In China: Post 8

------------Monday, May 29, 2006---------------

Yesterday was a laid back Sunday. I wrote, everyone else played cards. We ate dinner. That was really about it.

Today was basically the same, except around three o clock we all went out for a walk through the People’s Sqaure and down Nanjing Road. We went to the bund too but the air wasn’t clear at all. You could hardly see across the river. Afterwards we went out for hot pot again. This one was a sort of backwards though. Instead of boiling food in spicy and then dipping it into flavor, we boiled it in flavor and then dipped it in spicy. It was good.

That’s really all I have to say about the last two days.

----------Wednesday June 1, 2006---------------

Yesterday was another day just spent hanging around the apartment. Around noon Gugu and Gufu took Sally’s parents to the train station and me and Sally watched movies. Ping Ping has a small collection of bootleg movies. This isn’t surprising. Bootlegging is pretty big business here. There are people on a lot of the bigger street corners with boxes set out full of DVDs and VCDs all for about 8 kaui. I haven’t bought any and I don’t plan too. You can get legal movies for only three times that which is still much cheaper than in the USA and sits a lot easier on my conscience. I’ll admit it’s tempting sometimes. The illegal ones are very new movies. I’ve seen Mission Impossible III, the 911 movie and even X-men III (the real temptation) available for purchase. The quality isn’t very good though. The ones we all watched were copies of preview versions and would go black and white from time to time while a warning against piracy would scroll across the screen. The Chinese subtitles were so bad, Sally didn’t even use them much. It seemed like it was done by someone without spending too much time on the project or having a great sense of the English language,

Today was our last day in Shanghai. It followed the pattern of the last few days with us not being too busy. We packed up out things and bummed around I watched Germany play Japan in a pre-World Cup friendly. Another one of Sally’s college roommates came to visit. She’s living in Shanghai but was too busy studying for the GMAT to come and see Sally until now. The two of them caught up until it was time for dinner.

Everything that we have eaten in Shanghai, that wasn’t from a restaurant, was made by Gufu and Gugu. They have taken over cooking responsibilities for Ping Ping and Jeff since they moved in a few months ago. From what I’ve seen and gathered, this is a fairly common arrangement in China. The food was all good, some of it (Gufu’s lamb) was super good, but it was all about the same everyday. Jeff said that he never tells Gugu and Gufu if something is good because they’d make it everyday and never says if something is bad because it would hurt their feelings. Sounds like good advice to me. One of the most frustrating things here is actually meals. Chinese have such a different way of eating; it’s really hard for me. There are no levels of preference towards food. You love it and want to eat it constantly, or you hate it and anyone who even thought of feeding it to you. I can’t say that “I don’t love seafood,” because if I did, they’d never give me any, but when I say “I love seafood,” I have to eat it all. As awesome as the food was I’ll be glad for something else. This is actually the way I’m starting to feel about Chinese food in general. I love it, but American life has spoiled me, I’m used to too much variety. Of course I’m still going to eat as much Chinese food as I can while I’m here because I may not come back for a few years and I want to enjoy what I can while I can.

Once Jeff got home we loaded up into the car to go. It was sad to say goodbye to our family in Shanghai, they’d been so good to us. We hope they can come to the US soon so we can repay the kindness (hopefully they don’t come before we have money though, or else they’re really going to be disappointed). It was also sad to say goodbye to Shanghai, a city that I still don’t really think I understand. It’s so big and growing so fast, I want to come back some day and try and figure out more about it. But not permanently, I get a real “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here” vibe from the city.

Jeff drove us through the busy Shanghai streets to the airport. Traffic was pretty bad. It may have been the worst I’ve seen in China but I think that I think that just because you pay more attention when you’re in a car than you do when you’re in a bus. China has started having more and more cars on the road recently. Because gas is such a concern (although it’s priced similarly to how it was back home when we left) most of the cars are either really new models with good mileage or have a manual transmission. Most of the cars are from Japan or Korea but American cars are starting to become more common. Jeff drove a Ford and I’ve seen a few Chevys too. According to Jeff Dodge is known for their bigger vehicles rather than cars.

