Wax Museum, Tomb, Jade Carvers, Great Wall

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This post was originally published in 2007
It may contain stale & outdated information. Or it may have grown more awesome with age, like the author.

Today we had to get up at six-thirty. Had breakfast at the hotel, which was bland. Got on the bus and slept while we drove to the Ming Dynasty Museum. It was filled with life-sized models of historical figures, involved in various activities. We weren't allowed to take photos. I think the figures were made of wax. The museum was interesting enough. Most of the sets were of Emperors involved in daily tasks, like torturing evil ministers, or "cavorting with concubines", but some were more interesting, being displays of battle scenes. My personal favourite was the display of an Emperor's cousin being roasted alive in a 300 lb pot. The cousin could lift the pot, a display of strength that scared the Emperor enough to have him killed. Great stuff. After another ride on the bus, we arrived at the place where Emperors were buried. Like all imperial areas, it was very big. It hadn't snowed for weeks, but there was still snow in places that were shaded from the sun for most of the day. I kicked the dirty snow around while the guide went and bought tickets. When the guide returned, she talked for about 5 minutes about the temple, I guess - too fast for me to understand. After her speech we entered the temple grounds, and were treated to another speech. This time there wasn't any snow about for me to kick, so I took some photos. Most of the photos I took were awful though, so I deleted them. Her second speech over, we entered the big building in the center of the courtyard. It was filled with relics that had been dug up from the tombs. I took photos of the more interesting ones. It seems the Emperors were fond of elaborate hats, one for every occasion. Also important were jade belts. Of course the leather had long rotted away, leaving only the jade. There was a sword as well, which was obviously my favourite. In the center of the building there was a bronze statue of an old man, I guess an Emperor. After being led around the items on display, and being told about them in lightening fast Mandarin, it was time to go outside again. I was excited, as outside is where one finds dirty snow - fun to kick. We walked to the other side of the building, and climbed up some stairs. The view from the top was nice, and I took some photos of it while the guide talked some more. Before arriving at the Great Wall, we visited a jade store/ place where Jade is carved. We were led through an area with various intricate carvings on display, and the woman assigned to our tour group talked incessantly. I looked at the rocks and marveled at the price tags. When she had finished talking about that room, we were led into a smaller room with no windows. The guide moved to the lectern and proceeded to lecture us on the differences between fake, low quality and high quality jade. The one part of her presentation that I enjoyed was when she used some high quality jade to scratch some glass. When the show was over, we were led past a room where people were working on some carvings. My Dad carves Jade, so it was pretty 'samey' for me. I did note that they lacked the plethora of machines that Dad has in his warehouse - maybe they were out the back. Finally we were led to the main area, a very large room filled with glass display cases. We walked around for about half an hour before becoming bored, then milled about in a group, making it rather obvious that we weren't going to buy anything. After milling about for another half an hour, we had lunch at a nearby restaurant. Back to the bus, to the Great Wall this time. I bought two bottles of Coke after arriving at the car park. The shop owner didn't understand that I wanted two bottles, so I repeated myself until his friend realised and told him. The Coke was really expensive, being 10元 per bottle, or $2.50. Funny how "really expensive" is still not as much as the same bottles would cost in New Zealand - $3.90. I savoured the delicious taste as I wandered up to the rest of the group, who were huddled around the guide listening to another blazing introduction to the area. Just beyond the entrance there were a series of reeking pits in the ground, about 6 meters in diameter and 5 deep. During a team meeting in the past, management obviously thought that the Great Wall itself didn't pull enough tourists, and the site needed something else. That something else, obviously the result of a drunken brainstorming evening, was a series of stinking pits filled with bears. The pits were like bear heaven, solid concrete floors and walls, rusty metal frames to climb about on. The bears all looked very happy, none of them seemed insane. When tired of swaying back and forth, or just hungry, the bears would climb the frames and perform various unnatural movements, which they presumably learned