We were a little late for breakfast this morning!  I’ve finally got this jet lag thing under control! I’m sleeping through the night and back to dragging myself out of bed in the morning. Perfect.  We leave in 2 days. Humph.  Anyway, we finally get to breakfast and Chris has realized that he only has 2 more mornings to eat all the Peanut butter I brought. Yes. You heard correctly. I brought. Peanut. Butter.  For some reason both of our men, Gary included, think that Peanut Butter cures everything.  So if you say you don’t feel good-(you can have a sore throat or a sprained ankle….same result every time)-the first question from the boys is “when is the last time you pooped?” – the answer is usually “None of your business…plus I HAVE A SPRAINED ANKLE! HOW IS THAT RELEVENT INFORMATION?”-And then the second solution is ALWAYS-“here. Have some peanut butter.”    I have actually heard Gary say, “I have a headache and I think I’m going to throw up-do you have any peanut butter?” to which Nicole answers-“how about an advil? Or a Dramamine?” to which he always says “Why….do you think that would work better then peanut butter?”.   Sigh.  So yes. I bring peanut butter with me.  And midol. For the boys.  I’ll explain that in tomorrows blog.  Anyway point is, we are breakfast and there was peanut butter. 

So this morning is the Jade Factory.  Nicole and I have both been looking forward to the Jade….but we come to realize that good quality in China is very expensive. And rare.  These shopping stops that the tour brings us to are usually both. Great quality. And expensive.  So we have a little talk with each other, try will to think about this logically and reasonably.  Its our last few days. We don’t need to go crazy.  Its only jade. In China. We decide that we won’t spend one penny less then every penny we own.  Its settled.  Less do this.

We get the tour of the factory and see the artisans working- using dremels and chisels and making intricate designs and carvings into the flawless jade.  Then we learn about the different kinds of jade-jadeite being the most rare, desirable and most expensive.  Its beautiful with its pale green color-regular jade is more of a emerald green.   They then release us into the gallery. To buy.   I immediately make it to the jewelry section with Nicole bee-lining it to the figurines.  I decide that this is exactly the place where I will buy a gift for Jessica-my work partner in crime. I have been searching for the perfect gift for her, and although I’ve picked up some random things, I need to find that one epic thing. I love all my fellow admin girls, but I’m quite aware that without Jessica I would not be able to travel-and I would be a much less happy work person.  She’s amazing and kind and my spirit animal, and one of my closest friends-and this will be my gift to her.  And we have similar tastes-so I know that if I love it, so will she. Problem is- I. love. Everything. Here. 

Eventually I find the perfect thing (I decide to get one for both myself and Jess) and I talk Chris into handing me the visa.  This takes time and talent.  But he understands.  He spent time calming me down and talking me out of bed in the morning when I had jobs I hated.  I’m not good at life if I’m not work happy.  But now, and for years now, I work with the most talented and amazing people, for the most amazing boss, and my better male half Greg (who makes anxiety fun!!), at the best dental office in Canada hands down.  I love my job. And he is as thankful for this as I am.  And for some reason, once he lets go of the visa, he gives over completely – like a hooked fish that’s out of fight, and picks out gifts for his mom and his work partner.  Nicole gets a large and ridiculously beautiful Pixcu (the money lion) for her coffee table.  The Chinese believe that it brings money. They make it with no bum hole and it’s mouth open-so you are supposed to sit it at the door of your home. The open mouth with eat wealth and since it cant poop-any wealth that enters your home will stay there. Too bad Nicole and gary’s only friends are us. She eats my money already on these trips. None left for your no poop lion. Sorry. However, I’m thrilled to hear we have reached our goal.  We’re broke and happy.

But this day is about to get even better.  The Great Wall is our next stop.  It’s a beautiful day-36 degrees and sunny (with a haze-as is usual for Beijing-although we’re told the smog is actually VERY good these past 2 days compared to the usual).  We have a ½ hour drive to the wall, and I actually have knots in my stomach.  I think this is the thing we have all been looking most forward to.  We have been careful not to talk about it too much-realizing it is near the end of this epic adventure and not wanting to wish the time away.  But here it is.  Beer on the bus settles us down a little and takes the edge off the visa spending high/fear.  We have trained the others on the bus now and they don’t give us nasty looks for drinking before 10am anymore.  In fact, we have trained one of them so well that he has given in and taken to drinking with us-and this time he even gets the beer for us.  Now if we could teach him to hand us his visa at silk & jade factories and give us snacks when we’re cranky we could adopt him as a brother husband. (wrings hands. Evil laugh..). 

