Friday, December 28, 2012

China Winter Tour - December 25

Robin Reif - December 25

First full day in Beijing. Led by our relentlessly cheerful guides, Alice and Wendy, feels like we’ve lived a full week in this 3000 year-old-city, now home to 20 million souls.
On the bus, there’s instant ease and conviviality among participants from across the U.S. No surprise, given the shared central fact of our family lives.
The sub-freezing day is bookended by two monuments to Chinese genius, both epic in scale and ambition: the Great Wall and the 2008 Beijing Olympics Stadium: the Bird’s Nest. 
At the Wall, the younger girls are giddy, slipping and sliding on the ice approaching the climb, then up the uneven steps, built by hand some 2000 years ago. Ascending just the first landing is a workout, given the 20-degree weather and icy steps. Some descend on their bottoms, gripping the side rail for dear life but all return happy with a great sense of accomplishment. Gongzhan, it should be noted, climbed to the fourth landing with some of the teenagers.
Three of our stops today are exit-through-the-gift-shop events: a jade factory, a tea house and a cloisonné artisans’ workshop. At the first stop, Mark, or “Mr. Jade” as he tells us to call him, delivers a talk on “jade culture” in China, taking us through commonly carved archetypes and their meanings--dragon for power and strength, horse for intelligence and accomplishment, etc. He shows us how to distinguish quality jade from plastic or marble knock offs and then lets us loose to shop. Similar format at the cloisonné workshop and tea house, making for heavier suitcases when we leave for Xi’an in 2 days. 
The evening is a Christmas celebration featuring entertainment from a few of the kids as well as our tour guides from BLAS. A top official from the CCCWA arrives to give an emotional speech welcoming us, telling our daughters and sons that they’ll always be embraced in their homeland and thanking the parents for providing such loving homes for the children. Even in translation, a bit of a tear jerker.

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