Day By Day

Thursday, June 11, 2009

China Diary -- Part 6 Great Wall Marts

The big item on the third day's itinerary was the Great Wall, but first we were given another "shopping opportunity" at a government-run retail center [are you starting to see a theme here?]. Once again we were given a lecture by our handler on why we should shop only at government facilities because private enterprises were not reliable and were probably run by crooks. Old China hands in our group pointed out that prices were higher at government facilities and that a shopper who knew what he was doing could get significantly better deals in the non-government stores. None of this affected me personally because my only purchases for the entire trip were three t-shirts and four sodas, but "She Who Must Not Be Named" is an avid shopper as were most of the women in the group. They were excited by the opportunity to buy, buy, buy, especially since in the current economic climate, prices today are much, much lower than they have been in recent years.

We stopped first at a factory where jade figurines and jewelry were hand crafted. Other than the fact that the craftsmen and women used power tools, it was no different from artisan workshops in all places and times, but to American eyes it looked a lot like a sweatshop. Then we were hustled on to the main attraction, the "biggest jade exhibition center in Asia".

This is one of the showrooms. Like all government run facilities there seemed to be more clerks, all of them lovely young women, standing around than customers. In part this is just good salesmanship, making it easier for tourists to part with their money, but these facilities also serve as job programs providing low-level employment to these women and income for their families. And, in places where Western tourists congregate, it is not a bad thing for the face of the "New China" to be young, beautiful, and feminine.

The jade emporium thoughtfully provided a coffee bar and a place to sit for husbands and boyfriends who had little interest in jewelry. After wandering around with a camera for a while I headed there and joined some of the other men in the group. The women, however, were busy. "She Who Must Not Be Named" acquired a jade bracelet, a jade necklace, and a set of jade earrings before we finally escaped. Hers were by no means the biggest purchases. The PRC is happy and so is "She".

Then it was on to the Great Wall. The wall extends for thousands of miles, but they take tourists to one of the prettiest stretches. Here's the view from the main reception center.

Now isn't that nice? Of course everyone who comes here has to climb the wall. So we set out for the top. Early on we came across this.

Apparently it is a local tradition for engaged couples to hang a lock on the wall to ensure that their relationship will last forever. At least, that's what we were told. It's a nice thought.

About two thirds of the way to the top, I reinjured my bum ankle and had to stop. The problem is that the stairs are not even. We were told that they were deliberately made that way so that troops trying to assault the wall would stumble and break ranks. Well, maybe. It certainly worked that way with me. My brother and his wife continued all the way to the top, but "She" and I stopped with some friends, rested, then I slowly and painfully made my way back to the bottom. There was no permanent damage and the swelling went down after a few days. Here's a picture from where we stopped.

When we got back to the entrance we found a film crew in the midst of shooting. Apparently it was a historical epic of some sort because there were actors suited up in ancient armor.

Here's one of the actors relaxing off camera and tolerating tourist photogs like me. Somehow I don't think the manbag is part of his costume. Later he graciously posed with several of the women in our group.

The film company [I assume it was them] had also brought along some fake terracotta warriors. Here they are lined up along a portion of the wall next to where the shooting was taking place. Someone kindly provided one of them with a broom.

Eventually everyone wandered into the reception area, even those who had trekked all the way to the top on both sides of the gorge. The group reassembled, climbed back on the buses, and headed off for lunch and the next "shopping opportunity".