Shopping Day!

No trekking today (Sunday) but still plenty of walking. After an excellent breakfast we board the bus for trip to the forbidden city. This is a stunning example of the extreme decadence of the emperors of the previous Chinese Dynasty’s. Whilst in its day there is no doubt that it would be a luxurious residence it is clearly an obscene self indulgence.

Our Chinese guide was quick to point out the comparison to Buckingham Palace, with 9000 rooms it easily surpasses the 600 in The Queens Home. We could not fail to be impressed by the vast area that it covered although this could be required with a concubine of 3000 wives, associated children and widows from former emperors and If you then add on the eunuch’s (ouch) then I suppose that the numbers soon add up.

In Communist China, parents of Young Virgin girls as young as thirteen used to present their children to the Emperor to let him select them for his concubine. In a number of cases the emperor did not even consummate the relationship and the girls never having seen their family again, died as virgins.

In the case of eunuch’s, young boys were castrated at an early age, sometimes dying in the process due the extreme procedure, that took a recovery period of two years. The boys were then offered as slaves to the emperor and received a small salary which they would then pass down to the family to bring up other members. Often castrated boys were rejected even after going through this brutal mutilation.

After this tour we headed to the Silk Market for some serious shopping. This was a complete nightmare for the inexperienced shopper (although we are pretty sure our wives would have been in their element). Basically you walk through rows of stalls and young predominately female stall holders shout at the top of their voice, trying to entice you to stop and have a look at their merchandise. If you are naive enough to actually stop then you are constantly badgered by two or three individuals about what size, colour, style you would like to buy. Now obviously we were all given lists and instruction about potential gifts and presents so therefore all had to make at least one purchase. This is where the ‘fun’ starts. The seller starts off by giving you a ludicrously high price. Once you have expressed horror at this, you are then expected to make a counter offer. I would really like to think that no one is daft enough to pay the first price but I expect that they hope for the unsuspecting target. After a series of bids and counter bids, during which the seller will beg, cry and curse. You will range from being handsome, a robber, depriving their family of food and generally coerced into paying as high a price as possible before ‘agreeing’ upon a number. In some cases this involved you walking away only to be then chased through the market still trying to haggle.

If you have bartered well the final price should bear absolutely no resemblance to the first price quoted. An example of this would be a Rolex Watch. First price offered was 2200Yen, around £220. I was assured on the grave of my sellers late mother that this was an original timepiece and would not find another anywhere else in the market because all the others were fake. How lucky was I finding a genuine article after such a short vist. After much gnashing of teeth, questions about your parentage, accusations of offending the whole Chinese race and walking away 2 or 3 times, the final agreed price was 180Yen, around £18. No difference there then! What a bargain, it’s not every day you manage to get a genuine diamond encrusted Rolex watch for less than 20 quid.

We all had headaches after less than an hour trawling through this crowded market.

Today we had a celebration dinner at the oldest Chinese restaurant in Beijing. 135 years old but without doubt one of the best meals we have ever had. The Peking Duck was excellent, we had a number of moving speeches and shared some memories and experiences of our travels. We were without doubt a varied group of individuals comprising of Students, Teachers, Labourers, Businessmen, Housewives, Care Workers and Retired Pensioners. Our eldest walker was Kristine from Dalry, 75 years old and walking like a 25 year old. Our youngest was Paul, 17 years old but mature beyond his years.

Back to the hotel for farewell drinks, a few tears from some and more shared stories. It is difficult to explain how much is shared during hours of walking.

Early rise tomorrow for the trip home.



6 April 2009 at 18:29

Well done all of you.

Love Anne, Caitlin and


6 April 2009 at 23:57

Should have guessed it would have been Anne in with the first comment here given the headline!


12 April 2009 at 09:53