Today's special excursions were to 'Shopping Tours Nos. 5 and 6 and - oh yes, that's right - to visit the fabled Great Wall of China.
Shopping Tour No. 5 was to "visit one of the largest Jade Exhibitions in Asia" which we did en route to the Great Wall. Not so much an exhibition, more your standard sales room. Our Local Guide gave us the now-expected long discourse on jade while travelling there on our bus, its origins, etc., then we were released into the Jade Salesroom - oops, sorry.... 'Exhibition' where we were stalked by dozens of sales people. I knew I wasn't going to be getting any jade, so I took a walk around and looked at some incredible pieces then stepped outside to wait for the obligatory hour to be up. Guess what? We didn't take the option to fly to Xian to see the Terracotta Warriors (that would have been another $1,000 CAD) and since we have seen some really good pieces on public TV channels about the warriors, we thought we would not do it. But there, right in front of me at the jade place was a collection of full-sized terracotta warriors. Hard to say if they were original pieces or replicas, but I was happy.
Then onwards to the Great Wall - another spectacular location where we were once again distracted by playing "Where's Bruce?" We were off-loaded from our bus and given exact information about where and when to meet up again. We were left with the admonishment to "be sure to come back down from the Wall the same way you went up or you will get lost". Well, okay, 99% of us heard that.......
We were at Juyongguan Great Wall - about 37 kms from Beijing - and we were already up quite high where we got off our bus. We could see across the valley to other parts of the wall, but right where we were standing you could head straight up to one of the lookout posts. It really was quite stunning. However, before hitting the climb I did what any self-respecting tourist of a certain age would do on being offloaded after a bus journey and before continuing into the great unknown...... I went to the Ladies washroom. When I came out there was no sign of Bruce. After questioning several of Maggie's Group, someone said they thought they had seen him starting up the steep climb. I started up the first few steps of it myself but, as I've said, I'm not good with heights and it was instantly very steep and high, so I came back down & decided to explore the lovely lower setting. (As an aside, when I go to look at incredible history, I like to "feel" it - to think of the thousands of people who have stood there before me over the centuries. That was not possible here - it has been completely re-built and is only of recent provenance. I'm sure there must be original parts of the Great Wall that still exist somewhere but they are not here at the "Tourist Bus-stop".) There was a very nice museum there, however, and some very picturesque buildings that I wandered through.
Eventually, we all wandered back to our meet-up point and waited...... and waited. But where was Bruce? Oh no, not again! He was regularly slipping off the back of the pack but usually was somewhere nearby. Not this time (nor at the Three Gorges Dam Project). We all went back to the bus and Maggie started making phone calls but eventually she got a call from another group's guide. She had given Bruce her cellphone number (having by then got HIS number!) and told him to ask any other guide to call her if he got separated from her group. He was MILES away - having done exactly what we were told not to do - he didn't come back down by the same route! So we set off in the bus to go pick him up where he was. I confess I was somewhat bugged when, on his boarding the bus, several people cheered and clapped, so I stood up and faced them and with a strong voice and stern face I admonished them "Don't encourage him!" Sigh..........!!!
From there we went for a nice lunch at another large Chinese restaurant that caters to bus tours, then we went on to Shopping Tour No. 6. Actually, this was something I was looking forward to. I mean it! I love cloisonne and we were heading for a cloisonne factory. This time we actually did see cloisonne being made in the various stages of the process - very interesting. I already own one piece of cloisonne (from 50 YEARS AGO - when I was living in Singapore) and I was quite interested in getting another piece. Even Bruce found the process fascinating - the metal base is beaten out, then metal 'filigreed' patterns applied to the article, then painting the design and lacquering firing and polishing - all very labour intensive but what beautiful finishes is produces! I bought a plate and Bruce bought a small vase for his daughter.
Back to our remote hotel, fairly late in the evening, where we tried to find something to eat. Some of us went to the restaurant in the hotel next door (which appears to have joint ownership with our hotel) and sat down and looked at the menu.
We saw others there from our group who told us they had already been waiting in there for more than an hour - just to order! - so we decided not to stay. We roamed through that hotel and found some more Maggie's Group friends in the bar who had ordered pizza and had some left over that they weren't going to eat, so they invited us to finish theirs (rather than having to wait another hour to order). Thank you, New Friends! :)