CSMT Day 3, Beijing

Great Wall, Jade Factory, Traditional Village, Dinner Show

This is Day 3 of the tour, and a Monday - the first day we could actually meet anyone. We have a meeting for supper later, but for now we have another mission - to scale the Great Wall of China.

The Chinese have a saying that you are not a real man unless you've climbed the Great Wall, so it's a popular tourist attraction for them. The vast majority of the visitors today are Chinese. It's chilly out (5C, or about 40F) but we are all excited. It's been 10 years since I've last been to the Wall, and Brooke and Dale have never seen it. I'm also on a mission - the last time I was here, I got my photo taken on a camel, complete with warrior garb and a sword. The picture was later lost. I'm hoping to retake it, if they still have the camels.

Simon, our guide, stays with the van at the bottom and we agree to meet him there when we get back down, and off we go. There have been several changes since I was last here. For one, it doesn't smell like a toilet anymore, for another, the steps are even and much easier to climb. There are also handrails. It's a much more pleasant trip. We were at the Badaling point (the wall is very long, so there are many places to visit it along it, some better than others).

But it's a LOT of stairs. I knew I was out of shape (and if I didn't, the Chinese would have made sure I knew it - at every single tea ceremony we went to, the server at some point mentioned that tea was good for weight control and then looked pointedly at me) so I was huffing and puffing early on. This wall is very good exercise.

About halfway up, I saw the camel ride I remembered from before and took the group on a quick detour for some pictures. I was able to retake the pic I had lost.

Then we finished the climb to the first top, where there is, of all things, a roller coaster! It's actually intended as a nice easy ride back down. Since I was horribly out of shape, I whimped out at this point, but Dale and Brooke continued up to the second (taller) hill, agreeing to meet us at the bottom.

If I was hoping to give my heart some rest by taking the ride, it didn't work. It's creaky and you can smell the burning of the rubber on the brakes all the way down the hill. It's quite an experience. I'm sure my kids would love it.

At the bottom, we waited (aka shopped) a few minutes until Dale and Brooke came down, then we walked towards the van. On the way, there was an exhibit of some bears (known as "blind bears") that were kind of cute. Brooke found a tray of apple slices and started throwing them to one of them (which was fine - you are supposed to) but didn't realize you had to pay for them - the vendor chased her down - too funny.

The next stop was the jade factory, one of my favorites. Jade is wonderful stuff, and the factory is breathtaking. I strongly recommend a visit. As usual, I got so engrossed in shopping that the others had to track me down and nearly drag me out.

After the jade factory, we had a quick lunch and headed back to Beijing. Once there, we stopped by the side of the road to take a few pics of the Olympic stadium they are building. It will resemble a birds nest when complete. Our next scheduled stop was a silk factory, but since we had already seen on on our day off, we changed the plans and decided to go check out the traditional village, instead.

This is Beijings equivalent of a "pioneer village" in western Canada or the US, and is intended to show off traditional and historic lifestyles. Each exhibit features homes and artifacts that were carefully taken apart from their local area and rebuilt here in this village. Also, the people stationed at each exhibit belonged to the area where the exhibition was from. One girl we talked to had only been in Beijing for 2 days, and it was the first big city she'd ever seen. I noticed that she'd already gone shopping, as all her clothes were warm and brand new (she had come from a group far to the south and was not used to the cold).

There are 56 ethnic groups in China. The majority Han make up about 95% of the population, leaving the remaining 5% divided up between the remaining 55 ethnic groups. This is a concern to the government, so if you are a member of one of the ethnic groups, you can have 2 children instead of the usual one, and several other benefits. Some of the ethnic groups have as little as 20,000 members in them. When I came back home, I asked and it turns out that my wife's family is from one of groups. Small world.

It's hard to tell the difference between the ethnic groups visually - it's more to do with language and culture. The closest analogy I can think of is the differences between the Native American Indian tribes - each with it's own history, language, dress and culture, but generally considered one people.

The village was fascinating. We arrived just in time for a show featuring dancers and singers, followed by a demonstration of some traditional Chinese games. One of them is a type of yo-yo that we saw several times throughout our trip. You can do some amazing tricks with it. Another was a metal hoop and stick, similar to what children in the west in the 1800's would play with, another was, for lack of a better word, tandem skis. You'd have to see the picture. Finally, there were some stilts that were deceptively difficult to use (at least, that's my story - Dale seemed to pick them up pretty easily).

The village was really interesting, and it was very cool to see all of these different places all in one spot. 2 highlights were a home and temple from a Muslim minority, and a cottage that I swear would not look out of place in the English countryside, if not for the red door and the lions out front.

There was also a giant totem pole obviously intended for some sort of fertility rite, and I'm sure is an interesting attraction for the village.

After this, we went for dinner and me up with Stephen Noton (a fellow speaker, and from Adverted), Michael the Mun Wai (of GME Tech), and the guest of honor, Xu ZuZhe, the Secretary General of the Beijing Information Industry Association and the author of the book "Leaping over the Information" (Chinese).

Turns out Mr. Xu also created his own Chinese character input method for his computer, but I was unable to get many details, since the technical jargon rapidly outstripped the vocabulary of our poor interpreters. I got the basic gist though. After dinner, he presented me and David with copies of his book (and signed them for us), then we went for tea.

In this case, it was more of a tea and a show. There were some great acts (and some that would only make sense to a native speaker) but the 2 that stood out for me was first, a couple of impressionists that did some amazing birdcalls and sound effects (including a train) and second, a demonstration of the famous Sichuan Opera style, where actors change masks so quickly that you can't tell how they are doing it even if you know what to look for and are looking closely. It's really amazing and should be a definite item on any China tour "things to see list".

After this, we went back to the hotel, where our guide Simon had arranged for a very relaxing and professional massage for anyone on the tour who wanted one. Mine including a foot soak in tea of all things, which was surprisingly relaxing. An excellent end to a busy day. Tomorrow, we go to Shanghai.


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