Monday, November 23, 2009

Journey to Kai – Day 03 (Touring Day II)

By the time I got the previous day’s post written and got the computer pulling the 420+ pictures off the camera it was about 11PM.  I thought for sure that I’d finally get some sleep.

Well, that wasn’t to happen.  I was wide awake at 1AM.  I have China_20091121_0429_Day03 come to the conclusion that I’m not falling victim to jet lag, but to the insane heat of the room.  It is so hot in this room that it sucks all the moisture out of me and my lips are dry and my mouth is like I have been sucking on cotton.

After a similar routine as the previous night were I tossed and turned and Nancy needing to get up around 4AM to eat a snack (Kylee wasn’t going to wait for breakfast), we got up around 7AM China_20091121_0436_Day03 again and I checked the email and facebook accounts.

We made our way down to breakfast around 7:45AM and got the same table as we had the previous morning.  Today there was some different options on the buffet.  I got the omelet again, but there were some steamed buns with pork and steamed yeast rolls available today that I took advantage of.

Once again, I probably drank a good 5-6 glasses of orange juice.

After breakfast, we went back to the room and gathered our bags for the day of touring.  Nancy was China_20091121_0435_Day03 better prepared today in case she ran into a “squatty potty” again.  Apparently, you cannot trust that there will be toilet paper at the restrooms in China.

We made our way down to the lobby and today we were the first to arrive.  Sindy was already there, but no one else was.

It didn’t take long before the other families started to trickle down to the join us.

Today, I took a different approach in my dress.  I put on my long China_20091121_0448_Day03 sleeve thermal top under my short sleeve shirt with my fleece pullover.  Under my jeans I have my long johns.  My goal was to not put on my snowboarding jacket. While warm, it’s a tad too large for me (I picked it up on sale many years ago) and it’s extremely bulky and I hate wearing it with my camera and shoulder bag all wrapped around me.

China_20091121_0453_Day03When the group was all there, we piled onto the bus.

We were told that it was going to take over an hour to get to the Great Wall of China.  This was going to be quite a challenge to endure since the bus seats were so narrow that Nancy and I  were practically sitting on each other’s laps.China_20091121_0457_Day03

About 30 minutes into the drive we found out that the road to the Great Wall was closed due to a bad wreck.  Since we were going to the Jade Factory before the Great Wall anyway, we continued onto that location, then the plan was to go get lunch, then go to the Great Wall.  Originally, we were going to do lunch after the Great Wall.

China_20091121_0460_Day03 The Jade Factory was as we expected.  It was another thinly veiled sales pitch for another government owned and operated industry.  There is a lot of tie ins to the Summer Olympics at these places we have gone to.  At the Jade Factory we were informed that they were the ones that produced the gold, silver and bronze medals awarded at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.

We had no intention of buying any Jade products, but I must say it was impressive walking around there very large and spectacular show room.  The intricate details in the jade sculptures China_20091121_0466_Day03they had on display was amazing.  I really enjoyed walking around looking for jade sculptures to take pictures.  The lighting was once again very challenging (fluorescent shop lighting with halogen spots) so it became an excellent exercise in proper exposure compensation.

In my opinion, one of the most impressive sculptures was of a ship made entirely out of jade that had to be a good 10 feet long and 10 feet tall.  It was so big that I couldn’t find a location to stand to get a decent photo of it without some other showcase item obscuring the shot.

Several of us got tired of walking around the Jade factory rather quickly so we went back to the lobby and talked for a bit.  Then when enough China_20091121_0481_Day03 people had gathered we went back to the bus and waited for the remainder of the group to arrive.