We drive around a corner, and there it is. The wall.  It appears out of now where…and catches me off guard.  I admit, I have a tear.  I look over and see Nicole having the same moment-quietly. Some things are just bigger then words ……and sometimes words can be such meager things. We don’t need to talk about how big this is. Just take it in. A life lived. Another promise kept. We have talked about this for years.  YEARS.  And here we are.  We had talked about it last night….prepared ourselves for it being disappointing.  Never meet your hero’s you know?  We wondered if it would be underwhelming.  This is anything but.  Its larger then I had anticipated and I can’t believe how much it is just as epic as I thought it would be.  It snakes up the mountains and looks like I imagined it would- stone and gigantic and other-worldly.  You know how when you see large buildings-you can almost hear them? Does that make sense?   When you’re in the middle of Manhattan and your surrounded by all those huge buildings you almost FEEL how big they are-your skin crawls like you can sense someone you can’t see looking at you….but its just these ominous buildings?  That’s the same here.  You can almost feel its age and its history and hear its stories-and its staring you in the face…taunting you, begging you to feel small. 

We pull up.  And get out. And we are standing on the Great Wall. Of China. OMG.

We are told that we can climb it, but it’s a hard climb.  For some reason we think that we are capable of this.  We are given a spot to meet and told we have 2 hours.  We start to climb….but first….lets find the perfect jumping spot!  We secure a spot where you can see the wall in the back ground, and its wide open and not too crowded (we are not quiet or compact when we jump….or at the best of times for that matter).  We get our panda hats on, secure everything bouncy, and start jumping.  It takes about 5 takes…we’re getting better at this.  (did this in Greece at the Mama Mia church for the first time and it took 3 hours. And I basically broke my ankle. And our camera. And Nicole had a stroke.. And we both went up a cup size. It was a whole thing).   We check the shot to make sure we got it on my phone….and we hear it.  At least 15 men scream at once.  We look around and see that a group of Asian business men have decided to copy us.  This will take a while.  I think of the space station….seeing this from their window.  You’re welcome.  We see at least 6 more groups of people doing the same.  The Chinese get us…or at least they want to. I appreciate the hustle. 

I get why they feel the need to warn people that they may not be able to do this climb.  The stairs are very uneven! Some are regular step Height…and then there will be at least two that are at such a height that you have to basically climb with your hands to get up to the next one.  I get why this kept people out.  Unless the Ming Dynasty invaders were in the middle of a cross fit boot camp this would be impossible.  We keep going, the boys making sure to stay directly behind us……skirts may NOT have been the way to go.  Pretty sure that in addition to a bunch of jumping Asians- astronauts are now also seeing our lady business from space.  And again, the Chinese get us….we get to the top of the climb about 30 minutes after starting…..and find a gift shop with tchotchkes and beer.  We shop (feigning interest in red stone rooster carvings that just happen to be in front of the air conditioner) and grab beers-making our way out to the wall to enjoy the view and the ice cold Chinese ale and take about 1600 pictures and videos, and eventually make our way down the wall.  Let me assure you….going down is MUCH WORSE then going up.  As I write my knees are begging to be put out of their misery just thinking about it. Those uneven stairs are steep….which you don’t notice as much when you are climbing UP them.  And the boys are once again scrambling to make sure that every tourist in China doesn’t now need to marry us to make us honest women.  Like, seriously….MINI SKIRTS??? What the crap were we thinking????

Again at the bottom we are shopping….I get a few more gifts and souvenirs.  And were back on the bus, numb from the experience.  Once again I remind myself that we won’t totally feel this until we are home.  That’s when the weight of this will hit.

We go to lunch at a cloisonné factory.  Look it up. It’s a whole thing.   A French invention- perfected by the Chinese.  Copper vases, cups and figurines that are outlined with metal rods bend into flowers and designs and filled in with liquid glass.  The average price for a piece is about $10-20 a square inch.  Not cheep…but beautiful.  And they kind of remind me of mosaics-something close to my heart.  But, we are more interested in lunch at this point….climbing a wall makes a girl hungry.  Lunch is amazing again, nooders and more beer!!  We eat VERY QUICKLY-as we are told that we have 1 hour at this stop- for lunch AND shopping cloisonné trinkets that I never even knew existed but now need more then air.   I buy an overpriced little box for a gift holder, and then go back for another one-because…china.  This place does things to me.