We finally got to the airport and made our way to our terminal. In the parking lot we past a small crowd of people gathered around a disturbance of some kind. Like I’ve mentioned before, Chinese people love a free show off any kind and are ashamed to stand around it. If you see a group of people flocking together, you can bet there’s something to see. Of course, there’s rarely much indication as to what the commotion is about. What they consider a good show is could be anything from a grisly murder to a big fat white baby and the only way to know is to push your way to the front to get a look for yourself.

Finding our flight was not the easiest thing we’ve ever done. We waited for a while at one gate and were then sent to another. We were all gathered in this second gate, and rumors started floating through the masses that we had moved again. By now it was about an hour after we were supposed to board so people were pretty frustrated. Me and Sally stayed cool though and when it turned out we were at the right gate we were able to ride the flow of humanity right into our plane.

The flight from Shanghai to Beijing was about 2 hours long. Even though it was really short it had a lot of turbulence. Still it was pretty nice, we had headphones and they were showing highlights of the World Cup qualifiers so I was pretty entertained for the duration of the flight. We landed and had to find our tour group. In Shanghai the guy from the tour agency who was supposed to make sure everyone knew where to go put Sally in charge of an old couple who looked like they would probably get lost if left to their own devices however when we got off the plane we weren’t at a gate, we had to climb down the stairs-truck (which I’ve always wanted to do, just like all the spies and celebrities do in the movies) and take a bus to the terminal. Some how in the process we lost the old people. Our tour guide, Yang Dao, was waiting for us and eventually was able to round us all up. We went to another gate to wait for another group who were taking a different plane. While we were waiting Sally went to use the restroom. She was in there for a bit and the other group came so Yang Dao herded everyone to the bus. I didn’t say anything because Sally had been gone so long I figured she was right about to come out and we could run and catch up. I kept moving further from the restrooms to keep the group in sight and finally decided that this plan wasn’t going to work. I chased after Yang Dao and told him we still had someone in the restroom. In the meantime Sally came out and thought I had left her. Fortunately we met up and were able to meet up and get on the bus. By now it was well after midnight. As our bus went to our hotel, Yang Dao talked a bit about our tour and what we would do. I didn’t catch much up with it. It was all that I could do to stay awake. I did catch when we had to wake up, 5:45 a.m. By the time we got checked in and everything, it was 1:30 a.m. Not a good way to start a three-day tour, but when you consider what can happen on a three-hour tour, you take what you can get.

-------------------Thursday, June 01, 2006--------------

We woke up early, as requested, and had breakfast with the rest of our group. Breakfast was pretty much the same each day. We had eggs (hard boiled or course, always hard boiled), coconut cake, mantou (steamed biscuits) and some small salad type dishes. This early in the morning though, you don’t care what you eat, you just want to eat, so I did. Afterwards we all piled onto the bus and made our way toward the first stop in our tour.

Every other city I’ve been too, I’ve tried to take note of my first impressions as we drove through the city. This time however, I don’t have any though, I was unconscious the whole time. What I can say is that it’s hot. Shanghai was hot and humid but you would get a breezy coming off the water. No such luck in land-locked Beijing. It’s really hot and really stuffy. Today the temperature was up to 40 degrees Celsius, which is really hot. Stupid heat.

I woke up when we got to Gong Wang Fu, which is a palace that has been turned into a tourist stop. In China, the past is big business. People want to learn about their past. Unlike in America, where only some people choose to skip the amusement park to visit the historical site, here the important places in history are the big draw. I love history so that’s fine with me. It is a little different for me here though where I’m not very familiar with the events that made the spot worth noting, but it’s still interesting. I’m going to have to do some research when I get some to fill in a few of the gaps. Most of the places were still really beautiful without too much of an understanding so I was able to appreciate them on several levels. And I have plenty of photos to go with it.

Gong Wang Fu was a really neat place. It was a lot like Fuzi Miao in Nanjing but it was different style of architecture. Also Fuzi Miao dealt a lot with the old character for tiger and Gong Wang Fu was all about the character Fu, which means blessings or happiness. The character was all over the place as were carvings of bat. In Chinese, there are a lot of words that are pronounced the same and are only differentiated by context. This has led to many puns over China’s long history, and contributes heavily to their symbology. The character for bat is also pronounced fu and so bats are considered a sign of good fortune. There are a lot of other examples in Chinese but this is the one most applicable to our trip to Beijing.

