China pt 4 - Red Capital Ranch

Finding our rooms at the Red Capital Ranch

After our Great Wall hike and a three and a half hour drive, we finally arrived at Red Capital Ranch. This is an interesting resort ourside Beijing very near another section of the Great Wall. As we got close to the resort, we were following a river through a steep canyon. Both sides of the river had a number of open air restaurants with seating by the river. There were resorts that advertized fishing. There were various amusements - I saw two kids walking in the river in giant plastic bubbles. The area is kind of a recreation area for people from Beijing.

The resort is operated by a Tibetan family. It is styled after a Manchurian hunting lodge of the type used by the Qing emperors when they took trips into the mountains. It was quite rustic. Not exactly what we expected after seeing the website, but you know that you can't trust those web developers. They can make anything look good on their fancy websites. But the place was beautiful. It was right alongside the river - in fact the common buildings were on one side while the rooms were on the other. There were 10 individual lodges. Each one had a Ming dynasty era antique that was the "guardian" of the room displayed prominently. Sandy and I were in "Wind" lodge (no wisecracks!). Our guardian was a lion statue set into a special niche built into the wall with its own backlighting. All of the staff wore traditional Tibetan clothes. There were a number of shrines on the grounds and prayer flags and prayer wheels were scattered around the resort. In the evening there was special lighting on the buildings and shrines.

Dining room - note the ancient stone stairway on the left

Since Shannon wasn't feeling good only Sandy and I went for dinner. You go up an ancient stone stairway to reach the top floor of the dining hall. The modern building was constructed next to the old stairway to make use of it. Very cool. The menu was quite elaborate but exotic so we decided to play it safe. Sandy just ordered a fruit plate and I ordered a salad of willow leaves and berries picked right at the resort. I also had soup. Even with that, we had more than we could eat. It was getting to be a trend in China.

The resort is located right along the line of the Wall. It drops along ridges on either side and comes down nearly to the river. Here it has been cleared away over time as there is a road and a few buildings. But the setting is very spectacular. There is a trail that leaves right from the resort and climbs the ridge to a point that you can see the sunrise over the Great Wall. But they told me that I needed to leave at 5:30 to make it in time to see it (it was a half hour hike "if you are fast").

The Wall is steep and almost totally overgrown

I woke up about 6 am and got ready quickly and headed out by 6:15. Not in time to see the sunset but I figured I would still have good light. But it was quite hazy so the light wasn't so good. It took me about 20 minutes of climbing on the trail to reach the Wall. Here the Wall was overgrown along the top and it went straight up so the going was not as easy as the day before. Of course yesterday on our hike I hadn't realized that the going was easy. I climbed for a while, took some pictures, and then headed back down to pack up. Bruce was coming to pick us up at 9 am to head back toward Beijing.

The resort was quite beautiful and I am glad that we stayed there. But the itinerary we had was quite inconvenient. We were under the impression that the lodge was going to be near the Wall where we finished our hike. We basically had to drive back to Beijing and then out again to the lodge. It would have been better to do it on a separate day. But I was really glad that we got to stay there. The setting was quite unique. It was very different from downtown Beijing, very relaxing. They even had yoga classes on the patio with a view of the Wall, but we weren't there long enough for Sandy to give them a try. The Tibetan and Manchurian styles of the resort up in the mountains right at the Wall made for quite an experience. But now we were heading back to the Big City.

While driving back to Beijing we stopped at the Ming Tombs. This is a large area where the tombs of thirteen of the emperors of the Ming Dynasty were buried. There are also tombs of lesser family members and officials. Only a few of the tombs have been excavated. The others are still sealed. But it was impressive to walk along the Sacred Way - the long path that the funeral processions took when an emperor was buried. The Sacred Way is seven kilometers long and we started at the Great Red Gate. It is very pretty and peaceful and is lined with trees and statues. In one section the statues are of animals, real and mythical. In another section the statues are of soldiers and priests and officials. There were speakers hidden in the trees playing Asian music that sounded very "New Age" and it enhanced the mood. The entire site was designed by Emperor Zhu Di using principles of Feng Shui. He was the third Ming emperor and was the one who moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing six hundred years ago.

