Cruise Report # Sixteen – Day 22 – Saturday, October 13, 2007

In Port – Beijing, PRC

Special Report – Summer Palace – The Great Wall – Jade Factory

The new Otani Hotel

Our hotel for the evening is one of a Japanese chain of five star hotels operating in Pacific Rim countries, and is indeed world class. More than one would expect in an American hotel. After our speedy check-in, we were directed to one of four restaurants on the hotel property; The Orchid Terrace Café. This was their all-u-can-eat buffet, and was what we have come to expect in eateries, fabulous. Steak, and lobster were the top items, Mongolian Grill was also a favorite, however we were in such a hurry to get something in our stomachs, we did not find about them until after we had eaten. After dinner, Barbara and I just went out for a walk. We were told that there was very little crime in the city and the streets were safe for an after dark stroll. Never did we feel threatened, and were able to enjoy a slice of Beijing night life. Returning to the hotel, we were treated to a mini-concert in the lobby by a four piece Chinese/Japanese (?) string band. A very interesting characteristic of the musicians were the way two of the beautiful young women carried on a conversation while playing, and never missing a note. When they played “Rhythm of the Falling Rain”, made popular by “The Cascades” in 1962, I was just blown away. Before retiring, Barbara finally had a chance to enjoy using the bathtub (we have a shower in our stateroom). The next morning we had an excellent breakfast in The Orchid Terrace Café before joining our group for our next stop on our tour – The Summer Palace.

The Summer Palace

Located in the northwestern part of Beijing, it was built in 1750 and was endorsed by the UNESCO in 1998 as a world cultural heritage site. As a paragon of Chinese gardens, this huge garden includes Longevity Hill, whose beauty is set off by a multitude of halls, kiosks and trees, and Kumming Lake, a huge body of liquid silver. As before when arriving at an attraction, the street hawkers were out in full force with the 2008 Olympics ball caps. Several in our group succumbed to the good prices – after bargaining furiously – and we proceeded to the entrance to one of the many gates to the Palace. Having been spoiled by the great weather of the previous day, some were not prepared for the cooler temperatures and the cool breeze. The grounds seem to go on forever and the crowds more intense. Then we arrive at this beautiful lake. Even in the overcast of the morning it was a grand sight. We were told that the young Emperor’s mother, who was the real power behind the throne, was given a large sum of money by foreign governments, to rebuild the Chinese Navy. She spent it all on the summer palace and grounds, with the excuse that the Chinese Navy could practice their training exercises on Lake Kumming. Its size is impressive and was completely man made. As we strolled along the shore and investigated the numerous buildings, a gentle rain started to fall. Some retreated to a covered pavilion that followed the shore line and extended for close to one half mile. It was built for the Emperor’s mother so she had a place to stroll and enjoy the views of the lake. Apparently anything this powerful woman desired, she purchased without regard to the cost to her country. At the end of the pavilion we boarded a fancy covered boat and were ferried across the lake and the end of our tour. Re-boarding our bus, we continued our journey to “The Great Wall”. Since the main venues of the 2008 Olympic Games were on our way out of the city, Dennis had our driver take a short detour so that we would travel on the expressway that would service the games. The central stadium takes the form of a gigantic bird’s nest – quite impressive, equally impressive is the building where popular water sports will take place, called The Cube. It is obvious that the Chinese Olympic Committee has their work cut out for them to be ready by next August, but from what we have seen of their abilities, they will make it.

The Great Wall

There was a concern amongst everyone as to what we would be able to see when we reached our next destination. The sky was still overcast and a light rain continued to fall, as time went by and we got closer, the skies cleared, the haze diminished leaving only an occasional white fluffy cloud to enhance what we were about to see. When we reached the entrance to the parking lot “zoo” our drivers skills would be tested to a degree that was nothing short of amazing. The “bus ballet” that took place was an experience in itself, but as promised, we would end up having to walk only a short 30 meters to the wall itself.

This section of the wall is the easiest to get to from Beijing, hence the most crowded. By now we had grown accustomed to crowds and because everyone was polite and non-threatening, the mass of humanity going in all directions only seemed to add to the festive atmosphere of our adventure. The Great Wall was more than we had expected it to be, as in every direction there was evidence of the enormity of this part of the wall, and then to realize that this is only a small part of the overall project was overwhelming. As we started our ascent, it became apparent that this was not going to be an easy task. The steps were not equal in height and you were constantly having to change direction to “swim” by the other tourists. We only went far enough to say “We Climbed The Great Wall” and take a few pictures, but that was enough, just standing there was exhilarating. As we started down, we wondered how that this many people could be doing this and were not taking tumbles – we saw no accidents. Coming down, the only thing I had on my mind was not slipping or stumbling and not the wonders around me. Truly a day to remember, but I could not help but wonder at the suffering and loss of life and family that took place to build what would eventually become folly. Barbara did manage to find a few bargains, as usual. Everyone on our bus was in a lively mood, but also tired, as they shared stories of their bargaining accomplishments.

The Jade Factory and Lunch

By the time we got on the road, everyone was hungry, and eager for what was waiting at our next stop; a government operated Jade Factory, and lunch. The restaurant was located at the rear of the building, so the shoppers were drooling over more than just lunch, as our guide trooped us through seemingly endless rooms filled with display cases of Jade, on the way to eat. “No stopping, everyone keep moving” were his orders, “there will be time to shop after lunch”. We were like a bunch of children being led through a candy store, it was so funny. Our Chinese “lunch” turned into a “mega-feast” as we waded through another round of endless plates and bowls of food. The guilt of not being able to consume all we were served was starting to kick in, “Think of all those starving children” was starting to fill our mind, until we thought “wait a minute – where are those mythical children now that we really need them and we are in China?” Dennis shared with us on the way back to the ship, that it was good manners NOT to leave a clean plate! It is a signal to your host that you are full and you enjoyed the meal.

The big surprise came after lunch when we had time to check the prices of the Jade that was so tastefully displayed – talk about sticker shock – no bargains, nor bargaining here. Hardly any of it was affordable, unless you were Bill Gates! It was such a let down, I am sure there were shoppers (ladies) going through withdrawal on our three hour drive back to the ship. There must be tons of Jade there, huge carved pieces everywhere, almost as impressive as the prices. The only bargains came as we were leaving and there was a little store just inside the entrance that carried merchandise other than Jade. I’m sure this eased the shopper’s disappointments somewhat.

Our three hour ride back to the ship was fairly uneventful, until we reached the back streets of the port. We were back to traffic where the only rule that seems to apply is – there are no rules! As long as you don’t make eye contact with other drivers or pedestrians, you have the right of way, and as long as our driver kept moving – he had the right of way, even through RED lights!

It was great to finally get back to a place where order and sanity prevailed.

We have been so busy since returning, it has taken me five days to write this report. Since I started we have had two fantastic days in Shanghai. Now if I can find the time to write about it before our two days in Hong Kong – tomorrow!!

One closing note; this morning we all have to have our body temperature taken – a requirement by Hong Kong immigration, due to the problems with SAR the past few years.

Till time allows, we send our regards.

Jack and Barbara

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