One of the biggest attractions at Gong Wang Fu was a fu character carved by Cangxi (the emperor from the Qing Dynasty who lived the longest and was one of the residents of Gong Wang Fu) into a rock in a cave at the base of a small hill on the palace grounds. The character has become sort of a Chinese Blarney Stone. However, rather than traveling from around the world to kiss a rock to give themselves good luck, at Gong Wang Fu, people travel from around the country to rub the glass in front of a word carved into stone in order to ensure good luck and health for their family. This strikes me as a lot less selfish, not to mention infinitely more sanitary. Sally and I rubbed the face of the stone, so if anybody won the lottery or anything like that recently, now you know why and we want our cut. Supposedly, the character was blessed years ago by a Buddhist monk, making the character impossible to take a picture of. To me it sounds like a legend made up to explain why the flash bouncing off the glass ruined everyone’s photo, but I may just be too skeptical.

As part of our tour in the palace, we were taken into a pavilion for tea, snacks and a performance like the emperor would have watched. The snacks were good but the tea had tea leaf in it so we didn’t partake. The show considered of some dancers, a young boy who balanced a big heavy looking pot on his head and did tricks and a singer. It was interesting but I’m glad it was short. If I had remained sitting down in a darkened room for too long, I would have fallen asleep. After the show we finished our tour of the palace and took as many pictures as I could. I was concerned about our batteries for the rest of the day so I didn’t use the view finder or the zoom for most of the pictures, opting instead to just crop and edit when I get back to America, the home to my computer with Photoshop and a mouse. Still, a lot of them look all right as is. All this places are so packed with tourists that it’s impossible to get a lot of the shots I would have liked without a hundred people in them. Our tour concluded – as they most do, regardless of country – in a gift shop. The special item at this stop were hangable paintings of the character fu, supposedly all made from a rubbing of the original character under the hill. Chinese leaders are often known for their penmanship and their writing can be worth a lot of money. Cangxi’s characters are especially valuable because apparently he didn’t write very much. Based on the amount they seemed to sell each day, Sally says she doubts they’re real. I guess she’s a bit of a skeptic too. About half of our group wasn’t as untrusting. About half of the 30 people in our group bought one. We figured we were the poorest of our tour, everyone else seemed to be snagging up the pricey stuff while Sally haggled for a couple kuai off a T-shirt.

After Gong Wang Fu, we got back in the bus and headed to Tiananmen Square. The first thing we did once we got there was pile our bags at Yang Dao’s feet because we were going to Mao Zedong’s tomb and you can’t take anything in with you. There’s a granite building in the square that houses Mao’s body. When we went there was quite a line of people waiting in the hot sun to get in that wrapped a good way around the building. There were guards the whole way making sure no one had bags, cameras or bottles. I guess they’ve had some problems in the past and didn’t want any repeats. It was kinda strange to see armed security when you don’t even see cops with guns very often. Right before the door was a small stand selling flowers, an ironic bit of capitalism at the resting place of the father of Chinese communism. We filed in and around a statue of Mao sitting in a chair that some people would walk up to and bow down in a form of worship called baibai (Sally says many old people still revere him as a god). Behind the statue was a huge pile of flowers laid by that day’s visitors. After that we went into the room where Mao’s preserved body is kept in a glass coffin. It was dead silent in there, very different from Sun Zhongshan’s tomb which echoed with the sound of tour guides and tourists Of course, Mao was actually part of many people’s lives, while Sun is probably too far removed to be real.

It’s strange to see everyone paying such respect to Chairman Mao. Even though I’m trying to gather enough information about the man to have a real opinion of my own, I still have the inborn reaction that Mao was a monster from what they teach us in America. I’ve heard the whole gamut of opinions about the man. I’ve talked to those who see him as a deity and to some who think he was worse than Satan. Both sides spout off reasons, all of which sound more like repeated propaganda than facts. I’m fully aware that the Chinese government hasn’t always told the truth, but I’m not stupid enough to completely trust the American or especially the Taiwanese on a topic this sensitive. History is always tricky though. They say that history is written by the winners but really everyone, win lose or draw, all have their own version of past. Everyone is convinced their version is right too. It’s tough nut to crack but I’ve got a long time to go in front of me to figure out if he was a great man with some horrible ideas or a horrible man with some great ideas or somewhere in between.

