that were worth several million US $ and others that were being given away as rewards for purchases. There were many beautiful sculptures which took advantage of the natural hues of the stone to highlight the features of the sculpture. Many of the sculptures were of popular Chinese characters including the good luck charms for health, wealth and longevity.

After allowing plenty of time to empty our wallets, we returned to the bus, every lady clutching the signature red bags with their loot!

Full of smiles, we proceeded to the foot of the Juyong Pass portion of the wall in Badaling. Getting off the bus we looked like typical Canadians bundled up against the biting wind that belied the bright sunshine. We got a good day for excellent visibility but with a high of only 7 degrees we layered up for the hike. We were goaded on to try the steep slope that was designed to separate the men from the boys! I was soon to realize that I was a boy among the 'men' who were able to scale the uneven steps, soon getting winded with the thin air. Half way up the incline we realized that what goes up must come down and so we called it quits and beat a hasty retreat to a coffee and trinket store where we warmed up and took a breather before heading down a smoother switchback incline that was much easier to navigate back to our meeting area. On second thoughts, I should have opted for the easier Eastern wall that seemed to be less challenging physically.

After gathering our group who were scattered around in the several cafes, stores and washrooms that clustered around the base we proceeded back to the bus for a ride to the cloisonne factory where we were also to have lunch. We learned about the laborious process used to produce the beautiful pieces that were on sale in their showroom. They start off with a raw metal base shaped in the form of the final product. It is then layered with 1mm copper wire shapes to hold the enamel stuck to the base and fired to weld it to the base. The enamel is a combination of jade dust and pigments that are painted into the depressions and fired to set them. This process is repeated 6 times to build up the enamel before the item is smoothed down and then polished to a shine with charcoal impregnated pads. The finished products have brilliant colours with their beauty lasting centuries.

After lunch we had a chance to buy some keepsakes as well as items for friends and relatives back home. However their pricing at the Govt. stores was quite expensive taking into consideration the special discounts, volume purchase and duty free perks. Our Yuan went further outside the store where there was better success with bargaining. However, since we were already behind schedule by an hour we were bundled off to out next rendezvous to experience the nearby Ming Tombs of the emperors of the Ming Dynasty. Not all of the group were interested in walking the kilometer long promenade of imperial statues and animals which signified the various dynasties so they decided to stay on the bus which dropped us off at one entrance to this UNESCO Heritage site and picked us up at the end. The site has been beautifully maintained and appeared to be wired for sound with soothing music emanating from disguised speakers as you walked the length of the promenade.

After getting a chance to pick up some souvenirs at the exit, we boarded the bus for our next 'obligatory' stop at college of Traditional Chinese Medicine for a lecture. We detoured slightly enroute to get a glimpse of the Olympic 'Bird's Nest' main pavilion and accompanying buildings like the bubble enclosed swimming pavilion. When we arrived at our destination, I realized that we were at a commercial centre with their well stocked 'pharmacy' just waiting to get you back to health after a 'free' evaluation and diagnosis of all your ailments. The lecture consisted of a pep talk about the value of alternative and integrative medicine in today's fast paced culture and that somehow this 6,000 year old system, which predates our knowledge of anatomy and germ theory, is superior to the tried and true medicine we trust our lives to everyday. It must have resonated with our group because most of them, including some well versed in medicine, fell prey to their charms and paid for harmless but probably ineffective placebos.

Since only a few of us were interested in going to the Golden Mask Dynasty theatrical show in Beijing, Velma arranged for a minivan to take us there while the bus took the rest to dinner and back to the hotel. Rush hour traffic being what it is in the capital, we left plenty of time to get to the OCT theatre in the Beijing Happy Valley! This theatre, built at a cost of RMB 2million Yuan, was the set of a fantastic love story that I wish we had been able to understand earlier. The props, dance sequences and theatrics were astounding as can be seen in this promotional video which also gives you a brief understanding of the plot.

After being blown away by the performance, during which we forgot how cold the theatre was (I was apprehensive of attending an indoor event with my layered insulation I used to protect me from the elements at the Great Wall but that actually came in handy to keep me from freezing in the theatre!) we met Velma in the lobby and were shuttled off to our dinner. It appeared that the restaurant was geared to cater to full tables so we had double the food but did justice to it, including the dimsum which was not on the regular menu so far. The lurching ride back to the hotel through evening traffic was hard on the stomach but thankfully we had some gravol on board which was more effective than TCM herbs.

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