I woke early and excited to board the bus for the Great Wall. The prospect of actually seeing it, actually standing on it, was thrilling, but there was some nervousness after hearing stories about climbing it. Tales of vertical staircases, steep ramps, and no safety rails were told with much drama and warning.
But before the challenge of the Great Wall, there was the gauntlet of more shopping. The bus pulled into the parking lot of the National Jade Store. Mid-morning on a weekday meant an empty lot. We were greeted warmly, led by stalls behind glass where we could see artisans fashioning jade into jewelry and sculptures, and brought to a back room where a history of Jade, as well as examples of art and functional items. We were then cut loose to explore the store and museum on our own. Within seconds I was paired with a saleswoman to assist me.
She was a college graduate and happy for the job. So many of her friends and college acquaintances were either unemployed, or employed in labor that did not require a college degree. She was hopeful to get into graduate school where she would get access to office jobs and more income.
Despite it being an established professional looking art boutique bargaining was encouraged. I walked away twice from my assigned salesperson to look at other things only to have her approach me and offer a lower price for a small collection of jade items. This was also my first introduction to the calculator as bargaining tool.
I was given several reasons but the most likely seemed to be that they did not want other people to overhear the price you were getting so that each negotiation was unique. Americans are not expected to negotiate, so even a minimal strategy, such as walking away, is easy to have an impact since they believe you are really not interested in the deal.
I finally settled on a price that was a little more than I wanted to spend, but was assured was a very good deal. Anything is worth what you’re willing to pay and the pieces were interesting.
Our next stop was the Great Wall. The trip in was beautiful and the wall climbed and plummeted along cliffs next to the road we traveled on the way. The climbing part quickly become less legend and more reality.
We arrived and, to no one’s surprise, we were dropped at a large gift shop. It was quickly becoming apparent that malls and fast food were not the only ideas that the United States was exporting.
There is not much to say if you have never been. This is just something that you have to experience. The great wall of China is a reminder of the scale and scope of the Chinese in their national pride and dedication. The idea that so many came together to accomplish so much is overwhelming. But it was the commitment to preserving history that showed in the recovery of the wall. Just as the construction of the hotel and shops at the base of the town showed a commitment to capitalism and the country’s future.
Several hours later we were bussed back to Beijing and more of the remarkably clear weather. After a huge lunch at a traditional restaurant we headed to the Emperor’s Summer Palace for a quick tour. The sun was setting and November is not the greatest month to enjoy cool breezes coming off the lake. Cold and windswept we walked the grounds of the palace, gaped in awe at the Buddhist monastery on the hill, and walked the longest covered walkway in the world. But it was the end of the tour that was the most impressive.
The jade ship, an artistic reminder to the Chinese of the hubris of the Empress Dowager Cixi. When the Chinese realized that they needed a standing Navy to protect their country at sea they were given permission to use the lake of the summer palace for training. But rather than build boats on which to learn the Empress had a great jade ship built for training. The boat stands there still, under repair, but embraced as the folly of the Navy and kept with as much pride as any achievement.
The evening ended with a trip to a local Walmart and a competition. We were given a budget of 100 yuan and were asked to purchase the makings for a traditional family meal as well as gifts. We were broken into teams of four and let loose inside the Walmart.
The first surprise was that there was no gift shop. But this was no ordinary store either. It was enormous, four floors, and everything from fresh fish to dry goods and in between. We were given time to pick up anything we needed after the competition (my team didn’t win) and headed back to the hotel.