After we went through the tomb, we picked up our stuff and looked around the rest of Tiananmen Square. Unlike every other square that I’ve been to in China, Tiananmen is all concrete with no grass, flowers or trees. There’s a big monolith dedicated to the heroes of the revolution and a few street lamps but that’s about it. It’s a pretty big square too. There were a lot of people there, many of them obviously tourists. There were of course lots of people selling Mao watches, book about him and Beijing Olympics memorabilia. Naturally they all came up to me but, with the exception of a hat for a few kuai, we held strong. We should have been stronger; it was a pretty crappy hat. We took some photos and bought some ice water. That’s how you can tell your in a Chinese tourist destination, they have ice water.

Tiananmen Square wasn’t what I expected. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t like it at all. I think we have such a powerful image in our collective mind when we hear the name Tiananmen Square that it’s hard to think of it as an actually place where people go everyday, not just an event in history. In truth, a lot more than that one infamous event happened there. A lot of it good a lot of it bad. Still, when you go there now, if you don’t know you’re history, you wouldn’t think anything had happened at all. There’s no plaque, no monument, no apology to the world. Nothing. Like I said, I don’t know what I was expecting. I’m sure if you go to Kent State back home, you won’t see too much of anything. Sometimes it’s best just to move on and leave history in books so that the rest of the world can get on with their lives.

Our last official stop of the day was Gu Gong, or as it’s most commonly known, the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was the center of the Chinese government through most of the last two Dynasties (Ming and Qing). When the emperor moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing in order to be closer to the troubled northern border with the Mongolians, they built the Forbidden City for royal family at court. It’s by far the biggest palace that I’ve been to. Much much bigger than any of the other’s we’ve visited. It had several large buildings and many small ones, all surrounded by a thick, high wall and moat. In the middle was a large, open, stone courtyard that echoed as you walked through it. You could close you eyes and imagine thousands of imperial guards standing watch over the home of their king, just like in the movies. It was just like they showed it in “The Last Emperor,” which is a good movie, but really really long so I don’t recommend it unless you want to learn way more about the man than you ever wanted to. Just what “Shanghai Noon” they show the courtyard in that one too, and it’s a better film. It has punching. Anyway, when the Manchurians of Qing Dynasty rose to power, they kept the palace as their main center of power. Both dynasties had other palaces and residences but the Forbidden City was the big one. When the communist came to power, they set the site aside as a historical site and began restoring it as the museum it is today.

There were many exhibits throughout the palace. We didn’t have time to explore it all, but we did see a lot of the wealth of the emperors in the form of the jewelry that they wore and the decorations they had. Yang Dao lead us through the place and explained what everything was. There was English on most of the explanations but it was usually shorter and less detailed than the Chinese so it was nice to have him there to fill in the gaps. I feel bad about how little I know about Chinese history, but I feel pretty good about how much I’m learning. The Forbidden City was another one of those places in China that I’ve dreamed about seeing for a long time and it was really exciting to see it.

After the Forbidden City our group went to dinner. It wasn’t a very nice restaurant, but it was a bit nice than the one we had lunch at. This time at least we got chairs instead of stools. After dinner Yang Dao told us there was a street similar to Nanjing Rd not far from where we were. Those who wanted to could walk the block to go check it out; those who didn’t could sit in a small park and wait for an hour. Some of the older people were starting to get a bit cranky so Sally and I decided it would be more fun to go shopping. On our way over, we passed through a night market. Most of the stalls were selling snacks. We were tempted to get some lamb kabobs but they were more expensive than they are in Dalian so we figured we could hold out of a couple of days. We strolled though the night market just enjoying the sites and smells of the place. Well most of them. Everyone once in a while the fragrant aromas of roasting lamb, sugared fruit and boiling soup would be replaced by a smell very similar to poop. Sally said the smell came from intestines, which makes sense because that’s where most animals keep their poop.