would encourage people to throw food at them. Saucers of chopped apple were placed all around the pits, and the handlers would throw a piece or two to the bears when tourists approached. One of the men in our group threw a piece, and was told to pay 5元 by the handler. The man argued that this was too high a price for a tiny piece of apple, and the handler said that the 5元 would allow him to throw the whole saucerful. The man said he didn't want to do that, he'd only wanted to throw one piece, as he thought it was free - no price tag! He argued with the handler for a time, and was eventually allowed to pay only 3元. The handler said he could throw some more apple pieces to the bears if he wished, but the man had lost interest by this time, and the guide had arrived. [caption id="attachment_167" align="alignright" width="168" caption="Someone slipped LSD into my drink"]Someone slipped LSD into my drink[/caption]We lined up at the entrance to where I thought we would begin our long walk to the wall, which was on the top of the hills high above us. I was surprised to see a loop track with small carts running along it. It turned out we were to ride these to the top of the hill, and wander along the wall from there. The ride up was fairly tame, the majority of the track went through a tunnel that had coloured neon lights along its roof. After the tunnel the track ran along the side of the hill, which gave us some nice views. I didn't take any photos though, because the vibrations prevented clarity. After arriving at the top, we were given about an hour to walk along the wall. Yvonne and I headed to the far end, as it is the highest. The Great Wall is very big, as the name implies, and is also very long - as the Chinese name "Long Wall" tells us. Its historical purpose was to keep the barbarian hordes from smashing the Emperor's pretty things, but now, along with the Stinking Bear pits, it is a leading tourist attraction. It is also one of the few tourist attractions that provides the visiting tourist with quite a workout. I wanted to go quickly, Yvonne wanted to go slowly. This this was remedied by my gripping Yvonne's hand and dragging her along. I am sure she appreciated the help. Assaulting a force that was defending from such a position would have been rather daunting, and if using the tools of the time doomed to failure. Nothing a smart bomb couldn't handle though. Unfortunately I didn't have an array of high-tech weaponry, so I contented myself with merely looking around. There is a section of the wall that has obviously fallen apart, and we had to take a path around it to reach the separated section. The area around the breach is very steep. When I asked Yvonne why they haven't fixed it yet, she said that the ancient people were better at construction, it can't be fixed now. I think that it hasn't been fixed because a new section wouldn't fit the current theme: "old". Once we reached the top (by no means the end of the wall - the limit beyond which tourists are not allowed to go) we stood around for awhile and enjoyed the icy wind. When we began to get cold, we decided to start walking back to the cart station. We had walked up so fast, that we passed the others in our tour group, who were still walking up. The wall is very steep in some places, and stairs (where there are stairs - a lot of it is just really steep ramps) were very uneven. I don't know how the messengers managed to successfully climb some of the areas during winter, when the wall would be covered in snow and ice! There were a lot of people there that day, and it was necessary for me to push them out of the way when walking through some of the more narrow areas. The tourists were mostly Chinese, with a lot of Koreans and Americans as well. While we were having a short rest, an old Korean lady shoved Yvonne out of the way. Yvonne wouldn't let me punish her, so she got away with it. My shoving is the nice, friendly kind, and I only do it if I really need to. The Korean woman had heaps of room, maybe walking around people is offensive in Korea. Hope Yvonne isn't with me if I see her again. The cart ride down was much more entertaining, as we went quite fast. I noticed a lot of sharp metal sticking out of the ground, which would have ripped a rather large hole in me. Luckily the tied-on car seat belt didn't break, and I arrived at the bottom safely. On the way back to the bus, passing the Stinking Bear Pits, I overhead a tourist asking the bear handler how old a particular bear was. The handler obviously didn't speak English, as his only reply was "五块元", or "$5". The tourist just kept asking though, obviously confused about which country he was in. I doubt a Chinese tourist in his country would get special treatment, either. I considered helping him by asking the handler myself, but I didn't because learning the small amount of Chinese I know took me two years, damned if I'm going to use to help someone else!
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