(scroll to the bottom for photos!)
We are back in Shanghai, and the trip to Beijing was AMAZING. We packed so much into the day and a half – essentially we took a 3 day tour in that period of time…
Tuesday, lots and lots of sunshine, and a slight hint of a breeze:
Leave for airport around 6am, land in Beijing around 11am.
Approximately noon: Head to lunch, then to the Great Wall of China at Mutianyu! This was probably my favorite part of the trip… it was about 40*C (or 104*F) and sunny, so we were extremely hot, but the view was amazing! It was incredible to see how steep the mountains were that the wall traversed, and the watch towers were pretty cool too. To get up to the wall, we had to take a ski lift up the mountain, and to get down there were alpine slides! So it was a pretty exciting and adventurous trip!
After that, we were off to a cloisonne factory. We had no idea what to expect until we actually got there and heard how cloisonne was made. First, you’ve got copper pots, each made out of as much as 5 parts or more. Then, iron shavings are taken and attached to the pots to create a design. After that, these designs are filled in with paint, then everything is buffered down smooth and glazed in a kiln, of sorts. Lastly, all the copper, including the thin tiny lines made by the copper shavings, is plated with gold. And every single step in the process is done by hand. The final product is beautiful, and we never would have known and appreciated how much effort had gone into these bowls, vases, plates, figurines, jewelry, globes, etc., had we not stopped at the factory.
Next stop: the water cube and the bird’s nest! It was amazing to see these famous Olympic structures, though sadly we only got out of the car and walked along beside them. The stop only took 15 minutes, and we saw the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube from the outside and heard a bit about them. I would have loved to spend more time here, but I guess according to our tour guide it wasn’t really worth paying to go in because on the inside they all just looked like empty stadiums. I couldn’t believe that these structures were used for nothing but touring! No teams practice there, no events are held in them – nothing. It was a little surprising and disappointing, because the buildings looked awesome and they seem to be going to waste. Even with what our guide told us though, I think I would like to see the inside eventually in my life if I ever return to China… the admission fee was only about $7, so why not, right?
Last stop for the day before dinner and the hotel: the Red Theater to see “The Legend of Kung Fu”. It was a pretty cool cultural stop – to me, it seemed a hybrid display of kung fu and a ballet musical, which worked a lot better than it sounds like it would. I had a hard time following the story, but the kung fu was pretty cool.
Wednesday, which was sadly cloudy, but a much more comfortable temperature than the previous day:
First stop: The Temple of Heaven! This was definitely an interesting stop – if not for the temple itself, then for the people-watching! In the park in front of the temple, hundreds of locals were spending their morning in various activities: Chinese hackeysack, tai chi, dancing, card games, knitting, playing instruments, or simply just sitting and enjoying the sites around them. It was pretty cool to see all the different games and customs as we walked through the park to the temple itself, which was built for the emperor to annually honor the god of the heavens, and in this way ensuring a good year for his empire. It was pretty cool – the colors and detail in the designs on all the architecture we saw that day was amazing, to say the least.
After the temple of heaven, we headed to Tiananmen Square. The square was HUGE, and was packed full of tourists and school or camp groups visiting for the day. We walked from one side to the other, ending at the Tiananmen (“the Heavenly Gate of Peace) itself, which marked the entrance to the Forbidden City, our next stop. The Forbidden City was where the emperor, his wife, and his 3,000+ concubines lived, and no one outside of the royal family and the next most important officials were allowed in for any purpose. This place was enormous as well – there were 3 gates and squares to get through before you even got into the city (at one point, there were 9 according to our guide, Lucy), and then the city seemed to sprawl for forever! It took about 2 hours to get through, and after that we headed to lunch for a pause in our day.
After lunch, we got back in the van to make our way to our last stop, the Summer Palace which had belonged to Empress Dowager Cixi, aka “the Dragon Lady”, in the early 1900’s. Another sprawling city-type-home, the palace sat on a lake and boasted the longest corridor in the world. Pretty neat. We got to take a traditional dragon boat back to the other side of the lake to our van, so that was enjoyable and relaxing. And when that was all said and done, we got back on the van, headed to the airport, and made our way back to Shanghai. Now, it’s Thursday night and we just returned from another busy day out in Shanghai. We spent the morning as a group in the markets, then the boys and girls split up after lunch: girls headed to a two hour massage, and the boys headed to some go-karts! After: dinner at a fantastic restaurant in the French concession, and then drinks at the Jin Mao building overlooking the river, Pearl Tower, and the World Financial Building. Now, we’re back in the apartment, ready to relax and watch some family guy.
Only one more full day in China, then our plane takes off Saturday afternoon for home. Can’t believe this six week trip is actually coming to an end! Insane… last thing on our list to do: the World Expo tomorrow night. And then – it’s done!