After shopping we got back on the bus. Even though it was only 8:00 by the time we were back in our hotel we were pretty tired. I took a shower while Sally realized what a dump we were staying in. It was a pretty low class hotel and we just didn’t realize it the night before because we were so stinking tired. Still it was only for a few nights and we were having a Beijing adventure so it was going to have to be all right.

------------------Friday, June 02, 2006----------------------------

We woke up bright and early today and made our way to the bus. I was really excited because I knew that today was the day we’d go to the Great Wall. However, that was our last stop of the day, we still had a lot to get through first. Yesterdays stifling heat was gone, replaced with gray clouds that looked down menacingly. The first place we went to was a jade showcase. In China tourism is a big moneymaker but like most businesses, it’s based heavily on connections. Most of the tour companies make deals with shops like this one: If we bring you groups of out of towners with money to burn and you give us a cut of your sales. Because of this we were constantly being brought to places trying to temp us into purchasing luxury items. This place was easy to overcome the temptation, as most of what they had was large, intricately craved jaded statues. Most of these cost thousands or tens of thousands of kuai more we had. Still it was fun to look at them. They had some really neat stuff including a huge jade boat and a pair of tigers that were not too much smaller than real life. Jade is really big in Chinese culture, especially for the older generations. I can’t deny it’s a really pretty stone and it’s amazing what they can do with it.

So after we got out the jade store I was all psyched up to go to the Great Wall. We all piled into the bus and set off for a super market. I was really kicking myself at this point for sleeping when I first got on the bus instead of listening to Yang Dao. Each part of China has it’s own local dishes that are known across the country, Beijing’s is so good that it’s known around the world: Roast duck. This place sold vacuumed packed roast duck. Like Winco on a Saturday, there was a lady standing guard over a pan filled with shredded roast duck and a box of toothpicks. I’ve said how much I like duck. I’ve had Beijing roast duck in America and in Australia but people were always telling me how much better it is actually in Beijing. Based on as much information you can gather from a free sample, I have to agree with them. We bought a duck to eat with Sally’s family when we got back. We didn’t feel like we were spending too much money though, not when we saw other people piling as many as ten into their carts.

Beijing is also known for it’s dried and preserved fruits. We bought a couple of boxes to give as gifts. We also bought some packs of flower tea and vacuumed-packed bag of rabbit meat (really not that good, but it may have been the sauce it was packed with). Sally was really excited to see so many snacks that she grew up with and wanted to buy more but resisted for fear we wouldn’t have enough money to get through the rest of our trip. I can’t say that I blame her. If I lived here for four years and then went home, it’d be hard to resist a store full of Cheetos and Oreos.

Our next stop was actually really interesting to me. It was a house of wax that showed the rise and fall of the Ming Dynasty. Before I came here I had heard of the Ming Dynasty, knew it was the second to last one and had heard of a Ming vase. It was nice to know some the real history. The Ming Dynasty was an important time in Chinese history and was full of interesting characters with fascinating stories. There were some great leaders and some horrible ones. Our museum guide did a good job explaining things but she spoke into a speaker that was sometimes hard to understand. Fortunately there were English explanations that I was able to read (I’m really good at that)

Most of the explanations mentioned the people being buried at a place called the Ming Tombs. I was curious about what they were but before I could ask we were put back on the bus and whisked away to them. The Ming Tombs are 13 tombs that house many of the leaders of the Ming Dynasty. We only went to one, the final resting place of Zhu Di, the second emperor of the Dynasty, the one who moved the capitol to Beijing. He was a good leader, both at governing his people at home and conquering new land, and built a good foundation for the Dynasty. Along with a peaceful garden and big mausoleum, the tomb featured a museum about Zhu Di, filled with artifacts that have been recovered. As a side note, all the emperors of the Ming Dynasty had the family name Zhu. The same name as Sally.

