Just the best day ever. Just brilliant. P&O offer rather expensive excursions at every port, but the ones at Beijing didn’t interest us. They offered us EITHER the Great Wall OR Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City OR the Olympic Stadia (although without going inside them) OR something else. We took one look at it (back in November) and said “Nah, we can do better than that”. We found a tour company on the internet and booked a tour with them. They picked us up from the ship in a beautiful Dodge minivan-type thing. Leather seats, air con (or rather, today, heating!), working seatbelts, just lovely and comfy. They drove us into Beijing which took a couple of hours, and we saw Tiananmen Square, Mao’s Mausoleum, the National Museum of China and the Monument to the Nation’s Heroes. We didn’t get out of the car because (a) it was bloomin’ freezing and (b) we could see fine from the car! You’re not allowed to see Mao, the Monument is an obelisk-type thing, the Square is… a square (not nearly as big as I expected, to be honest!) and we REALLY didn’t feel like doing a museum. Maybe next time…
We then went to the Forbidden City and a little electrical bus like a long milk-float took us around to the entrance (the entrance near the parking area is closed). We went in and had a look around. It’s very nice and Susie, our guide, told us all sorts of facts. Such as, although 6 and 8 are now considered lucky numbers to the Chinese, back in the Emperors’ times, it was 9 that was lucky. Which is why there are 9,999 rooms in the Forbidden City. And all the statues and gargoyles and bits and pieces add up to nine.
Factoid of the day: The ancient Chinese believed there was a purple star at the centre of the Universe, where God lived in a palace with 10,000 rooms. The Emperor’s Palace had 9,999 because he didn’t dare project himself as equal with God.
We were then running ahead of schedule, so Susie took us to a tea house. No, me neither. I associated them with Japan as well. We tried four different types of tea and were taught the different ways in which you’re supposed to drink them. You slurp Oolong, but only Oolong. We also had Jasmine (the one we get in Chinese restaurants in the UK), Puer (pronounced pure) which has no caffeine and is like whisky – thirty years old is best, apparently – and Litchi (lychee, to you) tea, which is naturally sweet, because of the lychees, funnily enough, which was REALLY nice, which is interesting, because I don’t like lychees themselves. Then we walked down the road and round the corner to a silk factory. We were shown how silk is harvested. Vegetarians shouldn’t wear it. Basically, when the silk worm is 5 years old, it builds itself a pupa from a single thread of silk about a mile long, so that it can become a moth. To get the silk, they drop them in boiling water, which kills the worm and softens the pupa, so that it can be peeled apart. It’s fascinating, but I did feel a bit bad for the worms. They don’t waste the worm, they eat it. Apparently it’s a very nutritious, high-protein delicacy, but still…
Then we got back in the minivan and went to lunch. We took a detour, however, to find some posh loos. They had to be posh because due to the broken wrist, mum is currently one-handed and she needs a handle to hold onto in order to be able to stand up again! Only hotels aimed at Westerners seem to have grasped the concept of disabled toilets, which seems odd, no matter how low the average age of your society… We ended up at the Pangu Hotel, a SEVEN star hotel with VERY nice loos indeed! Then on to the Dragon Land Jade Gallery, the largest jade shop in Beijing, where we ate lunch in the restaurant. Lunch was yummy. Chicken in sweet chilli sauce, beef in black bean (I think), cucumber, broccoli, greens, mushrooms, all stir-fried, pickled cabbage (which is especially important at New Year), an egg and tomato dish, tofu and egg soup, steamed rice, green tea and watermelon for dessert. We then admired the jade on offer, including some ENORMOUS pieces, including a ship that was probably eight feet long and five feet high, a virtually life-sized bull and eagle and a set of eight virtually life-sized horses made from a single piece of jade. We bought a few souvenirs and then we drove to the Wall.
We were planning on going to the Badaling section, which is the usual one, but Susie said that this wasn’t very accessible for mum, so she took us out of the city to Ju Yong Guan, which is a section which is an almost complete circle built by the Ming Emperors. By now, the sun was out, so it wasn’t nearly as cold as it had been earlier in the day, so Dad and I climbed up. He did one tower, I did two. This means two watchtowers, which are dotted along the entire wall and seem to be the standard method of measuring distance on the Wall.
It is quite spectacular, the Great Wall, there’s no other way of describing it. It stretches as far as the eye can see, climbing mountains, running along ridges, 7000km long, several metres wide and very high indeed. It must have been very daunting to approach from the other side, as an outsider. It was daunting enough as a tourist, so what it must have looked like bristling with soldiers, I dread to think!