Beijing, Day 2

Today is “Lover’s Day” in Beijing – 5.20. This is what we in America would call a “Hallmark” holiday – made up to sell cards. If Rose had not mentioned it, I would never have known that there was anything special about the day! Speaking of holidays, Rose told us that Christmas is very commercialized in China. Everything goes on sale the month before Christmas so many Chinese save up their money until December and shop ‘til they drop to take advantage of the deals. Sounds much like the USA!

Rose also told us that the Chinese are embarrassed by the “Made in China” cheap goods reputation. There is a push going right now from the government to change the reputation of Chinese goods, and they want to be known for innovation and quality in their goods. She also told us about how people in Beijing greet each other. Elsewhere in China, Nihou is the greeting, or Nihou Ma? (How are you doing?). Here, people ask, “Have you eaten?”. This is a holdover from when many Chinese were starving. In the first few years of Communism, over 40 million Chinese starved to death. Rose’s parents generation were always hungry; there was never enough food. They would catch sparrows to eat, and we all know that there is not much meat on a sparrow. Restaurants would fine people if they did not eat all of the food they were served and some would give you a discount if you “cleaned your plate”.

Chinese life has changed dramatically over the past 40 years. During the 1970’s, you were “living large” if you had a watch, bicycle, and sewing machine. Prior to this time, the government owned everything and everyone was equally poor. When Mao died, things opened up quite a bit and people were allowed to open businesses. So, during the 1980’s, living large meant having a washing machine, color tv, and refrigerator. Rose’s family was the first in their village to have a tv. There was a schedule for the neighbors to come over to watch tv with her family. Of course, both then and now, all media is controlled by the government. Back then, there was only one channel to watch. News came on at 7 pm and was divided into 3 ten-minute segments: how wonderful China was, how bad the US was, followed by some world news. All was propaganda to brainwash the Chinese people. People no longer believe the propaganda.

By the 1990’s, to be successful was to have a car, phone, and computer. Now, it is a condo, car, and honeymoon abroad (preferably Hawaii). Speaking of honeymoons, arranged marriage is no longer popular with the younger generation, although parents still try to set their children up. As a matter of fact, in many public parks, there is a “matchmaking corner” where parents bring their children’s resumes to exchange, trying to make a match.

So what does a Chinese girl want in a mate? In no particular order: condo, car, cash, career, cute, and cook! Because women no longer cook here; men do.

You may be wondering by now, what was on the tour agenda today? I have talked about everything other than what we would see! That is because there was some time to kill. In the morning, we were on our way to the Great Wall. Traffic out of town was pretty bad, so we had a fairly long drive. To break up the monotony, we got to stop at a Jade factory. You can only imagine how excited I was about that! However, there were plenty of women in our group that picked up some jewelry, so I guess I am in the minority in how I feel about these shopping stops. The jade pieces displayed around the showroom were quite magnificent, but I was not the least little bit tempted to buy any.

We continued our journey to the section of the wall that we would climb. Rose gave us some history about the wall. We would be visiting a part of the wall that was built in the Qin Dynasty, about 2200 years ago. The wall was renovated 600 years ago during the Ming Dynasty. In 1994, the People’s Liberation Army renovated it again.

Originally, the wall was more than one wall. There were over 500 wars here before 7 kingdoms eventually survived. Each had their own wall to keep out invaders until the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty united all of the kingdoms and built one “great” wall to keep out the Huns and Mongols. The wall was over 5000 km (3100 mi.) long and took one million people to built, which was about 1/5 of the population. Many that helped build the wall died and are buried underneath it. It could be considered the longest cemetery in the world. During the next centuries, the wall was added to. It fell into disrepair in sections – it was constructed of local materials, so some sections were wood and obviously did not stand the test of time.

When we reached the entrance, Rose went to purchase tickets. We were extremely lucky with having perfect weather for our climb up – mid 70’s with a breeze. There were a couple of paths you could use to get to the wall. Rose recommended the easier one – the one to the right which had only around 900 and something steps. The steps themselves were uneven. Fortunately, there was a handrail to grab onto. Those that made it to the top bought themselves gold medals that were engraved with their name and the date they climbed up.

Did I make it to the top? No, I did not. One of the women in our group got partway up and found that with her fear of heights, could not go any farther. I sat with her until she felt well enough to climb down. We went down together. I do not regret not “summiting” so to speak; I got close enough.

We had a little time to kill after climbing back down. By the way, going down the stairs is actually harder on the legs than going up! There were public toilets which I would not mention, except that they had a very unique feature. In order to get toilet paper, you had to have a 3-second facial scan. I really do not understand what the purpose of this was. Maybe they have a problem with people using too much toilet paper? I don’t know, but it was quite strange!

There were also shops lining the street selling hats, shirts, and other trinkets. They even sold the fake gold medals that said you climbed the Great Wall. I would’ve felt guilty wearing one since I didn’t actually make it all the way up, so passed on buying one. Besides, I doubt I would ever wear it again. They wanted $5 for them and I am way too cheap to waste $5 for something I would only wear once!

Eventually, the rest of the group made it back down and boarded the bus, all proudly wearing their gold medals. We stopped at a local place for lunch that served us Organic Chinese food for lunch. We knew it was local because there were no western toilets.

We headed back into the traffic of Beijing to visit the Beijing zoo and say hello to the famous pandas. On the way, we stopped by the Olympic stadium area to take a few pictures. The tall building you see was built AFTER the Olympics so people could better view the glorious stadiums.

We were told that we would ONLY be visiting the pandas; the rest of the animals are not treated the way we treat our animals in zoos. Pandas, on the other hand, are treated like royalty. There are about 2200 pandas in China; 400 of these live in captivity. Pandas don’t procreate on their own, apparently, and so there are panda centers where they use artificial insemination to continue the propagation of the species. If a female panda in the wild gives birth to twins, she will choose the stronger of the two to feed and let the weaker one starve. This does not happen in the panda centers. They have her nurse one panda baby, and then distract her while they switch babies. In this way, she ends up feeding both. Pandas have voracious appetites – they eat bamboo leaves, shoots, and apples for up to 13 hours per day. The rest of the time is spent sleeping. We were lucky because only two of the six pandas were asleep for our visit. They are cute critters but we could only view them through smudged glass, so if my pictures are a little hazy, that is why.

Let me in!

After our panda visit we headed back to our hotel for a brief break before heading out for a group dinner at a local restaurant.