It will be a busy day today with a visit to a Jade Factory, the Summer Palace, a photo stop at the Olympic Stadium site and a drive to the Badaling Section of the Great Wall. Let's hope the jetlag is gone by now!
07Apr – Beijing; Jade Factory; Great Wall; Summer Palace; Olympic Stadium
Another early morning and everyone is full of anticipation about being on the Great Wall. Because it’s Saturday, the traffic is better. Our first stop is the Summer Palace ... and what a treasure!
The Summer Palace is north of the city centre and on our way to the Great Wall. It was an imperial palace built during the Jin Dynasty (1150s). In 1888, the Empress Dowager Cixi “diverted” millions to reconstruct the palace. Built on almost 300 hectares, the centre is an impressive manmade lake. The nicest surprise is the small gazebo housing a group of musicians. Their enchanting melody captivates us all. Around the central area, men practise their calligraphy with calligraphy brushes made out of sponges. They are quite adept at producing intricate characters. All of us feel we could have spent a full day here walking around the lake and finding treasures.
At the Jade Factory, we received help in determining the most valuable jade (jadite). We also watched one carver who was making the traditional multi-layered balls, some with seven independently moving spheres inside one large sphere. The largest (softball size) takes two weeks to complete. Almost all of us purchased something to take home as a memento, others took home more than one item (yes, I’m guilty!).
After a long drive to the Great Wall, we are all giddy with excitement to start climbing the wall. Little did we know that our enthusiastic energy would transform into a slow rhythmic plodding. It is surreal to be on the wall, surrounded by centuries of history. During the Qin (pronounced Chin) Dynasty, the first emperor linked many of the smaller walls to create a 5000 km section of the Great Wall. The modern Great Wall (including the Badaling section which we walked) was built the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). We are so very lucky to have warm weather and no rain for our 90 minutes on the wall. The beginning of the wall is steep with little reprieve.. At each tower, we stop for a break and marvel at the vista. The wall was built to a width of 10 people abreast and where there are steps, they are differing heights to slow down invaders. Slows us down too. As we continue, the wall is steeper and steps become the norm. At the seventh gate there is an engraver who offers us a copper plaque to commemorate our accomplishment (50 yuan or about $8). The view from the last gate (8) is quite spectacular and one cannot help but think about the workers who toiled for decades to build this magnificent wonder. While it took us over an hour to ascend, it took us 30 minutes to descend (quad muscles singing the entire way back!!). Our slight discomfort pales in comparison to what the builders of this wall experienced. Along the way back to Beijing, we are delightfully tired and deep in thought.
Our final stop is a photo opportunity at the Olympic Stadium site. It’s dusk and a perfect time since the stadium and surrounding pedestrian causeway are lit up. Along the walkway, vendors sell kites, wooden toys, and other goodies for the children accompanying their parents. Our final treat is being asked to join a class of young children for their group photo. They are quite animated and remind many of us of our grandchildren at home.
Another 13-hour day and worth every moment!