Friday, November 4, 2011

China, Day Two

What a day! Sarah and I had a really good night's rest, despite the hour or so I had of wakefulness around midnight. We had a fantastic breakfast – our hotel caters to people from many nations, so we had a wide variety of foods to choose from including eggs (fried, boiled, or custom-made in an omelet), bacon, ham, cheese, bread, yogurt, and cereals – as well as the obligatory Asian cuisine of sushi (we chose not to take the chance), fried rice, and congee (the bland overcooked rice normally fed to young children in China). We met our wonderful guide Li Gun (who calls herself Reagan) at 9 AM and headed in our van out of Beijing through heavy traffic to make a short stop at a Jade Factory. We were told by our guide that jade has been used in various ways in China for many centuries, and a lady working there gave us a quick tour showing some of the techniques of cutting a polishing the jade (we saw a man polishing a piece of jade get something in his eye!), followed by an opportunity to pay a small fortune to buy some finished pieces. We chose a relatively inexpensive piece which consisted of a round-shaped hollow piece with twelve holes in it contained inside a second similar piece larger than the first, all cut from a single piece of green jade. The piece-within-a-piece structure of the sculpture symbolizes the unity of family, which we felt reflected our reason for being here in China in the first place.

From the jade factory we made our way to a nearby section of the Great Wall of China. In the photo, the inscription on the stone to the left of us is a quotation from Chairman Mao which says something about how a Hero is not a hero unless he climbs the Great Wall. Sarah and I climbed a bit of the wall to a wider area, and naturally, since I wanted to be considered heroic, I headed on up the staircase to the next tower. I hike with my dad every year in the Smoky Mountain National Park for several miles up Mount LeConte, so I figured this walk up the steps on the Great Wall would be a breeze. Boy was I wrong! There were so many stairs I lost count of them, many were more than twice as tall as stairs on a standard staircase in the States, and they were well-worn and slick as glass. There was a very slight drizzle in the air also, making the climb even more treacherous. By the time I made it to the base of the next guard tower my legs trembled and felt like rubber, and I felt compelled to turn around and gingerly make my way back down.

Our next stop on the tour was the royal Summer Palace of the Chinese emperor. This largely consisted of viewing beautiful scenery while riding a boat shaped like a dragon along one side of a huge lake. On this boat ride we learned from our guide the significance of numbers in the Chinese culture: Number 9 is the royal number, the number of power. 8 signifies good fortune, and 6 is for good luck. 4 is the number for death. As we rode back to the hotel we discovered that many Chinese pay extra money to have the numbers 6 and 8 on their license plates in an effort to improve or preserve their own fortunes, and we jokingly observed the many vehicles on the road and examined their license plates for such numbers.

We said good-bye to our driver and guide and headed to a set of shops near our hotel to grab a pizza (excellent!), some fried rice, and bananas, apples and oranges from an outdoor fruit vendor. We saw a sad scene on the side of one of the streets – a lady lying on a short gurney covered in blankets, with a urinary catheter bag hanging off and her deformed feet exposed and a container nearby for donations, presumably for her medical care. We ate our dinner together in our hotel room. Sarah fell fast asleep around 4:30 PM soon after we finished our dinner, and as I lie here on the bed, I'm thinking of how privileged we are to learn a little about Matthew's cultural heritage a few days before we get him. Tomorrow we'll get a chance to see the Forbidden City, then we will head out of Beijing to start the real reason we're here: to complete the process of getting our precious boy and bring him home!