Statue along the Sacred Way

After sightseeing it was time for more shopping. We stopped at a jade factory. We spent quite a bit of time there, and Sandy bought a jade bracelet. Jade has a long history in China and was considered the "imperial gem". It is thought to have healthful properties. The saying is that if you buy a jade bracelet and take care of it for two years, then it takes care of you. We also found some beautiful (and heavy) glass globes with Chinese figures inside. We got a large one for ourselves and some small ones for gifts. Since Sandy had bought some pearl jewelry earlier (forgot to mention that in my other post) she was doing pretty well on this trip so far.

After our successful shopping we drove into Beijing and through the Olympic Village area. There is a huge amount of construction for the Olympics. The Chinese have put a lot of preparation into the Olympics and are eager to show the world how China has progressed in the twenty first century. We went to a viewpoint that gave us a view of two of the more famous buildings for the Olympics, the "Ice Cube", the stadium for swimming events, and the "Bird's Nest". The buildings were certainly distinctive but I couldn't decide if I really liked the designs or not. Bruce said that just about every hotel in Beijing has been booked for July and August for quite some time. China is expecting a lot of foreign visitors.

At lunch time we deviated from the plan. We had wanted to go to the Hard Rock Cafe but the HRC website said that the Beijing cafe was closed for remodeling. For the Olympics no doubt. But Bruce said he thought that it was reopening. He made several phone calls and found out that it was reopening that very day (it was a Monday). So Bruce dropped the previous plan of lunch at a local restaurant and we headed over to the Hard Rock. Shannon was very excited to get macaroni and cheese for lunch (although she usually isn't that excited when I make it for dinner). And we all got tshirts. The itinerary had us going to the Summer Palace after lunch. It is supposed to be very beautiful, but we were pretty much saturated by everything that we had seen so far. So we opted for a rest in the afternoon. Shannon got her mac and cheese at the Hard Rock. I got a tshirt. Sandy had her new jewelry. Bruce and the driver were happy. It was a holiday in China and they had to work to haul us around. They got off early and we took a cab back to the hotel after we were done with a late lunch. I love it when a plan comes together.

Bird's Nest Stadium - now why do you think they call it that?

Sandy and Shannon watched a movie on cable in the hotel. I decided to be brave and walked back to the Silk Market to explore. It was supposed to be three miles from the hotel but I got there in less than 45 minutes, and I'm not that fast. It was quite a place to explore. I was surprised to find an O'Brien's sandwhich shop and a Sarpino's Pizza on the ground floor. Those are both common restaurants in Singapore. For shopping every floor had a different theme. The two basements had shoes and leather goods (wallets, purses, jackets). The next two floors were mainly clothes. Then there was a jewelry floor, an electronics floor, art and crafts and toys floor. Another floor had accessories like sunglasses and watches and sporting goods. An amazing place. I ended up buying a fake Hard Rock tshirt to go with my authentic one. And I got two painted silk wall hangings. They were all quite cheap. The Silk Market is renowned for the negotiating skills of its shopkeepers. It seemed like most stalls had someone negotiating or arguing or waving their arms or shouting about price. It was all quite animated. I just used a variation of the technique I have had so much practice with at Lucky Plaza in Singapore. I would ask the price. It was always way too high - the goal is to get it for about a third to a quarter of what you are quoted. Then I would respond with my price. They would counteroffer. I would just say no thank you and walk away. Usually I would get about one or two steps and they would be after me, usually with a lower counteroffer. I would say no and keep going. After several cycles they would usually agree to the price I had suggested. If not, fine. I would find another stall. Using this technique in the markets in Beijing and Xian there was only one time the shopkeeper actually let me walk away and did not meet my price. I guess I was actually too low that time.

The shopkeepers were funny though. When they let you have your price they would pout or complain or scold you. When I bought the HRC tshirt the lady finally said "Ok! Give me the money!" and then pouted while she put the shirt in a bag and then said "Thank you!" with about as much hostility as possible. Another common response was "Good price. For you. No good for me." They made it sound like bad sex. I don't know if the stuff we bought in the market was all that great but it was worth it just for the entertainment value.

Additional pictures

Dining hall with the Wall behind and ruins of watch tower above