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Beijing - Day ThreeMeteorologically, today was like yesterday, but worse. This was very hard to do, but Beijing did it. Fog, dampness, and pollution limited the views, but we had things to see so out we went. In the morning we stopped in a part of the City that featured "antique" shops. The Chinese are masters at counterfeiting anything (including their own money, which some street vendors use when returning change from large denomination, and legitimate, currency). We didn't buy anything, but at the end of the row of shops found a real gem. The antiques road branched off into a classic, crowded, old world Beijing neighborhood called a hutong. Noisy, crowded, busy and wonderfully alive - a chance to see how the citizens actually lived for many decades, maybe even hundreds of years, and many still do today. After we had walked through the area, taken our still pictures, and were almost out of the street, Carol ran back and took movies of the place. As much fun and as interesting as anyplace else we have seen on the trip so far.
Next we went to the Summer Palace. As with everything the emperors did, it was vast. This Palace was built around a lake about 30 miles from our hotel. We were ferried around the lake in a boat rented for us alone. Fun and decadent. As we sailed along in this craft we became a tourist attraction for the Beijing residents, who themselves visit all the "tourist sites" in droves. They smiled and waved at us and we waved back.
At the end of the ferry ride we docked where the royal family lived. It was similar in style to the Forbidden City in the large number of apartments for the emperor and his wives, but more informal. The most accessible of the sites was a large, stationary, marble barge (no it didn't float).
Today was also the day for dining at memorable places with terrific food (I can't say the food elsewhere to this point has been all that great). Lunch was in a restaurant off the Western (at least) tourist track. The wait staff, young men and women, all wore Ming Dynasty costumes as they served at tables set out among the gardens, around the pond, and in small and elaborately decorated "private" dining rooms, one of which we had. It felt like we were caught up on stage at a Chinese opera. The women wore shoes with 4" platforms in the middle of the shoes - like small stilts. Most of the garden was paved with cobbles, making walking hard under the best of circumstances, let alone on 4" stilts.
Our evening meal was at a private club frequented particularly by businessmen. It had once been the house of a prince in the last dynasty to rule China, the Qing. The structure was composed of a series of connected square courtyards surrounded by residence areas except for the entryway into the next courtyard. We ate in the residential area furthest from the front entrance, in a room with twenty-foot ceilings and in-the-wall bed alcoves at opposite ends of the room. Our dining room was the prince's principal bedroom. I ordered Peking Duck; an entire duck was delivered to, and carved at, our table! In all, it was a fabulous setting with first rate food.
We've also visited several local factories run by the government. A&K, the company that runs our tour, gets 5% if anyone they bring in buys something. There were similar arrangements in Australia. These factory tours are private and, in enthusiastically explaining how the particular product is made, these energetic presenters apparently hope to whet our buying appetites.
The cloisonné factory was very interesting. A guide took us around a factory floor mockup (the real factory is down the street and off limits to visitors) designed to illustrate how labor intensive the cloisonné work is. In the process, they explained why their product is superior to their competitors' products. The showroom displaying the finished goods was huge and is used largely as a way station for goods destined for export. It was so interesting that we walked in continuous loops for 45 minutes looking at everything. We ended up ordering an egg-shaped piece in a color and design we chose.
Another factory we visited was one that made Chinese silk carpets. Gorgeous! Again we were shown how the carpets were made and colored and then brought into their showroom. Since we had just purchased all the carpets for Solana Beach, they didn't get a sale. Did you know that the thread that one silk worm spins around its cocoon is 1800 meters long (Sean or Erin: question for you--what's that length in feet?)
The day ended with a pedi cab ride. We sat in a two person carriage with a driver peddling in front. The image that comes to mind is the Disney version of the ride of the Headless Horseman. We bobbed and weaved through streets with cars, bicyclists, pedestrians, and other pedi cabs all vying for position on a pot-holed road. Exciting, and not to be repeated. (And the movie we took of this ride is guaranteed to make you carsick.)
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