At this point my sciatica was really acting up.  All this hard concrete surfacing with little motion is crippling me.  There were times I wanted to cry, but I needed to not become one of those people who complained too much.  With all the kids with us, that was an all too common occurrence.  I know people in glass houses shouldnot throw stones (or people about to move into glass houses), but I wanted to provide the details of what we experienced. Let’s face it, Jade Factories, silk factories and touring old relics are not the most fascinating uses of time for many kids.  Having been one of those kids in the mid-80’s I know I drove my parents nuts with all the complaining and soon I’ll be one of those parents dragging their kids places and telling them, “You are going to go whether you like it or not” (with our luck it’s going to be in regards to Disney vacations).  But we did have some kids who were amazing balls of energy and were always happy to be everywhere. I was actually wondering if some of them were finely engineered audio-animatronics because no kids can be that friendly and happy all day long.

After this we drove to the location where we were going to have lunch.  The restaurant was on a floor above a tourist shop which was another “factory tour” of how cloisonné products China_20091121_0488_Day03 are made and then a giant store selling the products.

Weren’t there for the tour so we just walked through the store to get to the restaurant.

This restaurant was another “American Chinese” style establishment.  They only gave you one tiny glass of beer, soda, or bottled water and then you had to pay for more.  These glasses were insanely tiny

China_20091121_0502_Day03 The food was ok and once again I mainly filled up on white rice.  One of the people at our table has a shellfish allergy so we felt sorry for her because every restaurant we entered could be one where there wouldn’t be food for her to eat since food from the water is a major part of the Chinese diet.

After lunch we made our way to the Great Wall.  It was rather cool China_20091121_0525_Day03 as you were driving up this mountain road that you started to see the Great Wall come into view.  You were staring at something that can dated back several thousand years.

I was still trying to avoid my snowboarding jacket but I tied it around my waste.  Nancy was dead set on China_20091121_0553_Day03 conquering this wall but I think all of our attitudes changed real quick once we got to the first part of the wall.

This thing was more like the Great Wall of Shame because it quickly put me and many of us in our place.  I am in OK cardiovascular shape but  the fact that many of the steps had a rise to them that went up to my kneeChina_20091121_0557_Day03 it meant that in order to scale this wall, I was having to really lift my legs.  It was like some kind of insane torture you’d find in my gym.  As we were going up, I laughed and told Nancy that I bet our friends James and Diana would find some really torturous training exercises that could revolve around the steps up the Great Wall.

China_20091121_0558_Day03 Nancy had to stop frequently to catch her breath, but she had a highly valid excuse in the fact that she was also bringing Kylee up The Wall with her.  After we had been going for about 15 minutes she had decided that she wasn’t going to make it up the rest of the way with everyone else and she just  wanted to make it to the first landing.  I was there with China_20091121_0567_Day03her the whole way and encouraging her, but at the same time trying to make sure she didn’t push herself too hard.

When we made it to the first landing, it was really aggravating my fear of heights to turn around and look.  The way down was steep and you become quite aware on what you just conquered. 

One of the members of another family took a couple pictures of Nancy and me with the mountains as the backdrop and then Nancy gave me the OK to go on ahead without her.  Another mom was not going forward and was going to stay there and then go down once her China_20091121_0574_Day03husband and daughter came back.  Now mind you this lady’s daughter was about 4 or 5 and she zoomed past us like a mountain lion. It was rather impressive to see because she was too short to climb the stairs like the rest of us  so she used her feet and hands to climb the stairs and her poor dad was having to do his best to keep up with her.  If for any reason other than to China_20091121_0595_Day03make sure she didn’t get underfoot of someone who was trying to come down the Wall.

I picked up the pace a bit because I had figured that we could only go up for an hour before we had to turn around and come back down so we could get to the bus by our designated time of 3:10PM.  We were only given about an 1.5 hours total to scale the Wall.

China_20091121_0597_Day03 It didn’t take long before I met up with others from the group. Many of which were just the husbands who wanted to conquer the Wall just like myself.

It was hard to take pictures because there was snow and ice on the stairs plus the steps were steep and there were so many people going up and down that you became a nuisance if you stopped all the time  to take pictures.  Trust me, there were some people on the stairs doing that and it was making it hard to get anywhere.

