It is now Wednesday afternoon on the 22nd. Our tour is officially over (except for the farewell dinner tonight). However, we are staying until Sunday, and we have many other special activities and eating events planned, so we will have lots more to report!
We flew from
After seeing the Olympic area and a short tour of the city, we were taken to our hotel. It is a nice place, but not exceptional other than the Rolls-Royce dealership at one end of the lobby and the Bentley dealership at the other end.
Monday we had an early start for a day of walking (and the temp was in the low 90's) where (with our nearest and dearest 1,000+ newest friends), we visited the
This complex of 9,999 1/2 rooms and gardens was (mostly) finished in 1420 by an emperor of the Ming Dynasty. From that point on over 28 emperors (and their empresses, concubines, attendants, and immediate family members) resided here. It is much like imposing royal palaces we have seen in
Next, we left the Palace through the south gate, crossed a small street and went through Tiananmen Gate (which means "gate of heavenly peace"). This used to be the main gate of the city. Shortly after Mao took power in 1949, he visited
At the other end is his Mao-soleum. It was absolutely awe-inspiring.
In the afternoon, we were driven to one of the many hutongs. These are small neighborhoods of one story homes, many of which are over 100 years old. "Hutong" is a Mongolian word meaning "water well". As Mongolians and other people settled here, on the southern edge of the
It was fun, but not as chaotic or harrowing as on some of our other trips. We went to the home of a man who is a calligraphy and painting teacher. He also showed us the 60+ racing pigeons that he raises. Though his home was built in the 1880's (and has been in his wife's family ever since), it has been modernized (indeed, at 2,300 sq-ft., it is bigger than our house!). As we sipped tea in his kitchen he told us about how the home was acquired and life in the hutongs. On the kitchen wall was a picture of his mother-in-law in front of the White House and his wife and our host in
Then back to our hotel to get ready for dinner. While there (remember it was about on Monday) we turned on ESPN and saw a tape delay of Sunday Night Baseball: Cubs vs Yankees at Wrigley.....announced completely in Chinese!!!!!!! Language notwithstanding, the Cubs still lost (actually, we had tickets to go to that game but had to sell them since we were on the trip! As a side bar, we had asked several of our dear friends and family members to "look after" our beloved Cubbies in our absence. Sad to say, they have failed miserably and, in keeping with our new respect for Chinese tradition, those individuals will lovingly be beheaded upon our return!). We went for a walk before dinner to a local attraction...the outdoor food market. (In hindsight, it was good to go before we ate).
We know our readers have been itching for another food description. Here it comes. This block-long set of stalls features fried foods of an exotic nature. Now it seems to us ok to eat creatures such as shrimp, crabs, external chicken parts (e.g., legs and wings), and lobsters, but this market featured skewers of: snakes, squids, silk worm larva, scorpions, sea mushrooms, starfish (seem to be a lot of weird "s" foods!), bees, crickets, grasshoppers, lamb hearts, whole pigeon (yes, head still attached), and lots of fried sweet treats like durian puffs, fried ice cream, and various fruits with a candy-apple-like coating. You can imagine the smell. No, wait....you cannot!!!! (Speaking from the experience of encountering lions eating a several days-old rhinoceros carcass in Krueger Park, South Africa, this smell was a close second and extraordinarily distinctive.) After all that (and the heat), we had to get some refreshment, so we went across the street to a huge 6-story mall and found the Dairy Queen! The flavor of the month was Mango Blizzard with Swiss cheese chunks. Yes...you read that correctly.
So, we opted for a mango-passion fruit smoothie. So good! Also in the food court was a restaurant touting their "squid lips and pork knuckles" special! Then we joined friends for a delicious dinner at the Peninsula Hotel. Afterwards, while walking back to our hotel we had more sorbet at the Hagen Dasz store (HD is very big in
Tuesday we had another early start for one of the high points of the trip: The Great Wall. It is about 60 km from the city, so it was a 1 1/2 hour bus ride (the traffic is incredible!). As you get closer you begin to see the Wall snaking across the mountain ridges (built on the ridges for obvious defensive purposes). The wall was originally built as individual walls constructed by the various war lords and chiefs over the years (beginning about 5,000 years ago). But under the Ming emperors (1600s) it was finally completed as one 4,000 mile long structure. Indeed, the Chinese call it "The Long Wall". Of course, it is the longest wall in the world! We began our ascent at the Badaling section (there are many different places where tourists can climb). OK. In past editions for past trips of our blog, we've indicated that we were running out of adjectives. Well, just let us say there is a reason why The Great Wall is one of the Wonders of the World. It is just stupefying and breath-taking to imagine something this massive (20 feet high, 4,000 miles long) all made out of stones. To see it from the bus then actually climb it with another horde of tourists almost defies description.
We walked about 1 1/2 miles to the farthest point allowed. The walkway was at times stairs (of various random heights, some in not-so-good shape) and steep slopes (many over 60 degrees). And it was very crowded and people continually stop to take pictures. The total incline was several hundred feet. Luckily, it was cooler there and there was a nice breeze, but it was still a relatively difficult climb (certainly a lot more difficult than our daily walk of 1-1/2 miles to downtown
And the descent was no piece of cake either! At one point we came upon a class of blue-uniformed 3rd graders on a field trip (to the Great Wall!!!!) and they all crowded around us for a picture. It is very funny: when we see the kids we shout "Nihau, nihau!" and they shout back "Hello! HI!"!!! Needless to say, we succumbed to two "I have climbed the Great Wall" t-shirts--wouldn't you?
Then we were taken to a beautiful secluded resort and treated to another multi-course Chinese lunch. This one featured: assorted marinated cold dishes (including that disgusting fungus again), assorted dim suns (including a cookie shaped like a carrot), stir-fried duck slices with Chinese broccoli, diced beef soup with bean curd, egg white and mushroom (another gelatinous dish for which we took a pass), stir fried pork with pineapple in sweet and sour sauce, stir-fried fillet of beef with peppers in black pepper sauce, boneless chicken in lemon sauce, stir fried eggplant with minced pork in sweet and spicy sauce, wok-fried cabbage, steamed rice, and fresh fruit. Our waiter (from
Following lunch we took a long bus ride back to the city. Between the climb and the food, most of us were sleeping when we stopped at our next cultural site: The Summer Palace. As we exited the bus, we were hit again with the 90+ degree heat. Ugh!!! But, after a short walk we boarded a dragon boat for a ride around the lake. The
Today, Wednesday, we had our last official tour activity: we went to the
We were invited to try one of those. Each of us in the group was paired with a local expert. We were given a "racquet" that was a little bigger than a ping-pong paddle, but it has an elastic fabric middle (instead of a mesh like a regular racket). Then they gave us a rubber coated ball (about baseball size) that is squishy but does not bounce. The idea is not to hit the ball, but to do graceful tai chi moves while swinging the racquet around and not dropping the ball!! There were some pretty interesting moves and after a few minutes (it was hot again and more humid today), many in the group were quite exhausted. Then we DID do another exercise where you kind of spin and flip the ball to your partner. Of course, he flips it back and you catch it on your racquet-thingie. Lots of fun! Then Wendy joined a group (about 20 or so) of women who were doing Chinese Zumba (or at least that was her interpretation)! It was wild!!!!!
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In the meantime... More learnings: When you buy a new condo or rent a new apartment in a big city in
wen-wen and way-way