LIGHTER SIDE

SIDEBARS

Chapter 3

by Brent Gill

BEIJING, CHINA

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September 8, 2006 1:00am

Today we get to buy Jade, see the Great Wall of China, see Cloisonne' made, visit the Ming Burial site, watch acrobats, and have a Peking Duck dinner.
A real "herd" of clerks at the Jade Factory, all anxious to assist the tourist.
A Jade incense-burning carving. It is over 28 inches tall, and 13 inches wide. The sign at the bottom says "Don't Touch Please" in both English and Chinese. The price? 30,000 Yuan or $3,750 USD.
An intricately carved ship. The length was nearly 40 inches, and the height at least 30 inches.
Sharon is comparing the two beautiful bracelets. She bought the upper one.
There it is! The Great Wall of China. Right in front of us.
Notice the steepness of the steps. This shows some of the variation in size of each step. In reality, they were much more severe than this picture, though.
VICTORY!
A young worker applying blue color to a Cloisone' vase. It is very intricate, slow work.
Another tour group hearing about the Ming Burial Site from their government-emplolyed Tour Escort.

Previously...

7/25–AUDIO: The dog days of July

7/18–AUDIO: Stubborn as a… bull

7/11–AUDIO: Life with dogs, or, watch where you step

7/4–AUDIO: The case of the purloined grain

6/27–Brent Gill returns!

9/1–Falling Underwear Can Be Revealing

3/19–Sightseeing on an 8N?

1/29–Gardening On The Whitehouse Lawn?

1/29–Windy Texans and Other Tales

12/8–A GPS for finding ... a BATHROOM?

11/28–Serious Sports Fans vs Serious Shoppers

11/24–A Bare-faced (?) Exaggeration

11/18–A Robot For All Ends

11/13–A Real Green Machine

10/15–What The Judges Needed

10/9–High MPG Commentary

10/3–The Eagle Gets Bothered by Crows

9/30–Common Sense in New California Law

8/19–Technology can be a pain

9/15–Epilogue

9/14–Chapter 7

9/13–Chapter 6

9/12–Chapter 5

9/11–Chapter 4

9/8–Chapter 3

9/7–Chapter 2

9/6–Chapter 1

9/5–Prologue!

8/1–Another Unwelcome Visitor

6/5–A Visitor To The Shop

4/3–The View From The Office

3/20–Houdini is at it again!

3/8–The Case of Houdini is Finally Solved

2/28–Houdini and The Cohort in Crime

2/27–View From The Office Windows

10/26–The case of the missing calf

7/28–Could this be a new plum variety?


(These are the text from a series of e-mails sent to friends and family while we were on a trip to China)

Thursday evening, July 20 – 9:35 PM

WOW. It has been another HUGE day. At least I didn't start OUT tired! But ... I guaran-damn-tee ya ... I am whipped tonight.

I climbed the Great Wall of China today. I didn't make it all the way to the top. I did make it up past at least three guard towers and many steps up. MANY steps up!

There is absolutely NO WAY that I could have done that in January, when I was 71 pounds heavier than I am today! Sharon even went a little of the way up the steps. The height spooked her and she quickly quit in favor of shopping at the vendors around the area at the bottom of the wall.

I will upload pictures before I go to bed tonight. We are currently packing for we move tomorrow. Our big bags have to be outside the room door by 11 pm for pickup.

We broke out Sharon's extra duffle bag, and will put our bathroom stuff in there. Clothes are not much problem, but the other stuff is. So, everything we need tonight will go in her duffle, including her second purse. When we get out to the bus in the morning I’ll piggy-back the duffle onto the big bag, making it easier to move.

Today was really busy with a Jade Carving place, The Great Wall, A Cloisonné Factory, The Ming Burial location, an acrobats show. The day ended with dinner at a restaurant famous for its' Peking Duck.