Finally, after waiting all day (although I’ve technically been waiting my whole life) we headed up the mountains to the Great Wall. The part of the wall we visited sits on the top of a very steep series of mountains covered by a dense forest. These natural barriers combined with the mighty wall made it such an intimidating position that no battle was ever fought there. Still the impressive structure stretches out as far as the eye can see in both directions, winding its way along the peaks of the mountains. No sooner than we had started our accent up the mountain toward the historic site, then it started to rain. It didn’t rain so hard that we needed more than the ponchos that friendly people offered us for two kuai each, but it was enough to make taking pictures difficult and climbing the wall slippery. Before we could climb the way, we first had to get up it. There are several methods of going up the steep slope including gondolas on a wire, like the sky ride at Lagoon. We took these small one-person cars that are pulled up the incline on a chain, like a roller coaster. It wasn’t until we getting pulled up and me feet were higher up than my head that I realized just how steep it was here. Because of the rain, most people weren’t in the mood for much climbing, preferring instead to cower in those big towers that you see spread out intermittently along the wall. Once we were able to push our way through the crowd, we were able to climb with our too many people. There were still people though, and they tending to walk right in the way of our photos. We climb up the hero slope, which was by far the steepest section we could find. It lead up to a solid brick wall where people were talking photos to prove they had done it. It was quite a climb. Personally I don’t think anyone should be allowed to wear one of those “I climbed the Great Wall” shirts unless they get up the Hero Slope. There were three younger guys in our group that were surprised that we made it up there. I don’t think they realized I was their age. Actually they were surprised that Sally could make it.

We made our way down the slope after we got as many pictures as we could. In was so foggy you couldn’t see very far away so the didn’t turn out as well as we had hoped. On the way down Sally stopped to haggle for some T-shirts. I was a good little white boy and went on up ahead so no one would think we were together. While I was waiting another vendor tried to sell me something. Usually these people just say “Hello, _________” and fill in the blank with whatever they’re selling i.e. “Hello, DVD” of “Hello, watch.” I told her in Chinese that I was fine and I was just waiting for my friend and that we would soon be going. I guess that threw off her sales pitch because for a second she didn’t seem to know what to do. I missed this. In an English speaking country, it usually throws people for a bit of a loop when they find out I can speak Chinese. Here, people usually are pleasantly surprised but not shocked. Suddenly she asked how to say bracelet in English (she probably hadn’t been able to sell very many until now) I told here, showed her how to spell it and helped her with pronunciation. Other vendors came over from nearby stalls to learn and practice with us. They asked me how to say a few other items that they have for sell. I helped them with some of the harder sounds in English. It was a total flash back to my beginning English class back in Sydney. Before long, Sally finished her shopping and I had to leave my impromptu language school behind. People keep telling me I should open an English school here, maybe they’re right.

-------------------Saturday, June 3, 2006------------------------

Today we didn’t do as much as the rest of the group. We were supposed to go to a couple of places that cost extra money to get into and we were running low on cash. We only brought so much with us to Beijing and didn’t know how many of these events would cost extra money, it’s not like we’re starving. Plus we weren’t really in the mood to go to the first place. It is the ruins of another palace, one that was burned by French and British Forces during the Opium War. From what Yang Dao said, it sounds like this place has been turned into a site to show the horrors China has suffered at the hands of foreigners. I considered trying to explain that we have place in America that were burned by the British, like the White House, but figured it really didn’t matter. The rest of the group went in for two hours, leaving Sally and me to hang out with the driver.

The driver had a Gameboy so we decided to entertain ourselves. We were really close to the campuses of several of biggest universities in China. We went to Qinghua University and looked around. Sally said that Qinghua is a technical school and could be compared with MIT for it’s level of prestige. It was a really nice campus and fun to walk around. When we got there it was still really early in the morning so there wasn’t many people there. By the time we left though it was as bustling as an American University during the week, even though it was Saturday.

