Enough with Beijing, already

Trip Start Sep 04, 2007
Trip End Nov 20, 2007

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Friday though Wednesday, October 5th through the 10th

The Snow Lion tour returned to Beijing Friday by way of a 2-1/4 hour layover in Urumqi, which was just long enough that we had to retrieve our bags, pass out of the secure area, check in separately for the second leg of our trip, and go back through security. If our layover had been less than two hours, the airline would have checked our bags through to Beijing for us. 
Saturday morning, the tour grour had our last breakfast together then went our separate ways, Gary, Humphrey, and Kevin back to the U.S., Chuck and Kathy off for a day of exploring Beijing (they left on Sunday), and me off to my old hotel (the Zhong An Inn), which was a lot less expensive (and a bit less tony ;-) than the China People's Palace. We'd seen a lot of interesting places and had a lot of fun together, but god, was I ready to be on my own again. After 16 days of going where someone else wanted me to go almost every waking minute of every day, I was physically and mentally exhausted, and coming down with a cold, which I somehow managed to compound with another case of food poisoning. I just wanted to relax for a while.

Peter, our original Beijing tour guide, had met us at the airport on Friday night, and I'd arranged to get together with him on Sunday for a return trip to see Wu Xue Jun, the glass artist whose work I'd been so taken with on the first pass through Beijing. We spent several hours there late Sunday afternoon and early evening as I looked through a couple of hundred pieces, selected a few dozen that I might be interested in, and then sat down to winnow them down to a number that I was willing to afford. When I was finished, Peter, who was there to act as my translator (and who Gary thought might be getting a percentage), asked if I wanted him to try to negotiate a lower price. I wavered a bit, but I'm reluctant to say to any artist I'm dealing with directly that I don't think his work is worth the price he's asking. Buying from middlemen is another matter-for them it's just business. Moreover, the prices Mr. Wu had quoted were already depressingly low. I can't imagine that, after he paid for materials, he was making a dollar an hour for his work. My reward for not trying to weasel a few yuan out of him was the offer of a free piece of my choice. I selected one of the last pieces that I'd initially decided against and one that seemed to be one of Mr. Wu's favorites.

I hadn't been able to get enough cash to pay Mr. Wu that night, so his wife brought the pieces I'd selected to my hotel late the next morning, after I'd had the chance to get to a Bank of China, the only bank that is allowed to cash travellers' checks in U.S. dollars. (The entire previous week had been a national holiday, so banks had kept strange hours and had limited services.) I spent that afternoon trying to figure out whether I could get everything home via China Post. The slow boat service would have been much less expensive than UPS, but it would also have been three months for delivery (without tracking, as near as I could tell), and the fast method would have been almost as expensive as UPS. Tuesday I went to UPS with two duffel bags of glass and camping gear, which I no longer needed now that the tour was over. I had to fill out the forms twice because I learned too late that there's a surprisingly low limit on the total value of the contents of a box that you can ship out of China. By quoting the actual price I'd paid, I had exceeded that limit. Gotta love those arbitrary rules and, especially, the ease with which they're circumvented.

I'd had my fill of Beijing. Wednesday morning I finally got on a train to Shanghai and got on with my solo exploring.
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