Tuesday, February 15, 2005

China Day 7: Forbidden City, Great Wall, More Shopping

Today was the tour booked by the Great Wall agency for all the families coming through Beijing, which turned out to be five families (some are flying directly to Guangzhou).

The day broke cold and snowy--a front had come through and had already dropped a centimeter or so of snow and was still coming down. We had been forewarned that the forecast was for snow, so it wasn't a big surprise, but it was certainly a change of pace from the weather we'd had so far.

Our tour guide was Amy, which made us very happy. She did well with a larger group, although she was a little nervous. It didn't help that one of the families sat way in the back of the bus while everyone else was up front. Oh well.

We set off towards Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City. When we got there, after a struggle with slippery, slushy sidewalks and a couple of stops for shopping, we found the square still with quite a few people (although many fewer queued up to see Mao), including people making snowmen. However, it appeared that snowmen on the square is not allowed, because a police officer was methodically knocking them down after they were built. Oh well. But there were lots of families with children having fun in the snow, which was now getting a little deeper.

We wandered about some more, Amy giving us interpretive talks at various points. A couple of the guys in the party bought hats from vendors, some for what we now know were outrageous prices. I was starting to feel kind of smug about my bargaining abilities and knowledge of the market, so much so that I ended up buying a Beijing Olympics watch cap for 5 yuan just to show how it's done. We tried to teach the rest of the group "tai gui", which means "too expensive". Not sure it took.

Finally we entered the Forbidden City, which from the entrance is just a bigger version of any other temple we'd seen, only now covered in snow and with big courtyards that allowed the driving snow to pelt us a full force. Part of our group was the Cunningham family, a single mother-to-be from Dallas and her parents, who are, bless their hearts, a little frail and slow. They were having a really hard time in the snow. In the Forbidden City I held back to make sure Jay, the father, was OK as he had a hard time on stairs and whatnot. Finally, by the time we had scaled one hall (up the stairs, down the stairs) and half of another, they decided to pack it in and go shopping, which seemed like the best course of action. You'll notice that here they allowed the snowmen to remain standing. [Actually, this photo was taken at one of the temples in the complex near the Great Wall. --Julie]

This allowed us to move a bit faster and we hustled through the remaining ceremonial halls and entered the living areas for the concubines, which then connected to the garden where the Emperor could play with the concubines. This area was just stunningly beautiful and worth then entire price of admission. I had no idea. It was difficult to capture on film because of the layout, which is sort of maze of small courtyards and gardens. But the snow just made it magical.

At last our visit to the Forbidden City was over, for which we were very grateful because we were all getting really hungry. It was by now after noon and we'd been walking around in the cold and snow since about 9:30. So back on the bus to go to the Great Wall at Ju Yong pass, which is the nearest section of wall to Beijing.

Lunch as at a Friendship Store and cloisonne factory. Seeing how the cloisonne was made was pretty interesting but we wanted to eat, darn it. So they herded us into a restaraunt that was all westerners. Amy had to go eat in an adjoining area for guides and drivers. The meal was OK but not anything you couldn't get in any American chinatown. It was, by comparison, the worst Chinese meal we'd so far (simply because everything we've had has been so good).

Then we shopped, although not with much enthusiasm, being mindful of our baggage limits and having mostly completed our shopping lists. But the folks who had just come in were a bit more excited.

Finally, off to the Great Wall.

It was snowing, of course, so visibility was very low and everything was very slippery. Most people stayed down on the lower part but I took a risk and climbed up to the first watch tower on the south side (the nearest to where we entered the wall). It was a near-vertical climb up big steps, navigating past the people inching their way down, clinging to the hand rail for dear life. That gave me pause but I figured what the heck, I'm already this far up. So I continued, thinking of Hillary and Tenzig Norgay. Finally I ascended to the first watch tower, which afforded a nice view. There was a dad with what I assume were his daughters so I offered to take their pictures with his camera and he took mine.

Then it was back down, which turned out to not be so bad if you stuck to the middle of the steps and stepped carefully and smoothly. This was because the snow on the sides of the steps had been packed into slippery treacherous ice slides, but in the middle it was flat and sticky. So I just tromped on down. I had no problem until the very bottom, where I slipped on some shallow stone steps and slid on my back for a couple of meters. Very funny to the crowd but no serious damage to me.

Then we took some more pictures, had some tea, and back on the bus to go back to the hotel, where we would have to feverishly pack in order to have our bags ready by 8:30 PM. We were counting on a miracle of physics to get all our purchases into our bags but because of Julie's foresight we didn't have too much problem. She had packed a small spare bag that we could put all the winter stuff in, freeing up plenty of room in our main bags for gifts and whatnot.

Now it is about 5:30 the morning of the 16th. We are doing our final packing, which mostly means gathering up the tangle of cords and chargers I've assembled in order to support this multimedia extravaganza, and getting them into a bag. Then it's down to the lobby at 6:30 to go to the airport and then on to Guangzhou and Gotcha Day.

This is our last dispatch from Beijing. When next you hear from us again, we should, God willing, have Yu-da in our arms...


At 8:25 PM, Blogger Catherine--Eliot's Sister said...

A wonderful dispatch, but this reader wants to know more about how it was to check out some of your fellow adoptive parents. Was there kinship? Furtive comparison of perceived parenting readiness? Competition for best Honored Grandparents? Details, please. But not at the expense of any detail about Gotcha Day.



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