It is 10:55 PM and our big bags are already outside the door. The bellboy came to the door at 10:45 when were told 11:00, but now all is ready and waiting.

We move to Souzhou tomorrow, with one last stop in Beijing then off to the airport.

I am tired from the Great Wall, my legs are like rubber, but other than that, life is good.

There may not be anything written in the morning, but I will try. We have to be on the bus at 7:30.

Pictures from today are going up now. I will share them when they get up there.

Brent and Sharon in Beijing

++++++++++++++

Friday, July 21 – 5:20 AM

This has been a run-run-run few days. When I look back to Monday morning it seems like a very long time. Considering that all day Monday, plus all day Tuesday, I was either waiting to get on a plane, sitting on a plane, or on a bus going to or from an airport, it was indeed a lengthy period of travel. And that really did not come to an end until Wednesday morning around 1:00 AM.

Wednesday, our first full day in China, was a fast-moving day with at least four miles of walking. However we were in the hotel by 7:00 PM after our dinner, tired and footsore. We had done that first big day on very few hours of sleep, as it was nearly 2:30 AM when I finally rolled into bed. Our wake-up call came a very short three hours later.

Thursday we were much more rested to start our day. Our first stop of the day was at a Jade Carving Factory. After a brief tour through a series of craftsmen of both genders who were using machines to carve jade pieces, we were led onto the sales floor.

I was immediately struck by the size of these displays and the number of clerks waiting to assist the tourist in the purchase of jade products. The room was lined with display shelves, with either tables in the middle or glass jewelry display cases. The interior of the room was at least 50 feet wide and nearly 250 feet long. An additional showroom 30 feet wide and 100 feet long had been added off one side. Down at the far end another 30 feet by 50 feet room had been added.

The number of young people employed as clerks was impressive. The picture of the row of waiting clerks was in the added side room. Behind the glass counters and walking the floor area were many more. It was impossible to step up to an item to look closer without hearing at your elbow, “You like?” They were not bothersome nor persistent, but they were certainly attentive.

Sharon found two green jade bracelets, and asked me for my opinion. The upper bracelet had a deeper color of green, so I suggested it over the other one. The darker bracelet joined the pearls as a souvenir.

I was amazed at the number of items being displayed, and the price of some of the more ornate articles. The pictures show a few of them.

In late morning we arrived at the Wall. Two-thirds of us hit the stairs to experience actually climbing The Great Wall of China. Several hardy souls made it all the way to the top. I did pretty well considering I was hauling 254 pounds up the stairs. The seventy pounds that I have lost, thus did not have to carry, would have kept me sitting at the bottom of the mountain watching. I am very thankful that I was able to do much more than watch.

The surface of the stairs are stone. This is sometimes solid, sometimes worn, and even sometimes broken away leaving only concrete for a stepping surface. That fact is not the problem. What is an absolute killer is the height of the step. They range from as little as two inches to a maximum of fourteen to sixteen inches. The steepness of the mountain seemed to determine how far up you must step. This of course determined how much you had to lift your body with whatever leg was placed on the top of that step.

If the steps were uniform in width and height it would have been easy to pick a slow rhythmic pace and grind it out. But there is no way to do that.

Two or three steps will be four inches high. The next step will be fifteen inches. The following one will be eight inches. After that will be four or five steps twelve inches tall. It is so irregular that your legs are given a very serious beating.

I heard others describing how difficult the varying heights made climbing the wall. It didn’t seem that would be much of a problem. Trust me … it is.

Of course, you cannot forget that for every step upward you are going to have to take the same step downward later. Going down is always harder on the big leg muscles. You now have to rely almost entirely on muscular strength to let you down and control any lateral movement.

I simply had to stop and sit, either on the hand-railing or the top of some portion of the wall, to allow oxygen to return to my burning leg muscles. Several times in that descent I was aware that if I had not been being very careful, or had not had a solid grip on the railing, my flagging muscles would have been unable to prevent me from toppling sideways.

