Our first trip on this beautiful, hot, sunny morning was to the Jingshan Chinese Herbal Institute - oh yes, this would be Shopping Trip No. 7, that was heralded by our Local Guide on the bus as being an incredibly interesting Chinese Traditional Medicine Institute.
Our group was led into the obligatory cloistered room and the door closed behind us - again! When the door next opened, a small army of employees came in bearing buckets with warm herbal foot soaks, and each of us took off our shoes and put our feet in individual tubs then we were left to relax. Again the door opened and the army of employees (one to one ratio) returned and took up position and started massaging our feet. Oh joy! Then, when we were fully relaxed, in came a small cadre of 'Doctors' who, by touching our wrists at three different points were able to tell us (through translators) what was wrong with us. Predictably, each of us had something wrong with us that their herbs would cure. I wasn't sold on needing anything until the Doctor pointed to the veins road-mapping my legs and said they would "be gone" in a month if I took their stuff. Really? Well that's definitely provable (or not!), so figured I'd give it a go. We've been back home for three weeks now and I haven't started taking my herbal medicines yet because I have been working my way through a very heavy cold that my doctor called 'Beijing Flu' so I thought I'd give this stuff the best chance to do some good so am waiting until I feel better before I begin.
Following our relaxing foot massages (and the lightening of our wallets) we went off in our bus to see The Summer Palace. By now the sun was high and it was hot again. I love heat but not when I'm jammed into a confined area with what seemed like millions of other people. (Well, this is China with billions of people so I guess the odd million or so might well have been here.) Our Guide rushed us through a couple of courtyards with buildings left and right without stopping, and straight out the other side to where there was a man-made lake. We fought our way upstream for a while alongside the lake but finally Bruce, Marylyn, Bill and I said "enough" and found a way to get off the roller coaster and a quiet spot to sit off to one side. Here we sat (alongside another shop selling pearls) to await our meet-up time with the rest of 'Maggie's Group'.
Then it was time for the 'Hutong Life' Tour. Leaving our bus we all piled into waiting rickshaws and were pedaled off down some narrow streets. There's a lot of construction going on here, but it's not high-rise - I think they're trying to preserve or replicate a small section of the City in the old way - which would make it a living museum. Jumping out of our rickshaws we walked down really narrow alleys until we came to a house at the end, where we entered and sat down for a noodle lunch. There were some side dishes already on the tables when we entered - the idea was to mix it up with your noodles. Lee had a bit of a rude shock when she discovered that the 'shredded green beans' she had sprinkled over her noodles were actually celery (allergy) so, after taking a mouthful she startled everyone by running outside and spitting it out into a handy potted plant.
Leaving the house we were invited to make use of the nearby 'facilities' before moving on. Turned out to be a communal squatty potty - no cubicles. Felt sorry for the poor young lady quietly squatting there when we descended noisily on the place! We made one more stop in the Hutong to take a tour through another house. We were first sat down in the courtyard and told how the family would have used the house/shared the space. The owner here used to be a construction worker but, with all the foreign visitors now traipsing through his house day after day, he no longer has to work in construction and he stands there as "mein host" nowadays.
One last stop - this time at the Temple of Heaven. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm getting worn out with touristing because, quite honestly, I could have given this one a miss. The original complex was built between 1406 and 1420 and, over the centuries, has been replaced, modified, renovated, etc. with the last major modification taking place in the 18th Century. Originally it was there for the Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties to pray to heaven for good harvests. More latterly it was occupied by the Anglo-French Alliance during the Second Opium War and, during the Boxer Rebellion (1900), it became the Eight Nation Alliance temporary Command post. We weren't able to go inside the building but took a quick peek through a narrow door opening.
Then, back to our Hotel to get packed because we are leaving EARLY in the morning (up at 04:30!). Our duvets that we purchased in Suzhou a million months ago were waiting for us at the Hotel so that worked really well! We discovered that some of our group are flying directly from Beijing to Vancouver by Air Canada, while the rest of us have the added journey of flying from Beijing to Shanghai to get our onward flight to Vancouver. This is a good thing for future travellers (on Nexus tours) to know about. Probably there is an uptick in the charge, but I think it would have been worth it to reduce the length of the journey and to have better food on the long flight.
We played one more game of "Where's Bruce" when transferring from our Beijing flight at Shanghai. An airport employee met us as we left our Beijing/Shanghai flight to show us where to go. Bruce peeled off the back again - to go to the washroom - so I waited back for him while trying to keep an eye on where our group was going. They were fed into a side room at the end of a corridor so, when Bruce came out of the washroom, I led him there. I swear he was RIGHT BEHIND ME as we got to the door (together with a number of Chinese passengers) but, once inside what turned out to be Security, I turned around and there was just a sea of Chinese faces behind me and no sign of Bruce. I ran up to the front of the line-up to let someone know that Bruce was missing in action becausr he hadn't coming through the door behind us. An official was walking up and down the line asking if anyone was for for the New York flight, which was apparently departing imminently, and when I looked again he was leading Bruce, by himself, down the outside of where we were all lined up to go through Security. I told the guy we were not for New York, but he said it didn't matter. So I joined Bruce on the other side of the barrier and we were led through and to the front of the lineup to go through Security, while all of our friends were awaiting their turn - and watching us with some amazement! Sigh!!!
But to conclude, all in all Bruce and I consider this was a good trip, but I doubt we will be in a hurry to do another organized tour like this - maybe when we're a bit older :):)
On the upside: I REALLY liked our group of fellow passengers - 38 people who ALL got along! And Maggie, our 24/7 Babysitter....... so calm and pleasant - it was always nice to "get her back" again after our different 'Local Guides'. Also, this kwik-tour did give us an opportunity to get an easy glimpse of China - I particularly liked the Yangtze River part of it. What we did not like were all the obligatory 'shopping tours' and I doubt we would have signed up for this particular trip had we spotted that first. So.......... I guess the message is: read the small print!!