Another Brit in The Wall

We were up again at 7.00 this morning, fed and watered and out of the hotel by 8.30am.  As we crossed the road in front of the hotel on our way to the bus, we were accosted by various hawkers selling anything from postcards, fans and sun hats to “Rolex” watches and “Gucci” handbags, all of which we refused.

The Beijing traffic first thing on a Monday morning was horrendous, and the bus crawled along at a snail’s pace.  However, it enabled us to see (and get some good photos of) the 2008 Olympics stadium, nicknamed the “Birds’ Nest” because of its shape.  We also saw the futuristic-looking aquatics centre, called “The Cube” and the velodrome.  Robert told us that the future of the Birds’ Nest is uncertain; they haven’t really found a use for it since the Olympics and it might just end up being demolished.   😦

Eventually we pulled up at our first stop for today; a look around a silk farm and factory.  China is well-known for its silk production and I was looking forward to seeing the beautiful fabrics as well as some of the clothing and household goods.

When we went in, a lady (whose English name was Mary) started by explaining the life-cycle of the silk moth, and how the larvae (worms) eat many times their own body weight in mulberry leaves before spinning their cocoon, the last stage before their metamorphosis into a moth.  In silk production, the grubs inside the cocoons are killed and the cocoons are then placed in boiling water to dissolve the gum that holds the silken threads together.  Where possible, the cocoon is then unwound into one very long, fine thread.  A strand of silk is very strong; stronger than a strand of steel of the same thickness.  We were allowed to feel the silk strands; they were barely visible they were so fine.

We were next taken to a place where the staff were creating pure silk wadding for use in duvets and pillows.  Once the cocoons were unwound, the silk yarn is then spun into skeins which provide a dense fabric which can be teased (stretched) into the layers than form the wadding for the quilt.   The layers are then stitched together and sewn into the outer bag (which is also made of silk).  The resulting duvet is extremely light and breathable, and can keep you warm in the cooler months and cool in the summer.  They finished duvets were on sale for 680 Yuan (around £68.00) for a queen-size quilt.  In addition, you could also buy the pure silk duvet covers and pillowcases, but as these were of a very fine fabric with quite ornate patterns, they were very expensive; I remember seeing a king-size set for over £400.00.

Some people in our party bought the duvets and pillows, but I was more interested in seeing the clothing.  In particular, I was looking for a silken wrap or shawl that I could wear with a plain black dress on our next cruise in January.   🙂

We went into a massive emporium; it was full of Chinese Mandarin jackets, kimonos, cheong sams, shirts, blouses and all sorts of other things.  I eventually found the scarves and shawls and bought myself a lovely, floaty brightly coloured wrap for about 50 quid.  Gorgeous; you could only wear it with something very plain as you wouldn’t want anything else to detract from the beauty of the silken wrap.  Can’t wait to wear it.   🙂

Back on the bus we continued to battle our way through the traffic to our next destination (and probably the one thing we’d all come to see), the Great Wall of China.  Originally we were going to visit the Wall first, spend a couple of hours there, then have our lunch, but as we were running quite late it would be after 2.00pm before we got something to eat (and we’d had breakfast at 7.30am).  Therefore we decided to go to lunch first, then visit the Wall afterwards.

We arrived at Badaling and went into the blissfully air-conditioned restaurant where a buffet lunch had been laid on, consisting mainly of Chinese food but also some Western as well.  We enjoyed some cold beer with the meal (as ever) and, once we’d finished, we had a quick look round the souvenir shop before assembling outside to wait for the flag-waving Robert.  He explained to us that there were two routes we could take along the Wall; the “hard way” or the “bloody hard way”.   🙂   When we looked up at the famous Great Wall wending its way over the hills and mountains into the distance, we could see crowds and crowds of people, so the advantage of taking the “bloody hard” way was that there would be fewer people.  So that was the way we went.

In the heat and humidity it was hard going, and it was very steep in some parts, making the wedge flip-flops I was wearing somewhat difficult to walk in.  I went as far as I could, but as I am not very fit I got to a point on the wall where I had a great vantage point (and took some excellent photos) and I told Trevor I’d sit and wait for him there.  So he went the whole eight towers along the ramparts, as far as he could.  I think he was one of only two of us in our party who managed it.

When we got to the bottom again (it was so steep we had to use the hand-rails in part) we had some time to spare before getting back on the bus, so we went and found a café that had shaded tables outside, where we saw a couple from our party sitting enjoying a beer.  So we joined them and enjoyed a freezing cold bottle of Heineken each, while a Chinese woman hovered by our table and tried to sell us t-shirts and fans at outrageous prices.

We got back on the bus again, pleased to be back in the air con, as we were tired, grimy, grubby and sweaty.  We still had one more place to visit today though, the Summer Palace and Imperial Garden.

We had about half an hour on the bus before we arrived at the Palace.  The driver parked the bus and we all got off, and Robert and our guide Sherry took us into the palace grounds.  There were many gilded statues, pagodas and ornate buildings.  The well-tended gardens and pavilions border the Kunming Lake, and we could see a great many lotus plants, some of them in bloom with the distinctive pink flowers.

It was very pleasant walking along the water side; in fact we hadn’t seen much water at all since we’d arrived in China, and our swimming costumes remained unworn for this trip.  We enjoyed a refreshing ice lolly as we strolled along in the shaded walkways.

When it was time for us to go back to the bus, we arrived back to a sight to behold.  Our bus driver was lying on a reclining sun-lounger under the shade of a tree, mouth open, fast asleep and oblivious to the world, while the bus was locked up and a small group of people waited patiently nearby.  The driver showed no sign of waking up so Trevor, spotting a discarded bird feather on the ground, picked it up and stealthily approached the driver, to the muted titters of some of the group, who couldn’t quite believe what he was going to do.  Sure enough, Trevor delicately tickled the driver under the chin with the feather, eliciting a snort and a grunt as the driver awoke with a start, much to the amusement of those waiting nearby.   🙂

It did the trick, however and, folding up his lounger and putting it back in the hold of the bus, he opened the vehicle up and we all trooped inside, ready for the journey back to the hotel.  Dinner was a bit later tonight, at 8.30pm, so it would give us time to have a much needed shower and freshen up, before the “last supper” as it were, as some of our party were due to fly home tomorrow.

Once we arrived back, I really enjoyed my shower, washing the day’s grime off and blow drying my hair.  Feeling as though I’d had a new lease of life, we went down to the dining room where the special tonight was Peking Duck.  Robert had also got us some bottles of red wine and Chinese “fire water”, some very strong spirit.

It was a jolly crowd around our table tonight.  The first dish they brought out was century egg.   This is an egg which had been preserved for many months until its yolk turns dark green and the white goes brown.  It looks pretty unappetising but I thought I couldn’t really judge it if I hadn’t tried it, so I took a tiny slice, expecting it to stink of sulphur and taste awful, but in actual fact it just tasted the same as ordinary hard-boiled egg!   🙂

We enjoyed the usual tasty selection of Chinese dishes and the Peking Duck was excellent, all washed down with Tsing Tao beer, red wine, and a couple of glasses of fire water.  Our group were the last to leave the dining room; in fact the staff were hovering around, waiting for us to go so they could clear the tables and finish their shift!

Eventually we all finished and, while some went up to their rooms to start packing (as it was our last night in Beijing) others, including Trevor and I, repaired to the coffee shop/bar as we weren’t ready to go to bed just yet.

We enjoyed a beer in the coffee shop before going up to our room about 11.00pm and packing whatever we wouldn’t need in the morning.  We were due to leave for the airport at 5.00am tomorrow, so we needed to try to sleep.

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