When we got to the 45 minute mark we ran into the dad and daughter who were on their way back.  I turned around and used China_20091121_0605_Day03the zoom lens to see that Nancy was still down there talking to his wife.  His daughter was absolutely adorable.  They had made it quite a way further up and  she was still full of energy and was talking without any kind of shortness of breathe (and talking a mile a minute).  Oh, the joys of being in single digits.

When we hit the 1 hour mark  we were at the point where you could buy the “I conquered the Great Wall” shirts.  I didn’t buy one but China_20091121_0622_Day03apparently, if you’ve done this part of the wall, it’s a well known marker to know how far you’ve gotten.

Then the fun part of going down began.  If you thought the burn in your quadriceps was bad on the trip up, the throbbing knees, painful glutes and burning calves got you on the way back down.

To top it off, if you stopped your legs just started shaking.  At least with the ascent you just had to focus on the step in front of you.  On the way down, you not only have to make sure  you don’t trip and thereby tumble a long way down, but you need to control your descent.  Gravity will try to take over and unless you China_20091121_0624_Day03are really agile, I doubt you can fly down those stairs like you do normal stairs.  The steps alternated between really high to really short and that made for some jarring stair work.

Ultimately we made it down and still beat the 3:10PM requested time.  Nancy was waiting for me on the bus.  After seeing how bad the descent was, I was sure she would be cussing me out for leaving her there to do that without me (she was with other people  and not alone), but she said it was no where near as hard as going up.

China_20091121_0631_Day03Apparently,on the way up, she had to raise her knees so high, they were bumping into your pregnant belly.

Once everyone was on the bus, we were going to head back.  There was supposed to be a Tea Ceremony portion of this tour where they introduced us to different Chinese Teas and show us how to properly serve and drink tea, but we really lost time due to traffic and the closed highway.

Many of us were exhausted and you could see the kids were really China_20091121_0634_Day03losing their energy.  The bus was much more quiet compared to the frenetic energy amongst all the children in the morning.  Many of the kids of like age groups have really bonded and grouped together to help each other survive these boring trips that adults seem to like to take.

There was a portion of our trip back that required us to go down a dirt road because the main road was closed because it was all torn up for repaving.  That was fun because not only was it bumpy, but the driver still was as aggressive as he was on pavement.

Speaking of aggressive, driving in China is a blood sport.  I swear NASCAR needs to come to China and recruit drivers.  These people maneuver vehicles in manners I’ve only seen on a racetrack.  It’s amazing we haven’t seen more accidents than we have and there is no right of way for pedestrians.  You just hear the driver lay on their horn and hope they people get out of the way.

Games of chicken are common where cars will be on the wrong side of the road for stretches of time because they want to zoom past people that were getting in their way.  I think they just view the road as a way to get them where they want to go and there are no laws governing how they use it.

I swear our driver would’ve popped the car onto two wheels just to maneuver around an obstacle.

Also, pedestrians don’t have the right of way, so you need to be aware of your surroundings or get run over.  Plus, bicycles occupy just as much of the road as cars and are just as aggressive with their space as the

At one point our bus driver had to pull over because his horn stopped working. This appeared to not be the first time he’s had this problem because he opens up the glove box and pulls out some fuses and fixes the problem quick.

China_20091121_0643_Day03 I think many of us thought we were going straight to dinner because we were told that today was going to be an early day.  This was due to the fact that we had to get up early the next day to fly to Zhengzhou.  Well, apparently, the HuTong Tour was still on.  By the time we got there, it was dark and it was cold.

We rode rickshaws to get around.  At this point, I was checking out.  It was too dark for me to get any decent pictures and I really China_20091121_0647_Day03 didn’t care about this stuff.  The HuTong area of Beijing was the oldest and original part of Beijing.  So there was a lot of history to be seen.  But, I really just wanted to get back to the room.

