Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Great Wall and More

We made a plan to take a tour of the Great Wall; a tour that had a bonus trip of seeing the Ming Tombs. We weren't exactly sure what to expect - and we didn't know what the Ming Tombs were (though we could make an educated guess), but it ended up being a very informational trip and I probably learned more about China in these eight hours than the rest of my life combined. We joined a (very) French couple and an Aussie policeman for the journey.

The Ming Tombs, as it turns out, were built by the third emperor of the Ming dynasty (after he overthrew his nephew, the second emperor of the Ming dynasty). Everything was constructed based on the fengshui of the location, which was scouted out by a fengshui master. There are mountains surrounding it on three sides and an open side facing south, and there was once a small river that flowed through it. There are thirteen Ming emperors buried in the tombs and they are underneath a massive circular mound. The empresses are buried there as well. When the emperor died, his concubines all ate a large meal and then committed suicide together. The concubines are buried just outside of the circular mound.

In ancient China they believed that heaven was represented by a circle, and Earth by a square. So the courtyards and buildings leading up to the tombs are square and a white archway that symbolizes the step between heaven and earth leads to the circular (heavenly) burial ground. When Chinese people walk though this archway on the way out of the circular area they say in Chinese "I have come back!" Since as they see it they have come back to symbolic Earth from symbolic Heaven.

We later made our way to the Great Wall, which was awesome.. The part that we visited was not as remote as the parts that you seen in some photos but once I climbed high enough I got a great view and a definite idea of what the wall is like. First and foremost, it is steep. Very very steep.

Jon and I have joked about the tours you can take that end up in the tour guide's brother's house - who just so happens to be a struggling artist that wants you to buy his art. (Which happened to Jon and his family on a Navajo reservation). But in China, you don't go to someone's house - you make unscheduled stops at government run factories/showrooms. We went to a Ming Vase factory, a jade factory and finally a fresh water pearl factory. At first it was quite interesting...

But by the fresh water pearl factory none of us wanted anything to do with it. The sales person to tourist ratio was 1:1 and if you so much as looked at something in the case, they were all over you with costs and deals. We tried to make our way outside, and our tour guide, who was a very nice and good guy said to us "Can you please stay for a little while longer? You don't need to buy anything, but they will not sign my paper to say that we came here unless we stay for a certain amount of time. It is my job."

Interesting, and it goes to show how much control the Chinese government has on it's people. Oh yeah, and Blogspot is blocked here (hence the late blogs). As is Facebook and a whole host of other social networking sites. I said to my mom while writing this, it is very interesting how much control the government has over the people, and yet the people celebrate the government with such determination and pride that it seems exceptionally counter intuitive. She said she thought it was because they HAVE to celebrate the government.

It has been a very educational and exciting experience to be in Beijing and we can't wait to keep the train moving to Shanghai.