En route back home

I can see the sun setting across the clouds this evening as I am heading back on my flight from Beijing to Chicago. During this 5th leg of my trip, my seat is located in the upper deck of the 767 – right by the flight cockpit. Here, I have observed some of the flight staff’s security procedures – when one of the pilots needs to use the restroom, the flight attendants do not allow passengers to access the other restroom by the cockpit. I have counted four pilots for our flight.

This morning I checked out after breakfast – my bill was a whopping $5000 yuan – note that this was for merely two days and that my bill in Nanchang for two weeks totaled $6000 yuan. Wow – Beijing isn’t cheap, but I will have to say that the Grand Hyatt Beijing is a wonderful hotel. Last night I went to the pool. Hopefully I can find a picture of it – it is a full 55meters long and boasts two huge hot tubs – you could fit more than ten people very comfortably in each one. It has a tropical island / grotto feel to it and is certainly one of the nicest pool areas I have ever experienced. The only other one that comes close would be one in Hawaii. I told Scott that we should come to Beijing with the kids in 2009, after the Olympic games.

We headed to the Summer Palace – the weekend residence of former emperors and leaders of China. With its own large lake, wonderful gardens, mighty Pavillion and Opera house, it is a quite nice weekend home., with similar elegance of the Forbidden City wih more informality. Tony tells me more about the “Dragon Lady”, ShuQi who really ruled China during the Qing dynasty, behind the child emperors of that time.

After lunch we have time for a stop at the National Silk factory. I learned that they use two different types of silk cocoons – the smaller ones are spun into silk thread while the bigger ones are pulled apart with the natural silk matrix in tact and combined to form a silk batting. There was a spinning machine in operation – the smaller silk cocoons immersed in water and threaded up to the spinning machine, then over to the spools of raw silk fibers. I watched as one woman worked with the larger cocoons, pulling them apart by hand and forming the raw silk batting. Each piece of silk batting is then pulled as a thin layer in the manufacture of a silk blanket – many, many layers form the blanket filling, much like polyester fiberfill, but obviously with much different properties. I guess this is the silk equivalent to down. All of the pulling is also done by hand to ensure evenness. I helped pull several pieces for a queen-sized blanket. I really thought this process was really interesting and loved the concept of the silk blanket, so of course, I bought a king sized one! They ‘vacuum pack’ it for you so that it is fairly thin, but I am now carting yet another satchel in my collection of carry on bags.

The last stop before heading to the airport is the DVD store. I now know that you can’t get the inside scoop in Beijing unless you hire a guide. These places are backrooms behind store normal storefronts – through people’s kitchens and down alleyways I would never venture to on my own. Tony tells me that the area we are in (right across from the very respectable looking Holiday Inn Beijing) is really not all that good and the one doesn’t go into the Foot Massage place to get a massage (wink, wink). I guess the give away is the woman at the doorway to the Foot Massage establishment is in a cocktail dress vs. a traditional Chinese dress.

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