Here is some Chinese trivia: First, about buying an apartment. One tour guide was talking about decorating her apartment. Ok, I think curtains etc. No, when you buy a condo, you only buy the concrete 1,200 square foot concrete shell. You, yourself, add all the piping, wires, appliances, doors, windows, etc. I was wondering why you saw unfinished condo building after condo building.
Second, about driving in Beijing. They are trying to lower the pollution, good thing. When we arrived and were driving to our hotel, you could see about an ¼ inch of brown yuck on all of the cars. People are breathing that junk. So now they have a lottery to see if you can own a car, and they draw once a year. The chances that you can now own a car, is one in eighty chances. Also, there is one day of the week that you cannot drive. It is regulated by the last number of your license plate. They have street cameras and you are fined $16 for every incident of driving on the wrong day. It used to be certain numbers on particular days. That caused a hardship because some people have something important every Tuesday for example, so now the days you cannot drive rotate. The city puts up signs each day reminding you if it is a day you can drive or not. Taxis and buses are allowed every day. Huang also told us the subway is excellent and very reasonable.
Third, why the hair buns on ancient people. No one ever cut their hair because your hair came from your ancestors, so your hair honors your family. Just like everyone in China uses their surname still today.
Well today we climbed the Great Wall of China, first built in 221 BC. We climbed the Badaling Section of the wall, and it was refurbished in 1520. The actual Wall is over 6,000 miles long. Each section is different, and many sections are in ruins. The section we climbed required us to walk up and then down an 80 degree incline, there was a lot of slipping and sliding and trying to keep our balance. The Chinese people on the wall were extremely friendly and were taking pictures of us as much as we were taking pictures of them. As you can see in one of the pictures we posted they enjoyed having their picture taken with us. The section running through the Goby Dessert is only about three feet high. It was very cold and had actually snowed the day before. So far we have been very lucky in Beijing pollution wise. The air was actually clear today, so it was perfect day to climb the Great Wall. Tom and I have friends from Canada, and we swap off taking photos of the two of us. We will come home with lots of great photos of both Tom and I, which is unusual from a trip such as this. I am really glad because there are so many wonderful opportunities for photos. Just think of the collage I can create from this trip!!! After the Great Wall we went to a jade factory. I wanted to purchase a Chinese dragon, but the one I wanted was $7,000 so decided to pass. As an aside, our guide Huang wanted to go to America several years ago and was turned down. While trying to apply for a visa to the US, one is asked questions on why you want to go, etc. The next time he applied, he brought along his photo of the Viking group which was taken at the Great Wall and he got his Visa. So yesterday we had out group photo taken once again.
Tonight we went to a Peking Duck Dinner at a local restaurant, it was a cultural experience. I can only imagine what I would write if I were Chinese, going to America and eating in a restaurant. When we arrived, we could see it was to be served lazy Susan style. Chinese people eat that way because it celebrates the importance of family. I will tell you, it is easier to just pass the food than to twirl it around with someone dripping the juice from the plate because someone across the table didn’t see another person wasn’t finished serving themself. The spoons from the plate stick out and knock over drinks. Anyway that is how it was served. Except for the duck everything was similar to our regular lazy Susans, except there was more meat than normal. Vegetables are the bulk of any meal. I must admit the lazy Susan prevents a group from gulping the food down like we often do in America. It takes quite a while to get all the food around to everyone. Maybe it is a good idea for at least big celebrations.
OK, we arrive and there is always food on the table when you arrive. Last night it was chicken cut to look like a turtle. The head of the chicken had become the head of the turtle. Turtles are good luck symbols. It was true artistry to cut it like that and that is part of the Peking experience. Chopped lettuce and meat and egg custard that looked like cookies also presented on arrival.
Then they come and cut the duck, so you can see it being carved. Now it takes three days to prepare the duck and we have ten people at the table for two ducks per table. I can easily eat a half or at least a fourth of a duck by myself. So, if I took three days to prepare something, I would want everyone to be able to enjoy the duck by itself with the side dishes. No, not what they do, again, because meat is precious commodity. Remember our cruise director grew up on sweet potatoes and rice with a boiled egg once a year on his birthday, and our tour guide grew up on bock choy. Ok, the duck is served in a ceramic dish with candles underneath to keep it warm. It is sliced into tiny strips and the skin is an important part of the dish. Then there are super thin pancakes with all sorts of sauces and veggies cut into the same size strips as the duck and you make a burrito duck pancake. Now you can no longer taste the duck because of the sauces. We ugly Americans all had duck straight on the first pass around the table. Finally a waitress came around and made us all a Peking duck burrito.
There were lamb bones in a bed of crispy red peppers; beef bones and onions; sweet and sour Mandarin fish, complete with head and tail; shrimp crystalized in tea; deep fried pork balls, but remember deep fried in China is sautéed in the US; and short ribs with plum. Now after all of that is served and you are full, they come with more veggies, cabbage and pea shoots. The cabbage was oh so yummy. I wish I knew how it was made and the pea shoots were also delicious and tasted like spinach. We throw pea shoots away; the Chinese make them into a delicacy. Oh, soup is served last. It was duck soup. They use the bones from previous Peking dinners to make this soup. Delicious; just funny to us to have the soup served after the meal. Then comes the plate of watermelon and other fruits for dessert.
After the dinner, we walked back to the hotel. Our guide told us it was extremely safe because there is all sorts of security to protect foreign tourists in this particular area of down town Beijing. That is why we don’t see beggars and homeless when we are by our hotels. Beijing is putting on its best mage for tourist, just as they did during the Olympics. Driving back from the Great Wall we drove by the Olympic Stadium, “The Birds Nest” and the swimming cube. The image was the same in Shanghai by the hotels where the tourist stayed.
This is what travel is about. We strain to renew our capacity for wonder, to shock ourselves into astonishment once again.Shana Alexander
Confucius say – It was by music that the ancient kings gave elegant expression to their joy. By their armies and axes they gave the same to their anger.
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Tom & Holly