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Kitty, tour guiding us through Beijing's rush hour
September 17, our first full day in Beijing, started bright and early with a 6:30 AM wake-up call for a 7:00 breakfast. The Xingqiao Hotel provided a western breakfast, so we enjoyed French toast and fruit. We met our guide Kitty at 8:00 in the hotel lobby, and then it was off for the day in our taxi minivan (we still can't figure out the spelling for the driver's name, but it's Chinese for "left").
Kitty warned us that it would be a one-and-a-half-hour drive to the Great Wall, so we were able to witness the morning rush hour of cars, bicycles, and pedestrians. We were just remarking how amazing it was that there are no accidents, when we saw a couple of accidents. We also made a tourist stop at a jade factory, where we saw how jade is carved into wonderfully intricate sculptures, from four-foot ships to Chinese cabbages.
Gail started off showing Kitty our world trip itinerary... and ended up buying the globe
The Great Wall of China stretches more than 4,000 miles across China, with six different locations open around Beijing for tourists. We went to Badaling (literally "eight access mountain," meaning that you can see in all eight directions), the highest point in the wall around Beijing. It is said that you are not a man until you have climbed to all three towers here, and the four of us were determined to be men. Given a choice of the easy (crowded) path to the north or the steep (uncrowded) path to the south, we opted for the hard challenge. Our perseverance paid off; not only did we make it all the way to the top, but we were among the only people there (not counting the numerous vendors who kept shoving things at us). Along the way, a group of Chinese girls fell in love with the two boys and pleaded to have their pictures taken with them. Our decision to take the cable car back down was regrettable, as Gail suddenly remembered her fear of edges halfway down when the wind kicked up.
Conquering the Great Wall
We took a lunch break at a nearby Friendship store, where we were amazed to be served a seven-course banquet. Joss didn't want to eat or try anything, but became fixated on a traditional yellow silk shirt in the shop (he likes yellow and he likes silk). We didn't buy him one... yet.
Next it was on to the Ming Tombs, where thirteen emperors of the Ming Dynasty (14th to 17th centuries) are buried. As we walked along the Sacred Way and viewed the gauntlet of guardian statues, we marveled at the fact that in ancient times, only the emperor was allowed to see any of this. Our particular stop was the Chang Ling Mausoleum, where the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty is buried. The tomb itself is unexcavated, but the gates and temples surrounding it were spectacle enough.
The Sacred Way: lions, xiezhis, camels, elephants, qilins, horses, generals, civil officials, and meritorious officials (each double pair alternates between standing and sitting)
The boys were excellent through the long drives, walks, and tours. They used their fanny packs and cameras for the first time. In addition, they played an invented game called "Cat Pokemon" which the parents can't quite figure out (it involves finger play), but it kept them occupied for literally two hours in the back of the van.
We made one more late afternoon stop at the Beijing Anzhen Medical Center, where we learned about eastern medicine. A doctor diagnosed each of us simply by feeling our pulses and looking at our tongues. He was very accurate on Gail (back pains & insomnia) and Joss (tummy aches & sinus) but not on Cameron and Russell. (Gail believes there was a bit of "psychic reading" going on -- diagnosing some common ailments for our age groups in order to pitch us expensive herbal medicines.)
The last destination in our twelve-hour day was the Golden Garden Restaurant in the Golden Era Hotel, where our tour itinerary called for a Peking Duck dinner. We ended up being seated in a private banquet room at a table for four and served a ten-course banquet. Joss didn't want to eat or try anything. For the second meal today, we had to fight the extreme guilt of not being able to make any kind of dent in all of this delicious food. "This is absolutely decadent," Gail complained. "You mean 'duck-adent'," corrected Cameron as he ate another Peking Duck pancake.
Peking Duck is served
The highlight of Cameron's day was the Great Wall. Joss' was sticking his tongue out at the doctor. Gail and Russell enjoyed it all. Our plans call for another early evening tonight, and another full day in Beijing tomorrow.
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