Monday, May 19, 2008

Beijing - Day 1

With only 2 days in Beijing the smartest thing was to hire a driver and a guide...I am amazed at what we were able to see! Our traveling group were 3 other EYers, all experienced travelers and Peter, our guide, who was extremely patriotic and always politically correct. Hoping the dreary weather would clear we started with a tour of the Cloisonne factory and shop, of course! Our driver made a wrong turn and drove against traffic on the highway but we lived to tell the story and it was the first of many "traffic" stories.
On to the Great Wall. The hour drive to Mutianyu gave Peter, the guide, time to give us a brief history lesson. Since it was cold and rainy he suggested we take the (open) ski lift up and we decided the cable car down - good group decision. The weather gave the mountain a mystical feeling as if we were sitting in the clouds. It was built between the 5th century BC and the 16th century AD; it's purpose was protective and for many Chinese people the wall remains a part of their cultural identity. In a word - AWEsome!
From there we visited the Lama Temple to see the largest statue of Buddha carved out of a single sandalwood tree from Tibet. Although it is open to tourist many Chinese were burning incense and worshiping. It was clear that the temple is an attempt to demonstrate that the government "tolerates" Tibetan Buddhism. That night we had a fabulous Beijing Duck dinner including the crispy skin dipped in sugar. I had the honor of cracking open the hard clay covering of the Beggar's Chicken with a mallet....presentation is everything!

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