Our day started at a Chinese jade factory. Jade is the Chinese “imperial gem” more valuable than gold or silver and has been used for 100s of years. In fact they have found jade from 5000 BC! The colors of the stone range…there are reds, greens, white, violet and brownish colors. Jade is known for its hardness, durability and beauty. They first walked us through the factory portion, they had windows so we could observe the factory workers carefully carving by hand each piece. The work is really quite impressive both the huge pieces which can be taller than me, and the tiny pieces which must take such focus to carve the fine details. They had all kinds of statues…representing various Chinese cultural symbols such as Buddha, turtle, family balls and dragons, as well as decorative bowls and cases. They also had numerous pieces of jewelry…the most traditional being the bengal bracelets. I tried a couple on but it hurt to put each piece on my wrist. A piece of plastic was put over my hand and wrist and then a bengal bracelet smaller than my wrist bone was shoved hard over the bone. Once it is over the bone…it fits nicely but to me not worth the pain and redness caused by the force to get it on…however, this is traditionally what Chinese women go through to wear their jade bengals.
We decided to get a couple small statues…they are super nice solid pieces of hand carved jade. One is the red money dragon. The Chinese dragon represents cosmic chi or life force and if placed properly in the house according to Feng Shui guidelines then the dragon will help with courage, enthusiasm and positive results. The money dragon specifically has an oversized mouth to allow for money to come in and should be placed facing away from the door or window so the money has no way of getting out.
We also chose the green happy buddha which represents, health…happiness…prosperity and longevity. He brings luck when you rub his belly or head. We thought these two pieces would be a nice addition to our new home wherever that will be. We took some time picking which piece we wanted and using the help of the guy working there to tell us things like going with the green Buddha over the red one because green is the most traditional and represents healing, hope and good fortune. Red on the other hand represents intensity and energy, a flourishing life which is the perfect color for our dragon.
After picking our piece, Giff did the negotiating of price for our two statues and they also threw in a family generation green jade ball. The ball is carved from one pice of jade and has 2 other layers inside it. So there is a big ball with one inside it, and one inside that one. It represents generations of family and the dragon (yang) and Phoenix (yin) on the outside represent the balance of matrimonial bliss…the symbol of everlasting love. It is so cool!
After spending more money than we planned which by the way…if a tour guide brings you into one of these factory type places…they get a commission on anything you purchase…so if you can, go in on your own then you will get a better price. We left the jade factory and drove down the street to see the Great Wall of China which is probably the most well-known symbol of China around the world.
The unfortunate part for me…there was no way I could walk up all the steps with my twisted ankle to get to the top. I was feeling really bummed about it but needed to keep reminding myself that I am lucky enough to be standing in China, and I at least get to see it and stand on it, which is pretty cool already. There are many gates to the great wall since it covers 5500.3 miles! We were suppose to go to the gate where they have a cable car that would take us to the very top to enjoy the view, but we let the guide talk us out of it…he said it would be too hard for me to hop on and off of the lift since it doesn’t stop. He told us about a different gate, Ba Da Ling where he could wheel chair me onto part of the wall and have a view of the stairs going all the way up. Looking back…we should have insisted on the ski lift and figured it out so I could see the top. I’m not sure why he pushed us away from it…maybe the entrance was more expensive or too busy. At any rate, Giff got to climb to the top and walk for a while from gate to gate. He said the steps were steep and uneven but that once at the top it was very peaceful and so massive how far the wall stretched in every direction. He also decided it was a great place to sprinkle some of his dad’s ashes. It is really special to be able to spread the ashes in so many amazing places around the world. As he continued walking along the wall, he saw a little souvenir shop at the top where they took a thin piece of metal and pressed his name into it saying, “Gifford climbed to the top of the Great Wall of China.” He was gone for close to three hours while I waited twiddling my thumbs at the bottom (but I’m not bitter-LOL)…he came back very sweaty! It was a great work-out and one could really spend multiple hours up there walking up and down the stairs staring out at the mountainous landscape.
We left the Great Wall and the guide drove us to the Ming Changling Tomb which is the third Ming Emperor, Zhu Di. I stayed in the car while Giff went in and explored the tomb. He said it basically looked like a big museum inside with various signs and artifacts talking about the Ming dynasty. He was pretty quick and then we were on our way to the Olympic area.
They had a whole area which was built to host the 2008 Olympic games…buildings to hold the competitions as well as housing. Some sources estimate they spent close to $40 billion dollars! The centerpiece where the closing ceremonies were held was a building called the bird’s nest. Which was a circular stadium with metal pieces weaved together…like a nest. We drove by the building and took a picture, the architecture was impressive. The Water Cube was the other building that stood out…it was a rectangular shaped building and had the pattern of bubbles all over it…it also glowed a blue color at night, a very fitting building to hold the water events.
Nearby the Olympic area was a silk factory, one of the crafts China is known for…so we made a quick stop. They first showed us the actual silk worms and the cocoons in which they unravel and use to make the silk blankets, clothes and scarves. They put several silk cocoons on top of each other to create the blankets and use various dyes to add color to the clothing articles. We spent some time looking around and noticed things were a bit pricey. Giff ended up getting a few silk ties before we left for dinner.
We decided to have the famous Peking Duck at a very well-known and old restaurant. The guide came in with us and translated what we wanted, which was their very traditional whole Peking duck. The guide then left and waited outside for us to finish. The duck came out whole and then the butcher stood close to our table and sliced it all up. They also served it with thinly sliced raw veggies (mainly spring onions), hoisin sauce and a stack of thin crepe-like pancakes. A women came over to show us how to eat it…she took a pancake and added a couple of slices of duck with its crispy skin dipped in the sauce first, and a few pieces of veggies. Then she rolled it up and voila, it was ready to eat. We really enjoyed eating the traditional food which was quite good but also quite greasy…definitely something to be eaten only once in a while. Right as we were finishing, they had some local performers come out and do various entertainment bits. We ordered green tea and paid our bill as we watched the entertainment (see video below). Our guide explained that usually they would bring a cup of soup made from the duck bones at the end of the meal or they can bring the full carcass to bring home and make the soup yourself. He explained duck soup is gross and that no one likes it so asked us to just get the bones and bring them to him so he and his family could eat them. He may have been lying and just wanted the bones but we did what he said…they basically put the duck bones in the oven until they are really crunchy and eat them straight.
Our long day came to a close and Giff and I relaxed in our hotel room for the rest of the evening.