Friday, 8 June 2007

China day 3 - These tombs aren't that bad...

Day number three was a bit of a gamble - the youth hostel where I stayed had signs up for tours in the reception. 100 Yuan was to get me to the Ming tombs, the Great Wall and back again, lunch included. That's about seven pounds in English money, so it seemed a bit good to be true. One of the problems was that I had been on similar tours in Thailand and been given a runaround the shops and craft factories of Bangkok. Not what I was hoping for.

Beeeeepp! The phone rang at 6am to get me up in time to leave. I stumbled into the shower, onto the toilet, in front of the sink and finally down the stairs with my gear. I was greeted in the foyer by my guide for the day, who introduced me to my fellow tourer, Rachel. She had also just finished five years in Japan, teaching. I was quite pleased to have someone to talk to and something to talk about. I'd have hated to end up with a big bunch of lager boys in England shirts.

Alas, my worries had proven all too close to the bone. On the way to the Ming tombs, we had to stop at the Jade factory. It was moderately interesting, and as we had lied and said we were American (at the urging of our guide, I should add) we were graciously allowed to leave and carry on to the the Ming tomb.

That's Ming tomb in the singular. All the others were closed for renovation, pre-Olympics. I think that we were in there for about twenty minutes. Here's a picture with a story behind it:

Red-flecked Pillar Potted History
The red-flecked pillar was there for the Chinese emperors to write their lives and thoughts on. Chinese emperors being what they are, they never got round to the writing bit and so the pillar was left blank. When the glorious day came, the soldiers came to destroy it along with anything else of cultural or religious worth. The squad came, huffed, puffed, pulled on ropes and couldn't budge it. "Right then," said the squad leader, "I'll come back with more men tomorrow."

The whole thing had been seen by Mao's mentor, who knew that this was one of China's national treasures. He stealthily took a pot of red paint and daubed the column red. He wrote the words Long Live Mao Tsi Tung on there for good measure. The next day the soldiers came back and they couldn't pull down the pillar because of the colour and words written there. Thus the national treasure was preserved. Feel free to moralise at your own leisure.

Next on the list was the Jade factory. "What the fuck?" The guide said, "Ah, but this one also does Cloisonné. Totally different."

After that we went for our free lunch. That was also in a Jade factory. We were feeling pretty jaded by this point, so I pointed out to the guide that jade was also another word for prostitute and wondered if this had had any influence on the behaviour of the tour company.

The dinner was plentiful and palatable. We lit out for the great wall. the guide went into a great ramble about setting targets and if you achieve that target then you can be a hero. This refers back to a famous Mao quote; "No man can be a hero until he has climbed the great wall." I came up with my own on the way up, in the 30 degree heat and direct sunlight. "No man may be a hero until he has sweat a pint and dodged thousands of tourists on a reconstruction of the wall."

I got to the top, by the way.

Next was the silk factory. We had a few choice words for the guide at this point. He said that there was nothing that he could do. If he changed the plan he would get fired. We had a tour for ten minutes. We sat in the silk factory for a further thirty until we were allowed to leave.

After this we went to the State Sponsored Tea House where they had a novel way of checking the water temperature. They fill the little terracotta feller with cold water, and if the water you tip on him is over 80 degrees C, water squirts out of his warrior.

Outside there was a Chinese garden with a lady playing the dulcimer. It was nice and atmospheric.

The day was, well, at least a little disappointing. I spent half of one of only four days in China being plagued by salespeople and hanging around hard-sellers. My advice to anyone who might go to China is this:
Be prepared to pay to get the better tours. You will get round the program in half of the time if you do. Before paying for / booking a tour, make sure that you ask them to confirm that there will be no shopping detours.
On the positive side, the tea, wall and view therefrom were excellent.

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

I'd love to walk the whole wall, but I don't have the necessary years to take off to do so.