We were met at the airport by Jeff who was a fill-in guide (Scott would pick us up in the morning) and the driver Mr. Lee.

Our first full day covered the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, Tienanmen Square and an acrobatic show.

10 years ago when we visited, the sites were a lot less crowded, the Summer Palace seemed a bit hectic at first but it quieted down once we got into the palace section. Getting in to this section cost an extra 10 Yuan per person and that may explain why.

After the Summer Palace we moved on to the Forbidden City. The brochure says it has 9,999 rooms. Over a period of a couple of hours we estimate we saw 90 of them. In other words this place is big and you could probably spend weeks in it (although not all of them are open). We visited two exhibits: the treasures and the watches. Visiting the Forbidden City after the Summer Palace is the right order. While the Summer Palace is good, it is not the same intensity as the City and it would have been a let down if we had switched the order.

Next we went to Tienanmen Square. I got my Mao shot. Meanwhile, Olga bought an Olympic hat from a street seller: initially offered at 10Y per hat, sold at 4 hats for 10Y.

The day’s touring wrapped up with an acrobatic show which was pretty good. It offered a number of elements similar to aesthetic gymnastics.

While the sites were all good to see, we were not satisfied with the guide’s performance so we called the tour company and asked for a replacement. There were a few factors but in the end he didn’t seem to be guiding us nor did he seem engaged in his job. For example in the Forbidden City he asked us what we wanted to see. With 9,999 rooms and no deep experience having a guide to offer suggestions would have been good. We had asked the guide about golf but he didn’t seem to want to help us arrange a game and then at the end of the day leaving us with the driver part way through dinner was inappropriate. We were dissatisfied with the food. Not that it was bad, but Beijing has more to offer than sweet and sour pork.

Eddie, our new guide, arrived early around 6:50 for our 7:30 departure. We were having breakfast. Eddie was a little more formal in his dealings with us. He tried to explain everything (which was good) and he was definitely a proud Beijinger, making sure to announce the accomplishments of Beijing.

Our first stop was the Wall at Juyongguan Pass. The Wall at this point forms a 7KM loop. We didn’t do the full loop. We got as far as the ninth tower before we had to return. Up to the third tower there were quite a few people but after that it thinned out quite nicely. Had we continued past the ninth tower it would have been empty. I’m not sure there’s too much you can say about the Wall: it is impressive. Our guide said that when construction was first started on the Wall one million men were pressed into service at a time when China’s population was just five million. Many died building the wall and their bodies were buried in the Wall making it a pretty large grave site.

From the Wall we travelled over to the Ming Tombs. These are the tombs of thirteen emperors of the Ming Dynasty all located in the same valley. The one we visited is the only one that has been opened up. There are two parts to the site: the tomb and the Sacred Path. The Path is what leads one from the land of the living to the land of the dead (the tombs area).

On our way back to town we drove by the Olympic Village. The guide told us that, for security reasons the site is not open to the public. A bit of a disappointment.

Our last stop before dinner was a tea house. Not as good as the one we visited in Guilin. Another place to sell us stuff.

Dinner was a hot pot. It was a nice change from the usual. Each person had their own pot, heated with Sterno, that contained a soup base in which one boils the ingredients (lamb, beef, chicken, noodles, and various vegetables). As we each had our own pot we were able to select spicy or mild soup bases. Over the period of the meal, as ingredients are boiled in the base, a rich soup is made which forms the final part of the meal.

The next morning Linda and I arrived at the Beijing Chaoyang Kosaido Golf Club at 8:00 AM (Olga and Yesid visited Mao’s mausoleum and the Parliament buildings and then went shopping). There we a few drops of rain as we left the subway and they multiplied into a heavy rain by the time we reached the course. Linda said “there’s always Hong Kong” but at this point I was hesitant to commit lest such plans invoke torrents, plagues and other wraths. The course was a small one: nine holes par 30. May be not the best one around but regardless it would have been nice to play. Instead we hit some balls on the driving range.

We returned as we departed by subway to the hotel to drop of our shoes etc. Beijing has over 200KM in subway routes. The fare is reasonably priced at 2 Yuan and the system is clean and well lit.

We met at the east gate of the Temple of Heaven and from there proceeded to a Chinese Pharmacist and received a diagnosis from a Chinese doctor. He thought my cholesterol was high and my liver and kidneys were weak. He mentioned something about thick blood and circulation. The diagnosis is based on asking questions, feeling ones pulse, and observation of the eyes, and tongue. As described to us by the guide the Chinese will tend to use western medicine to address specific medical problems, especially those that require surgery, but Chinese medicines for preventative treatments. The guide said that while western medicines tend to treat the symptoms, Chinese medicine looks for the root cause and treats that. For example, in western medical practice one takes an aspirin to treat a headache. In Chinese
practice the prescription will depend on the reason one has the headache. The doctor’s diagnosis was similar to what my family doctor had said and family history (thick blood). He prescribed some herbal medicines to be taken for one month. If one doesn’t believe in herbal medicines then it seems to me it follows that one cannot be concerned with consuming some herbs. If one does believe in it then the results should be positive. I’ll try it out and see.

From the pharmacy Eddie suggested going to the foreign (English) language book store. We declined and went to the pearl market instead. These stores he was taking us to would offer a little bit of content (e.g., about tea, Chinese medicine, jade, etc and the leave you in a store where you were expected to buy something. We were getting tired of it.) Eddie, our guide, told us that Hilary Clinton and Queen Elizabeth bought pearls there. It just shows you that even they get taken to friendship stores when they tour Beijing.

In any case, in China all prices are negotiable. Reducing to 25-30% of the asking price is doable, especially for clothes although Linda was able to get the price of a string of pearls down to 40Y from 200. I bought a ring (not at the Pearl Market but at a Government Store) and was only able to get them down to 60% of the asking price. However our guide said 5 – 15% was an expected discount in government stores, so in that context we did well. I say “we” negotiated, but
really it was Linda. She’s good at it. I don’t have the courage.

We had Peking Duck for dinner. Eddie said that any Peking Duck not from Beijing is an imitation. His reason: the type of duck. The argument is the same the French might make for their wine, the English for their cheese or Germans of their beer. I’m not sure I could really tell the difference from what we can get in Toronto, but then this dinner was in Beijing which is an obvious difference.

After dinner we returned to our hotel. We packed so we would only have to get up and go to reach the airport two hours in advance of our 7:45 departure time for the last leg of our trip: Hong Kong.

Click Slideshow to see more picture from Beijing


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