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Day five - Saturday 12 May - Up early at 0530 - View out window shows moon is visible in its last quarter so sky is clearer than on previous mornings. Unfortunately it appears that the power transformer brought for the 220 volt current has wrecked the small battery charger. We organize our gear and write post cards before breakfast at 0600-0700, another huge buffet with lots of orange juice, eggs, pancakes, rolls, bacon. We make some sandwiches to take on tour. The bus departs for the Summer Palace with a stop first at the Beijing Bang Fu Chun Fresh Water Pearl Store at 50 Kunming Hu Road, very near the palace. After a 45 minute illustrated lecture on how pearls grow complete with the opening of live clam shells from a tank and a demonstration of how pearls are formed, the group guesses the number that would be found. Every one enjoys the talk. The store is very large and full of display cases and many clerks. It seems most of the items are quite expensive, but then who knows how much they would cost in the United States. But some necklaces and bracelets are as low priced as $30.00. There are ear rings, broaches, rings, necklaces, and more. Interesting are large world globes made of mother of pearl. Evidently the prices are not exorbitant as many of the group load up with many purchases. As we wait outside for the big buyers, some sales girls come out to practice their English with us.
The bus takes us the few blocks to the Summer palace, where we arrive about 11 AM. Again, there is a huge crowd (orderly) of Chinese wanting to spend their Saturday in the palace grounds (with its lovely lake and extensive gardens). The palace contains many buildings, only a very few of which we visit. We walk around one side of the lake via a lengthy covered corridor. Unfortunately we don't climb up the hill to see the main temple pagoda. I had purchased a palace map (and nearly frozen Coke) so was well prepared for the excursion. We depart about 1300 for the drive back to the downtown area. Again, we pass many very impressive modern high-rise buildings as we motor along the super-highways. We stop in south central Beijing at one of the remaining "hutong" areas - Xuan wu - narrow, winding streets and one or two story private homes behind windowless walls. So many of these areas have been destroyed in the process of highway and high-rise construction, that this is one kept in part as a tourist attraction. On the inside the homes are very well kept, many around a courtyard.
Here Vantage has hired a fleet of three wheeled bicycle rickshaws that carry two passengers each. The drivers are eagerly waiting our appearance, ready to take us to the pre-arranged private homes for lunch. The convoy wends its way through the maze - luckily they will bring us back out as well. Along the way we pass several streets of highly decorated traditional architecture shops that obviously cater to tourists, the windows are full of antiques and souvenirs, but we cannot stop. We have 8 persons assigned to each family for the lunch. The hosts are extremely friendly and eager to serve traditional lunch family style. Well it is an 8 course lunch, so I am not so sure it is the common fare of typical Chinese. It includes 3 different meat courses, of course tea and sodas, rice, vegetables, water melon, and peanuts. After bidding the hostesses thanks, we bicycle back to another private home in which the whole tour group is seated for a discussion by the elderly couple as they serve tea. They are proud to answer many questions about life in China. Evidently they are under contract with Vantage to do this frequently. The home has 8 small rooms around a courtyard with an outer gate and heavy door. The rooms are well decorated and kept. Kelly interprets the discussion. The gentleman notes that his pension was adequate for some years but now is suffering from inflation. Back outside after this pleasant and informative interlude we find the rickshaws waiting to get us back to the main street and our bus.
At that point I am ready to strike out during 'free time' but Kelly indicates there will be no taxis at that location. So we go back to the hotel. It is now 1500. Kelly writes full directions for a taxi driver, and I have a city map to show. We go to the Temple of Heaven, which remarkably is not on the standard tour itinerary. It is a fast taxi ride. Again there is a crowd of Chinese tourists (or perhaps worshipers). This famous landmark should be on every tourists agenda. Entrance is 35Y. I buy a large map and guide of the temple grounds. It is a huge area with many buildings enclosed in a wall set in a larger park. Inside the main temples form a series along a typical Chinese north-south axis. The main buildings date from the 1400's but have seen many repairs. Each year the Emperor comes here to pray for agricultural harvest success in ceremonies replete with elaborate protocol and rituals. One special door into the enclosure was created for a 70-year-old emperor, after which he decreed that only successors who also over 70-years could use it. There were no successor emperors who qualified. By now I am getting quite tired and am finding walking to be difficult in the heat and smog. We manage to finish this exploration by 1700 and walk through the adjacent park where there are many musicians, each singly or in small groups, with small crowds listening. Apparently this area is a favorite place for Chinese musicians to play for themselves out of doors, but they don't mind attracting a crowd. Among the instruments we see are accordions, Chinese violins, and more. In this park there is a long pavilion that was used during imperial times as the kitchens to prepare the ritual foods and sacrifice gifts for the emperor's ceremonies. The kitchens were complete with store houses and slaughter houses. We now have only 2 hours before curtain time at the opera, so decide to rest a bit and then proceed directly there, as there is no time to get back to the hotel. The taxi to the opera takes only 10 minutes, so we have time again to sit and rest before the tour group arrives. The theater hall has a stage and several hundred seats in rows but with some at tables. We watch as clever fellows pour tea with great ceremony from long-spouted kettles. (See photos of waiters practicing this at Hangzhou.) The performance is a Chinese play plus acrobats. The costumes are elaborate. Of course I do not know what was going on, but the Chinese audience clearly enjoys the performance. Apparently it is a Taoist priest story. We return to the hotel at 2100 and have time to walk again to the local store to buy Coke and ice cream. We pack our bags for the next day departure and are asleep at 2300. We decide that there won't be enough time on Sunday morning to get to a church and back before the group departs for Xi'an.


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