I think the HuTong tour would’ve been much better in the daytime.  I can tell you one thing, you don’t need a motor to see aggressive driving.  The rickshaw drivers were just as crazy with navigating their human powered vehicles as the drivers of motored vehicles are.  They’d cut each other off and even take on cars.

China_20091121_0657_Day03 As part of the tour we got to see a HuTong home that was actually occupied by someone who helped house athletes for the Summer Games.  Then we were shown how you could tell a lot about the family who lived in a home based on how their doorway was constructed and what embellishments in contained.  These details didn’t tell you anything about who currently lived there, but it did about the original owners many eons ago.

After that, we were shown the waterfront which house 96 bars China_20091121_0663_Day03 which they were very proud of.  I’d have to say that if it was so cold that the river had ice in it, that you could pop off some really good pictures here with a tripod setup.

After this, we got back on the rickshaws and finished the tour.  This was the first part of the tour where it was customary to tip.  We made sure to do so since the rickshaw drivers worked hard to move us around.

We had to walk aways in regular pedestrian traffic (and dodge cars) to get back to our bus who was going to take us to dinner.  About half the group had decided they didn’t want to partake of the group dinner this evening so they were hailed taxis and Sindy told the drivers where to take them (it’s helpful if you have your address written in Chinese or a person fluent in Mandarin tell them).

China_20091121_0693_Day03 We didn’t have to drive far to get to the dinner location.  I swore we could’ve walked but considering how our legs felt, I don’t think that would’ve been a good idea.

The dinner location was definitely local.  There wasn’t a single tourist looking person in the place (if you didn’t count us).

Nancy had been mentioning earlier in the day that she wanted some noodles and that’s exactly what we got tonight

But first, she had to conquer the “squatty potty” again.  She apparently had to go to the bathroom halfway to the HuTong tour China_20091121_0674_Day03 from the Great Wall and had been holding it for hours.  She said at this point she had to go so badly she would’ve squatted in a back alley and relieved herself so the fear or the nasty “squatters” wasn’t as intimidating when you have to go that bad.

Dinner was fabulous and it wasn’t as crowded this time with fewer families involved.

We had some great conversation and that was just as important as the quality of the food.  There as a lot of talk about what to expect going forward.

After dinner we piled back on the bus and details were given about what to do tomorrow.  The hotel will be collecting our checked bags  for us and a representative from CCAI will be taking them to the airport for us.  Apparently, on domestic China travel there is 20KG limit per person for checked luggage.  That roughly equates to 44lbs each.  It doesn’t matter how many China_20091121_0681_Day03bags you check just that they all must add to 20kg.  Also, Sindy was going to collect all our passports so that she could get us all checked in at the same time.

We all made our way up to the our rooms and went our separate  ways.  Nancy quickly jumped in the shower while I went back downstairs.

I wanted to use my nicer camera and see if I could get a better shot of the elaborate entrance to the hotel.  While I was down there, I decided to wander over to the Raffles Hotel next door to see what I could get of their modest Christmas display.  As I made my way back into my hotel, I tried to China_20091121_0696_Day03take some pictures of the lobby since I wasn’t having to compete with daylight outside which often makes shots more challenging.

I made it back up to the room just as Nancy was finishing her shower.  She packed the bags up that were going to be checked because she had a plan on how she wanted it done.  Also, we were told you cannot bring any liquids on the plane so all the liquids will have to be checked.

China_20091121_0709_Day03When we checked in coming over the one bag we checked (which actually had another bag inside) was 50lbs.  But when we split the contents among the two bags, the smaller bag inside turned out to be 10kg and the other exactly 20kg.  So it must mean that the bigger Samsonite bag (which is fairly empty at this time) was a pretty heavy bag.

Well, Nancy tried to stay away by reading her Dan Brown book but didn’t succeed so she went to bed as I wrote this post.

We’ll be getting up at 6AM so here’s hoping we sleep better tonight.

Until tomorrow

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