I had to be constantly aware of how I placed my feet and who and what was in front of me. The feeling of insecurity in my legs brought to mind a line from some old movie, "Come on legs. Don't fail me now!"

As you can see in my picture, I was soaked in sweat but I had a grin you couldn't cover with my ugly hat! That was my “victory picture.” I was over 70 pounds lighter than at Christmas. I was able to successfully climb The Great Wall of China.

Speaking of ugly hats lets get something straight right now. I have no misconception that my hat is the height of fashion. In fact it is probably one of the more ungainly looking things around. But it has both a nice wide bill in front and a back that covers my neck and ears. So the purpose is accomplished by keeping the sun off my tender hide in those areas. But is it ugly? Undeniably.

After the Great Wall it was off to lunch in a restaurant above the Cloisonné Factory. After lunch we had time to shop and explore the store and the working area. There is a picture of a young lady working on a big blue vase.

It was at this store that I had some interesting facts made crystal clear to me.

Our Chinese Tour Guide was a delightful young man, 29 years old, named Jason. Though he does understand the American thinking and culture very well, he really knew nothing else but what he had been taught in China. In brief, what he knew is that "... our government ..." is great and wonderful, anticipates all problems, does something magnificent and marvelous about them, and does it all very quickly.

As our Tour Guide, he did not work for an entrepreneurial business. He worked for “the government.” Period. Make absolutely no mistake about that.

He was a government representative showing us precisely what the Government of China wanted us to see. He was highly responsible to "someone" he talked to on a regular basis on his cell phone.

One of our men became ill with a mild case of traveler’s gastric upset. He had taken the good old Imodium, but he was still not feeling very well. He wanted to get back to the hotel, take a shower to get the Great Wall off his hide then take a nap. As Bus Captain I was approached for a solution, as Jason and the bus driver had gone somewhere in the bus.

I spoke to a member of the store staff who immediately started working on getting the ailing man a taxi. A second man from the store was very worried about the fact that Jason was not available to "release" this young man from the bus to return to the hotel on his own.

I turned to him and said, "Jason is not available at this moment. I am the Bus Captain. I will personally take responsibility for releasing him from the bus to return to his hotel."

The concerned store man nodded sagely, "Good. That is very, very important. OK."

In that instant I realized that both the man from the store and Jason were responsible to someone else. That someone else was going to be greatly concerned that a U.S. Citizen was wandering around Beijing in a taxi and not on the bus. When on the bus what was seen and where he went was strictly under the control of a government-approved representative. My declaration of responsibility gave the store person a justification to allow the young man to leave the group.

Well, time to get a shower this morning and get moving. Breakfast first, then on the bus at 7:30 and off to our first tourist stop. After that it is off to the airport for our flight to Shanghai. Our group is actually split into two flying groups. Eleven of our twenty-four are flying out at 11:00 AM, and the remaining thirteen at Noon. Nobody seems to be able to answer why that is happening, but that was simply what Jason told us last night as we returned to the hotel after our Peking Duck dinner.

It was glaringly obvious that the decision to split the group was made at a level well above Jason.

There is so much more to tell, and so many more stories to relate. I am frustrated by not being able to tell it all, but time is not going to allow it in these notes.

The current time is 5:55 AM here, and breakfast starts at 6:30. I need to get a shower and get around.

Brent and Sharon in Beijing

I am back from Breakfast (7:02 AM Friday China time - 4:02 PM Thursday PDT) and ready to pack up the computer to move.

I am not sure about the hotel tonight, so will have to get another e-mail out when I can. That could be in Shanghai on Sunday for all I know. Hangzhou and Souzhou hotels MIGHT have internet connect, but there is no certainty of that.

When I can!

Brent and Sharon leaving Beijing this morning

(If you have questions about anything you read today, contact me through the web site. Click on Advertising, and in the middle of the page is a direct link to my e-mail.)

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