We got back on the bus and were taken to our next forced shopping experience. This time, rather than hawking jewelry or roasted ducky goodness, they were selling life. At least that’s what you would assume by listening to them. In truth they sold Tibetan medicine. They worked out of a small hospital (at least I assume it was a real hospital, there was a sign on the ground floor pointing to the OB/GYN) and had some specialists who would look at your palm and feel your pulse and tell what was wrong with you and them prescribe you some expensive pills from some Tibetan flowers. This may sound suspicious to the average Westerner but I take this stuff all in stride now. There was 1 time I thought that all Eastern medicine was bunk, but that was before my mission. In the last five years I’ve seen too much to back it up for me to just dismiss it. Plus I’m a big enough boy to admit that just because I don’t understand something doesn’t make it not true. And it’s not like I really understand how Western medicine works anyway. Anyway, these doctors looked at everyone’s hands. Most people were prescribed pills and some bought them. Both me and Sally let them take a look. The doctor was able to correctly tell us what kind of health problem we had (fatigue for Sally, mysterious stomach problems for me) so their method of diagnosis seemed to have some merit, but the business side of things was pretty darn shady. As soon as we told them we couldn’t buy anything they started to haggle with us on just how many pills we needed to get better. That falls in the dodgy category of my book. So the moral of the story: Trusting Chinese medicine is like eating a burrito; if it’s from a registered dealer, you’re fine but you’re just looking for trouble if you get it from so weirdo in a back alley.

The next stop was supposed to be at the Beijing Aquarium but that was an extra 75 kuai a person and Dalian has one as well that we were planning to visit and I don’t think an hour is enough time to really appreciate something like this so we took a nap on a bus instead.

The next stop was another shopping place (if I ever start a tour company, our business model will be no kick backs because this was getting a little annoying) this time selling cloisonné. This time it wasn’t so bad though because it was pretty interesting. Cloisonné is a beautiful Chinese art form, dating back over three hundred years. It’s the way they make all those really colorful vases. Before they tried to sell us anything, they took us for a tour of the plant where they make the cloisonné before they sell it. Even in today’s modern age, cloisonné has to be done entirely by hand. First they cut small pieces of copper plating and bend in into cookie cutter type shapes. These molds are then soldered to the copper vase. They then fill the various shapes with colorful enamel to make beautiful patterns and pictures. The vase is then baked in a kiln, polished and shipped to the sales floor. The final product is really quite beautiful and Sally and I have decided that when we’re old and have a big house we’ll buy a nice vase.

The next place we went (or the first place if you look at it the way I did) was the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace was the warm weather residence of Cixi and other important figures in the royal family during the Qing Dynasty. Cixi was an empress who controlled the country behind the scenes and is generally considered to be the reason the Dynasty eventually failed. She built the palace and ordered that it resemble Xi Hu in Han Zhou. The two places really are very similar. The whole place was really beautiful and since a picture is worth a thousand words I’ll just show pictures later to anyone who cares.

After dinner we went to another jade store. They took us in back to have a lady explain how to tell real jade from fake jade. A few people in our group were a little sarcastic with her and she broke down. The boss was brought in because he was from Shanghai (as were most of our group). He talked to our group, got them laughing and offered them a 90% off discount because he only wants to make money off foreigners (I’m pretty sure I didn’t think I could understand him). Almost everyone bought something but as we drove away they were pretty sure that he had still sold them fakes.

Rather than having dinner with our group we ate with a girl that Sally knew in college and her husband. It was nice to talk to people who I was able to understand and the Sichuan style restaurant was really nice but not so expensive that I felt bad. The only problem was they lived on the other side of Beijing so by the time we got back to the hotel it was really late. We figured it was no big deal. There was only one more place to visit tomorrow and it cost more money and we really didn’t care. Plus we would have to leave early to make out plane that was going to Dalian so we decided to just sleep in, miss the tour and then head to the airport. It was the perfect plan.

-------------------Sunday, June 04, 2006------------------------

Except that it failed. Yang Dao was fine with us not going, but with the rest of our group gone our deposit went with them. The hotel wanted a 100 kuai deposit just to sleep for another hour. We decided it wasn’t worth the headache and packed up. Our group was gone by now so we took the subway to a place were you could buy tickets on an airport shuttle bus. The bus was really nice and I was left wondering how to take a tour on one of those instead. On the plan ride home, I made friends with a little boy who had technically stolen my seat. Sally and I figured it be better for us to be split by the aisle than him and his mom so we gave them our spot. The plane ride was only an hour long and before we know it we were back in Dalian. We threw our stuff on my back and caught a bus across town. We came home, had lunch and I just crashed, sleeping for the next three hours. We went out for hot pot for dinner.

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