What a long day, but it was a great day! We started off driving an hour and a half to the Great Wall at Badaling. This is not the section we had visited ten years ago. Fred, Rachel and one of her friends, Amber, made it almost to the top. They wanted to keep going but we are on a strict time schedule and had to meet for lunch. I didn't go as high as them, but I was happy with how far I made it. There were some pretty steep areas, and the railing was really necessary for the climb down. While waiting for Fred and Rachel I did some browsing in the shops. After an okay buffet lunch, we did some shopping. Rachel had her name written in Chinese on a grain of rice and put in a crystal to hang around her neck. It cost $3. Fred the stud had more requests for pictures. After Fred and the girls came back down, we were in a little courtyard area with some shops, and some older Chinese people asked to have their picture taken with all of us. We could tell they were with a tour from the hats they had on. There were a LOT of people with these hats on, and a couple more came over for pictures. We started to feel like celebrities with the papparazi taking our pictures. It was funny, but we had to cut it short and head to lunch.
Then we took a curvy road through the mountains to the Summer Palace. I wish it wouldn't have been so hazy so we could have gotten better pictures. Our little group of 20 (including our wonderful guide, Bing) attracted a lot of attention. We were standing in one spot for about ten minutes while Bing was talking about the Empresses and the Summer Palace, and I noticed a lot of people stopping and staring at us. I'm sure they were trying to figure out why these caucasian adults had Chinese children. At one point later, before we got on the dragon boat, Bing was talking again, and I noticed a group of men who had been staring at us before. This is after we walked half way around the large man made lake, about a 15 minute walk. This time the men were really close, and even though Bing told us we don't have to worry about safety here, and I hate to bring up anything negative, these men were leering at the girls, and I was extremely uncomfortable. I went and stood between 3 or 4 of the girls and the men and told the girls to stay with me when we walked to the dragon boat. It's not that our group was separated, and their parents were close by, but I don't know if they saw the men. Anyway, that was the last we saw of them, and enjoyed the rest of our time there. The Summer Palace and lake are beautiful, but it was hot and humid.
We then drove to the Olympic venues, and were actually able to get out and walk down the street in front of the Water Cube. Very cool. Rachel wanted to run around the track in the Bird's Nest, but there wasn't time. I don't even know if they let you in. I doubt it. The condos in the buildings where they athletes stayed have completely sold out, at a price of 18,000 yuan per square meter.
Beijing has some very cool architecture. One thing I was hoping to see was the CCTV Building, and I caught a glimpse of it before dinner, but never saw the whole thing. BIng refers to one building owned by Morgan Stanley as the dragon building. The top of one tower is curved and she thinks of it as the dragon's head. The top of one of the shorter towers looks like a dragon's tail.
We then had another wonderful dinner, followed by the Chinese Acrobats show, which was really amazing. That was followed by packing and bed.
China has really changed a lot in ten years. Bing says it is more of a capitalist country than a socialist one. The government no longer provides jobs when you finish college, but they do encourage you to begin your career right away. There are more cars than bikes now. Ten years ago we saw a lot of bamboo scaffolding, and I have yet to see any this trip. Dogs -- I hate to say it, but the only dogs we saw last time were for sale as food. A lot of people now have dogs as pets. We've seen many every day. Before dinner tonight there was a small street pet market with everything for sale from crickets (a symbol of good luck) to chow chows. There were chipmunks, bunnies and birds. All for sale as pets, not food.
Today we will visit a school for special needs adults where we will get to interact with the students. Then we will tour a hutong by rickshaw and get to visit with a local family. Bing said we can ask anything we want. From there we will go to a mall for dinner and shopping. Then on to Tienneman Square for kite flying (if there are no official events taking place) before catching the train to Xi'an.
I don't know if we'll have internet access in Xi'an like we do here. Hopefully I'll be able to update as frequently as I do now.