Beijing--August 24, 2004--Jade Factory, Ming Tombs, Great Wall, Cloisonné factory
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Today was the day for the visit to the Great Wall, which is considered a highlight of any China tour. But first, we visited a jade factory and shop and learned about a wide variety of jade (73-75). Some of objects produced by the factory were huge (73) and almost always carved from a single piece of jade. The large ship, several feet wide, cost under $10,000 and took four persons four years to craft. When one calculates the annual earnings of each laborer from the endeavor, it is not much. One of the salespersons (74) said that the bracelet on her arm belonged to her grandmother who had passed away. She indicated it was how she kept in touch with the grandmother and said she never took it off.
Next we proceeded to the Ming Tombs, located 30 miles northwest of Beijing. Thirteen of the Ming emperors are buried here. We approached the site through the Spirit Avenue (76-85) with statues of many animals, some mythological. An emperor's coffin would have been conveyed along this route to his tomb.
From the avenue, we entered the Chang Ling Exhibition hall where we viewed various artifacts and reproductions from the tombs (89-93).
After lunch, we traveled to Badaling, 43 miles northwest of Beijing, to visit the Great Wall (94-111A). This is the most frequently visited Great Wall site in China because of its proximity to Beijing and, consequently, the crowds here are large. Once on site, we had a group photograph taken (111A) and then toured the Wall. By the time we were finished a couple of hours later, the photos had been developed and inserted in a keepsake book of photographs of the Great Wall.
The origins of the Wall date to 453 B.C. and it is thought that as many as 300,000 laborers worked at one time to combine various sections of the Wall into a somewhat continuous barrier. The Wall consists of various branches so no one is sure exactly how long it is--estimates range from 6,200 to 31,000 miles. Although it is frequently said that the Wall can be seen from space, some dispute that, although it would seem that fact would be easy to pin down.
Everyone likes to take a crack at climbing the Great Wall but they warn persons that it's not for the faint of heart or for those with health conditions. Some of the steps are extremely steep and very irregular (104). If one ever fell on the way down, a serious injury or fatality would result. We took a crack at climbing and went up, up, up but the climb was deceptive in that it seems almost continually that you are about to reach the top, only to discover there is yet another steep set of steps ahead. We never did make it to the top and are not sure where the "top" is on this section of the wall. There are souvenir vendors all along the climb including artisans who craft etchings, sketches and other paraphernalia (101) and, when one descends, there are yet more vendors selling multiple items including "I climbed the Great Wall" t-shirts. One of the cafes in the vendors' area even advertised Colombian coffee (106).
For our final stop of the day, we visited a cloisonné factory and shop (112-119). Cloisonné is a multi-step process to create objects decorated with a pattern formed by pieces of enamel in various colors separated by strips of flattened wire. Even though we arrived at this state-owned factory and store late in the day, all of the artisans were working away and the huge store was staffed with a very large number of clerks for which are small tour group were the only customers. We found this pattern throughout China and concluded that since labor is so cheap, it costs little in overhead to keep vast numbers of persons standing by to wait on the tourists.
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