Yesterday was just for sightseeing. The idea was to keep us occupied at something low-stress so that we could help get over jetlag. Seeing as I've been wide awake since 4:00 am, it would appear that I need some more help where that's concerned.
We started by going to a jade factory. I'm not sure that "factory" is exactly the right word, since it seems for the most part that the jade is still mostly worked by hand, but it looks as though large numbers of people are employed there. I never knew, well, really anything about making jade, but it's very attractive. We then had an opportunity to buy jade--the tour, unsurprisingly, ended in the store--but we didn't avail ourselves of the opportunity.
Next we went to the Great Wall (see video; and there's a lot more where that came from). That was a truly amazing experience. The part of the wall we visited dates back to the 14th century--new by Chinese standards--but some sections go back to the 3rd century BC. As it spans the mountains there are lots of steps, and many are uneven, so it can be a perilous climb. In addition, the handrails were added with people much shorter than we in mind. As a result, we didn't walk very far. Some members of our group made an entire circuit around this section, and it took them over an hour.
You know, for a communist country the spirit of free enterprise seems alive and well here. Vendors were located all around the Great Wall selling souvenirs and shouting at passersby promising the best deals. It's important to negotiate at these places; when they see a foreigner they'll announce a high price (frankly, even their high prices seem like peanuts when translated into U.S. dollars), but will clearly accept a fraction of that.
Another observation--hardly anyone smokes here. I had been told that it's very common, but I saw virtually no smoking. Not that I'm complaining, exactly, but I had intended to smoke a cigar or two while I'm here, and so far I've been hesitant to do so. Also, I didn't bring my lighter, and I'm not sure where I can even get a light. Hmmm.
After the Great Wall we went to another factory, this one specializing in cloisonne. These are copper items (usually urns or vases) that are covered with enamel, fired in a kiln, and polished to a high sheen. Beijing is apparently center of the cloisonne trade, and here again we learned about the painstaking efforts involved in producing it. And of course we couldn't leave without buying a piece. At this place there was no negotiating, I learned. We paid 880 Yuan, which converts roughly to about $125, for a gorgeous handcrafted vase.
Our last stop was the Olympic Stadium, often called the "Bird's Nest." The Chinese are immensely proud that they hosted last year's Olympics, but now Beijing has a multitude of sports facilities, and it's not clear what they're going to be used for. In the meantime the government sells tickets to go into the stadium and walk around. It's an impressive facility, to be sure, but I'm not sure I'd pay to walk around in a stadium in America. But such is the pride that the Chinese have for the fact that their capital was the site of the Olympic Games that they flock to the place, waiting in lines to have their photographs taken with the official mascots (well, with people dressed up like the mascots, anyway).
After we left the stadium Zhou, our guide, gave us an opportunity to go to an acrobatic performance. Most of the group did, but we opted to return to the hotel. We were wiped out, and really, really cold. So we had a quiet evening in the room, only venturing out to have dinner in the hotel restaurant (we're staying in a very nice Holiday Inn). I forced myself to stay awake until 9:00.
Oh, one more thing. When we arrived in Beijing we found that one of our suitcases--the one with the baby stuff, fortunately, which we won't need until Monday--didn't make it. It turns out it had been misdirected to Amsterdam. Well, the folks at the airport told us that we'd get it the next day, and sure enough, we did. It was delivered to our room yesterday evening.