Friday in Beijing

My husband and I joined friends who were taking a 17 day tour of China with Shai Bar Ilan who runs tours to China and other locations for Jewish people who observe the dietary laws and the Sabbath. In general, a Jew who is ritually observant has to be very careful in planning a trip to a place where there is no established Jewish community, so Shai had solved those problems. There was a minyan of men, kosher food, and we did no traveling on the Sabbath. Instead, we spent late Sabbath mornings and early afternoons on walks that enabled us to see sights that were close to the hotel. He even arranged for us to be able to have a drink of cold water on our way.

Our tour was to have begun on Wednesday afternoon, August 31 with a flight to Istanbul from where we were to fly to Beijing, arriving in the afternoon. Our flight to Beijing, however, was delayed by 12 hours and so were we! We flew to Istanbul and stayed the few hours we had at a hotel near the airport. Since we arrived after dark and left before it got light in the morning, we didn’t actually see anything in Istanbul.

The flight on Turkish Airlines was pleasant and we arrived in Beijing safely.

Although I knew China was a big country, I was surprised to see how big and modern the airports were. Unlike experiences in Israel and New York and Dallas and Oklahoma City, the baggage arrived quickly and within about 15 minutes, we had gathered our belongings and were moving along.

By the time we arrived at our hotel, it was dark. The rooms were clean and attractive. Shai had prepared a “snack” for us which turned out to be a full meal. With a bit more area to move around in, we began to become acquainted with the other people who had come along on the trip.

Although most of the group consisted of Israelis, we had three women from Canada and one from New York join us. In addition, at least one of the Israelis who was formerly from the US had difficulty with Hebrew, and so we were divided into two groups: Hebrew and English. The Hebrew group was larger and filled their bus. We were a group of about 23 and so we were usually very comfortable in ours. Although we were excited, we were also very tired, having missed most of a night’s sleep in Istanbul, so we all went to our rooms and slept.

In the morning, we ate and then piled into the buses for our first outing. As we drove through the enormous city of Beijing, it was hard to believe how urban and modern it looked. We arrived at the cloisonné factory and watched the women who worked to create the beautiful objects by hand. There are no shortcuts and no assembly line. Every work they produce is handmade with intricate designs and brilliantly colored enamels. A showroom the size of a US department store displayed items large and small including vases and jewelry and bells and cups and just about every object one could imagine.

After the factory, we traveled to the Great Wall (or, as one of the Israelis sometimes said, “the Big Wall”). We were surprised by the height of it, the width, and the fact that in this area, one climbed it. The wall has a long long flight of steps—perhaps ending where it ends, but being that it is 4163 miles long, we settled for climbing only part of it. The steps were not easy to climb. They were not of uniform height and some were the equivalent height of two to three steps. I was breathing really hard by the time we got to the landmark we were aiming for. We were told that the area we traversed contained 1200 steps. Of course, once up, the next task was going down. The weather was beautiful and the views were magnificent and everyone was in a mood of elation, and so it was all a big adventure.

We were taken next for reflexology treatments at an institute for Chinese medicine. There they grow medicinal plants, and the reflexology students worked their art on us. Two doctors came to check us all. They claimed to be able to tell our state of health by feeling our pulses in both our left and right wrists. Since everyone had ailments that they had the cure for and since all of the cures were only going to require a one month supply of their rather expensive formulas, we imagined that our diagnoses were all essentially the same: fat wallet.

After the rest and relaxation, we went to the Summer Palace, a magnificent estate with many buildings and a huge lake. The buildings were all traditional Chinese buildings and the lake was large enough that there were boats to traverse it. We saw gigantic lotus plants growing in the water. We walked along the Long Corridor which was painted with hundreds of pictures on its beams and its ceiling. It is simply a covered walkway. The Long Corridor is 795 yards long and parallels the lake. To have an estate so large and so green and so pastoral in a city whose metropolitan area houses thirty million people is nothing less than amazing to me.

Late that afternoon, we took a walk to Tian’anmen Square, but in a move reminiscent (at least to me) of my impressions of the square with the tank headed for the young student, police prevented our proceeding to the square citing the need to clean the area for a ceremony that was to take place the next morning. A number of police marched toward us accompanied by a police car that headed straight for us, albeit slowly. I couldn’t help wishing that someone would take a picture of my standing there with my hands held up.

We walked back to the hotel to get ready for the Sabbath.

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  1. Rona…

    What an amazing life you lead….You an Aaron are so adventurous…..

    I liked the travelogue…and hope that you purchased the cure from the medicine man …(By the way, did they diagnose everyone’s ailments correctly? I ask, because I have seen it done in Boston, and was amazed at the accuracy of the pulse reading….Absolutely amazed)

    Newmarket, NH, USA