Friday, November 22, 2013

Back to Beijing - Part II

Continued from Back to Beijing - Part I!

The main attraction of Beijing awaited us the next day - the Great Wall! We hadn't made any reservations for a taxi to go to Mutianyu, but once again, we lucked out! Couple of nights ago, as we were finishing dinner at the Chinese restaurant, we met a travel agent who had a van and a guide available for us at a very decent price - a much better deal than what I had got last time! We were to have the van for the whole day, and the guide would take us to the Summer Palace after we were done with the Great Wall!

After a couple of really smoggy days, I was worried that we might not get a good view of the Wall - but surprisingly, we woke up to bright sunshine and blue skies. Not that I was complaining, but where exactly did all those heavy pollutants go - or did we breathe all that junk in, clearing the air??!!! Anyway, it was a perfect day to visit the Great Wall. At Mutianyu, we took the cable car up - don't want a repeat of last time! And what a glorious time we had - we walked and walked, even braving a steep upward flight of over 400 steps! Couldn't believe how great Manasi did - she matched Ajey step for step, both of them leaving me far behind! I did make it all the way up - just took my own time getting there!  And it is not just a walk - every step on the Great Wall resonates with history and a sense of grandeur! A true 'Wonder of the World'!!

Ajey hit a new high with the camera here - these pictures are probably the funnest pictures we have ever taken!

On the way down, another part of the vacation - shopping for souvenirs! Here, we were reminded again why we don't usually hire guides. So far, on the trip, the guide was no value added - and now, he didn't want us to buy anything in the little souvenir stalls, because no doubt, he intended to take us to some fancy place, where we would pay exorbitant prices for almost the same things! He even had a place picked out for us to eat 'Peking Duck' and was visibly disappointed on learning that we were vegetarians, and would prefer a Subway sandwich! He then mentioned that he wanted to show us a couple of places before we headed back to Beijing - red flags going up everywhere!

The first place he took us to was a cloisonne workshop and showroom. Cloisonne is the technique of decoration metal objects - usually copper - with enamel. The design is laid out onto the object with very thin wire, and then the 'compartments' are painstakingly filled in with different colors, and then fired in a kiln. A very labor intensive process to produce vibrantly beautiful pieces! I enjoyed seeing the workers in their shops, and all the different stages of the production - but the showroom left me cold. So obviously overpriced, so much of a tourist trap - luckily Ajey and I are now seasoned enough to walk out of such places without feeling obligated to buy something!! I'll admit that the next place he suggested was something I was looking forward to - a silk factory! This, too, was a letdown however. I don't claim to be an expert on silk, but I do have a general idea on how much a silk tie should cost - and when that is off by a large factor, there is no reason to trust the prices of bigger items like the quilts and bedspreads! The worst part is, the guide refused to leave until long after we were done - I'm guessing that he got his commission only if his clients spent x minutes in the store. Now I'm not against someone making some extra money, I only wish he had been upfront about it!

Finally, we were off to the Summer Palace - this again is a large campus filled with gardens and lakes. The largest lake, Kunming lake, is artificial, and the excavated soil was used to create the Longevity Hill, on which the actual Palace and other buildings are located. The whole structure was meant as a 60th birthday gift for the mother of Emperor Qianlong, who also last renovated the Temple of Heaven. More Chinese symbolism - the lake is shaped like a giant bat, and the hill like a peach (wait, do I have it backwards - can't remember!) - peach for long life, and bat for happiness! By the way, when I say 'bat', I mean the nocturnal animal - not a cricket or baseball bat! As we walked onto the Summer Palace grounds, front and centre, tethered to one side of the lake, was a huge rubber duck. Totally confounded me - wikipedia to the rescue - this giant rubber duck was created by sculptor Florentijn Hofman, and was part of a world tour called 'Spreading happiness around the world'. Supposed to invoke happy childhood memories! I'm not really sure what I thought of this - didn't invoke any memories for me, and it looked a little, well, out of place. I don't really get modern art!

Just like at the Forbidden City, a one-way walking path had been created to get to Longevity Hill. Normally, I would have welcomed the chance to walk around the lake through the beautiful gardens - but the thought of pushing through the jostling crowd was not very appealing, so we decided to take the dragon boat. Besides, how pretty were these boats! It had been a long day, so after admiring the 'Marble Boat' - no, it doesn't float, just a pleasure pavilion in the shape of a boat - and walking through the endless, aptly named 'Long Corridor', we were done! Although a pleasure palace, the Summer Palace has a place in history as the last residence of  the 'Dragon Lady', Empress Cixi - the last empress of China! Lots of stories in these whispering woods!

View of the Summer Palace from the lake

Dragon boat to cross the lake

Marble boat

'Long' corridor

The sun was setting right as were leaving, and the sunset was absolutely gorgeous! The outline of a pagoda against the sky, the waters of the lake turning a molten gold - there was no walking away! Also got our last crazy capture - I better watch out - I'm getting hooked too!!

Next morning, before check out, we ventured out for one last time onto Wangfujing Avenue - and found a delightful market just minutes away from our hotel. More souvenirs, yay!! Just a few steps away, the food vendors were setting up for breakfast and lunch. No stinky tofu this early in the morning, but such an assortment of odd creatures waiting to be eaten - what could be more outrageous than entire crabs, you say? How about starfish and scorpions with a side of sea horses??!! I don't really get it - how much meat can there be on that tiny, bony sea horse? Besides, aren't they endangered or something?? Oh well, you can never say 'Now I've seen it all' in China - the next surprise is just around the corner!

And so it was back to Suzhou! Another memorable vacation done! On a personal note, I did get all the posts done - and although I enjoy reliving all the fun stuff as I write, it is a relief to put Golden Week behind me! Signing off now!!


  1. Did you see the Great Wall at night? I've seen photos, and it looks gorgeous!

    And you're right, the rubber duck looks so out of place.

    1. Never seen the Great Wall at night - but will definitely add that to my bucket list! :-) Thanks for reading!