Beijing page 1 of Carter's China Trip

 

At 9:00 PM we arrived at the west Beijing rail station.  This station is quite new, very spacious and attractive.  We grabbed taxis and headed for the hotels.  Here I stayed by myself for a week in the Beijing Continental Grand Hotel, attached to the Conference Center.  By the time I got into the room the shops in the hotel were closed and I had no cool water to drink, plus I had eaten only a couple of cookies since breakfast.

So, I took a walk to see if I could find a shop.  It was a warm and pleasant night.  I passed Dominos Pizza, McDonalds, Kenny Rogers Chicken and another American fried chicken shop (I cannot remember which one, but it was not KFC, many of which I saw throughout China).  I walked for more than an hour and found no shop.  But, I always felt comfortable, not being afraid of being mugged.  I returned to the room at about midnight.

Sunday morning I ate at the hotel buffet that was included in the cost of my room and hurried to the conference center to get registered so I could get my tickets for the tour I was supposed to take.  While there I picked up the five volumes of Proceedings and other booklets included in my registration.  Wow, what weight.  I carried everything back to the room and dashed back to the tour buses.  There was a crowd of colleagues boarding three or four buses.  I saw of friends I had not seen for two or four years.  Roger was our tour guide.

Today it was the Ming Tombs and the Great Wall, both to the north, well outside of the city.  We drove for about an hour and as we approached our destination there were many peach orchards and stands along the road.  In the parking lot there were many little shops, including some selling peaches.  

We had been advised to not eat fresh fruit that we could not peel so I did not touch any of these.  We were also advised by our guide Roger not to  buy anything from the small vendors because they would rip us off.  Instead we would have a chance to buy things of this nature at lunch.

Then we walked down the Divine Path of the Ming Tombs.  There are large stone statues on both sides of the path.  Then we got back on the bus and went to one of the many tombs.  We walked through this complex, but I wasn’t certain what I was seeing in terms of Chinese history.  However, I did recognize some of the vegetation.  It looked a lot like home.

Here at the entrance to one of the buildings at the Tombs I found oak trees with acorns and hemlock.  But, why not?  This is a middle latitude country on the east side of the continent in the Northern Hemisphere.  In fact, China has similar vegetation but it is even more diverse than ours.  

At the end of the tour of the Tombs we walked past numerous vendors on the way to the bus.  I defied Roger and bought a pack of postcards for 8¥ ($1).

Then as an aside Roger took us to a Jade Shop, where we watched them cut and sculpt jade.  We were given a lecture on evaluating jade and jadeite and then we were released into the jade shop, where there were great numbers of consultants, or sales people.  It was a very nice shop and I got caught up in the moment.  I bought what I thought were nice pieces.  

Did I get screwed?  Probably, as did many others.  I have never priced jade at home so I had no basis to know what was a good price.  Oh yes, they give you shopping cards so that you get a gift if you buy more than a certain amount.  I found this was the standard practice in the shops we were taken to on every tour.

Then it was lunch time and we were taken to a large restaurant designed to handle bus loads of tourists.  The food was standard fare placed on glass lazy Susans.  We gobble the food and then go downstairs to shop in a massive array of commercialism where you could get silks, dresses, pottery, etc.   They had terra cotta warriors in many sizes, almost as many on the floor as we found later in Xi’an.  I didn't realize it at the time but here you could get close to the warriors, which you cannot do at the Museum in Xi'an.

And, here were the postcards for 15¥ that I bought from the small vendor for 8¥.  Roger didn’t want us to buy from the small vendors because he was an agent of the shops and he was paid to get us and our money to the big shops.  Luckily we were given only an hour to shop in this one store.  

Finally we were on the way to the Great Wall, at Badaling.  This is the most popular of the Wall sites because it has been restored and is near Beijing.  It was crowded, hot, humid and hazy.  It was a good hike up the road from the parking lot.  For a fee a young fellow would pull you up the road in his modern equivalent of a rickshaw.  You round the curve and there is the Wall.  There are a few shops and plenty of vendors selling all kinds of souvenirs.  I bought a nice book for 50¥ and stuffed it in my bag.  Then I started hiking up the Wall.

 
  It was a warm and hazy day, but I made it to the Wall.  There are sections to this wall that are very steep, even for a person like me who likes to walk.

The steps are not evenly spaced in height or depth.  One colleague came down the steps backwards while holding the hand rail. 

 
 

It is very steep in places and the steps are not of uniform height.  You hike and pause then hike some more.  Many friends and colleagues were around me and we took turns taking photos of each other.  Then the fog moved in and it was not possible to see back to where we started.  But, we made it to the point where they would give you a certificate for climbing the wall—of course you had to pay for this.  I didn't buy the certificate--you'll have to take my word for it.

I was pleased to see that many of the people climbing the wall that day were Chinese.  This was true for most of the tours.  In some places three-quarters of the tourists seemed to be Chinese and only a small portion were foreigners.

The Wall is in the mountains and so the road down was slow.  Then we got on the high speed expressways.  It took better than a hour to get back to the hotel.  After two good meals I was content to eat crackers, peanuts and some dried apricots (but these were not the pretty orange ones I eat at home.).

 
 

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Dr. James R. Carter, Geography-Geology Department,  Illinois State University,  jrcarter@ilstu.edu