From here we go to the Ming Tombs.  This is a nice little park, and a flat slow walk.  Something we are ALL happy about.  It’s a beautiful garden that houses a collection of mausoleums built by the emperors of the Ming dynasty.  There are 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty buried here in a carefully selected site.  Its very peaceful and we are the only people in the entire park.  Good timing on the part of our tour guides for sure.   At the end of the park we are faced with more venders!  The buying has ramped up this past 2 days and become a frenzy.  All the women in our group are desperately trying to enjoy the last 2 days of haggling and trying to remember all those things we made mental note that we wanted-but would buy in Beijing.  I see a few things I want…but I’ve learned from sensei Nicole. I have become a master bargainer.   I walk up to the vender and point to a set of Chinese mythical lions I’ve been meaning to buy for Chris’s office.   I know that a young man on the bus got these for 60RMB.  And I won’t pay a cent over 40.  I ask how much and she says 360.  HA. I say nope.  “OKEY OKEY OKEY Lady!! 100!!”.  Nope.  Walk away. “OKEY OKEY OKEY Lady!! 80!!”.  Nope.  I give her an offer of 30.  She laughs-“NO! MAKE NO MONEY!”  again. Walk away.  “OKEY OKEY OKEY Lady!! 60!”.  I again offer 30. She says “NO. I MAKE NO MONEY!!” walk away.  This is actually quite exhilarating.  “OKEY OKEY OKEY Lady!! Final offer.  Last price!! Good price!! 50!!”  And I agree.  Then I see a box of terracotta warriors.  I only want one….there are 6 in the box set… I ask how much.  “1250”  LOL. I don’t think so.  So I look at her and say- “I only want one….I’ll give you 10RMB for one.”  She laughs.  LOUD. “NO NO NO. YOU terrible lady!” and we do the dance again.  I walk away.  She chases me….quite a distance.  I say again “10 for one”. She says “OKEY OKEY OKEY Lady!! 20 for the box!!!”…wait…what? okay…….20RMB for the box….. I’m basically offering her 60 for the box….but math is clearly not her strong suit.  A couple behind me hear the deal I just secured and they say they want one at this price too. And then another couple.  Basically, I have become a middle man-and I realize I should have bought 10 of these bad boys and sold them on the bus.  Oh well….lesson learned.  The vender ends up unloading about 10 of these sets on our group.  Everyone leaves happy.

We make our way back to the hotel-run our bath, and head out for dinner.  A nice early evening. And we decide that we are going to try to get hot pot again. Our hotel resort has about 6 restaurants on site and they are all raved about on line, especially the hot pot restaurant. So we make our way there.  This particular spot is inside the hotel spa….which we don’t realize until Nicole decides she needs to go to the washroom before we head to our table upstairs in the restaurant.  Nicole disappears for a few minutes while I wait for her.  She comes out-in a hurry-looking like she’s just been assaulted.  And begins to laugh.  Crying laughing.  She explains that she walked in and was directed to the washroom-but got in there are realized that it was actually the spa room….and there are naked Asian women everywhere.  Like, naked.  Everywhere.  And at that point she doesn’t want to seem like a prude…and she needs to pee real bad…so she goes with it.  But realizes at some point while she’s in the stall that she is the only one in the room with clothes on and that she has to walk back out through the room again.  She braces herself…and makes her way back out me.  But she’ll never been the same.   Something’s can’t be unseen. I think that’s an ancient Chinese proverb or soemthing. . 

We go upstairs and get our table…in a little room all to ourselves! And we explain to the waitress that speaks relatively good English that this is our first time! So we ask her for help.  Most of the restaurants have iPads with pictures that they use to order-for everyone, not just the non Chinese speaking-and this helps tremendously.  We order a bunch of meats- pork, beef and chicken, a few veggies-carrots and cabbage, and then nooders.  Nicole and I share the Szechuan pot and Chris and Gary get the chicken flavoured pot.  They bring the ingredients and the pots.  They are like mini foundue pots and are lit underneath with an open flame. The waitress explains that we add the meat to the pot once it is boiling and wait for a few minutes, then add the veggies…then finally the nooders.  While this is all cooking we are to go to a condiment bar with our bowls and pick up all our add-ins.  Hot pepper oil and garlic….scallions and peanuts….then come back and put the soup with the cooked meat and veggies on top of it.  This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Hands down.  I mean its AMAZING.   And when we get the bill, it comes to about $60CAD for us all.  And that’s with 8 beers.  So $15CAD per person. WOW.

We slowly walk back to our rooms, say good night, and enjoy some drinks and hot tub time before bed.  I think I’m turning Chinese.