Chilly day on the Great Wall, where the mountains are, in fact, blue.

Here are the three of us posing for the obligatory shot on the Great Wall. When our plane approached Beijing, I was riveted by the look of the countryside. The landscape beneath the flight path down the northeast coast of Asia is much like barren desert areas anywhere, but the touch of humanity there makes all the difference. One thing I noticed was how small towns are laid out. In America, towns radiate from a center, but in China, towns are laid out in relatively tight parallel lines, like a hexagram. Another thing I noticed were big modern highways, interstates really, though with relatively little traffic. As I was taking this in, I noticed some other very prominent roads that weren't as straight as the interstates. Then I noticed they followed mountain ridges—how curious! Then it dawned on me that I was looking at the Great Wall. Simply amazing. You can see what I mean, in the background behind us here. It just goes on and on, and I am overcome with awe even contemplating the effort it took to build this thing, in the days before cranes and bulldozers and big trucks. They cannot be seen from outer space, despite the folklore, but you sure can see them from a 747 dropping down for a landing. 

Here are some shots of the countryside outside Beijing, enroute to Simatai.

First we passed through the Beijing suburbs, which are beginning to eerily resemble suburbs in America. This sign bids us farewell from one large housing tract. 
The nuclear family dream house in the suburbs


It is the fond dream of many Chinese people to own a little house in the suburbs, with a white picket fence. Check this ad I snapped in the back seat of a taxi: Mom and Pop and the one allowed child, a "Sold" sign in the yard. Happiness is theirs, thanks to their homeowner's loan from the Bank of China.

a rural village seen from a speeding car!

Here is one of those towns, like the ones I spied out the window of the big plane. Tile and brick and various masonry define the northern Chinese architecture. They may also define the southern architecture as well, but I wouldn't know. I hope to go there someday. 

flyscreen in a shop door, made from recycled tin cans


Enroute to Simatai and the Great Wall, we made a pit stop and sought directions in one of those villages, where I saw this fly screen in a shop door, made from recycled tin cans, a sort of shrapnel origami. Right next to it is your garden variety plastic version. The sparkly metal was much nicer. 

The "pit" (literally) was off to one side of this little yard. The greenery on the ground was portulaca. 

   We saw some sights along the road, including this herd of goats being shuttled along. 

At this particular period, in late spring, an intercrop of wheat was being harvested. Threshing of the grain involved leaving the grain in the road so cars would run over it to break the husks. In other places we saw people feeding the grain into little 5HP stationary threshing machines. 

hillside near Simatai, with major replanting underway

If you look carefully, you will see almost all the vegetation on the precipitous slope is hand planted, with little handmade rock basins around each plant. The entire countryside from Beijing to Simatai (better than two hours drive on good roads) was entirely replanted. Obviously all original vegetation was long gone, but the effort evident in the massive landscape restoration was quite remarkable. 

   Meanwhile, back in Beijing...

   Sights like this are common.

   Here's a factory where these bike-trucks are made.

Streets in Beijing were great. We walked and walked, in every kind of neighborhood. I think Heath took this shot of Amber and me. 

   We saw people playing this Chinese chess game quite often. 

   Cars may be taking over the roads, but bicycles are still everywhere. Hutongs are a vanishing sight in Beijing.

Below, two different shots of the same thing at the same time. First one was Heath's, the second one mine. 

While Heath was busy trying to bargain for a sanxian in the high-rise apartment where its owner lived, I snapped this photo out their window, of some of the fading hutongs. People living there told us that some hutongs are being bought up by hip wealthy people who gentrify them in the hopes of hanging on to a bit of this part of Beijing's history.

Importation War Paint Monopolization Shop

This photo doesn't show it well, but this store has a very unusual name. See if you can guess what the Importation War Paint Monopolization Shop sells:

Answer: women's face makeup.

Doors held a fascination for us all; Heath got some great shots of door details:


We had to find a lock like this...

...and this is the man who sold one to us. 


Way Down the Old Silk Road. . .

Here Suzanne Hale and Heath and Jody are looking through hundreds and hundreds of carpets. My favorites of all of these come from Xinjiang, way out west in the desert.

   This is salvaged thread used in restoration.

Pretty much all the carpets were one price, sold by the "yard."

Two very serious-looking guys, wouldn't you say?

Heath at the tomb of the Great Helmsman . . . . . and . . . . . Heath and Andy

Yes, miss, I'll have that clock wrapped please.

On this Beijing excursion, Jody and I discovered that Heath indeed has a Black Belt in Bargaining, which is why we were at this tourist kitsch stall while Heath spent twenty minutes bargaining the merchant down from 40 cents to 38 and a half for some gewgaw. He made a concerted and successful effort to corner the market in Mao alarm clocks, the Big Ben jobs with bells on top and a little hand that waves the Little Red Book, rather like a second hand. 

They're actually pretty cool. I came home with a couple too. I also had a lot of fun bargaining here - a friendly and occasionally very lively form of street theater. 

The Silk Market is near the embassies, and has all the westerners for customers. We were advised, by those in the know, to bargain for 10% of the asking price on things there. By contrast, this Qianmen neighborhood had almost no westerners, which made it curious to me that there were these kitsch stalls. Who buys this stuff? 

One time, while Jody and I were indulging Heath in this little obsession (meaning we were wandering around in the vicinity killing time while he was shaving a few kwai off a critical purchase) I was chatting with a young woman, who felt constrained to point out to me that it was Mao Zedong on that clock. I replied I knew very well who it was, everyone in the whole world knew his face and his reputation well. I asked her what she thought Mao would think of China today. She laughed out loud and merrily exclaimed, "Who cares! He's dead!" 

Driving a mighty hard bargain once again
   Here's that Heath, at it again, only this time in the Silk Market. 

  All the tea in China


It goes without saying that tea is a real deal in China. This was a rare moment with the shop empty, it was doing a land-office business when we were there. 

teas are hand-shaped into many different forms: twists, stars, beads, and so on.

Heath is wearing his special hat.
   On the table, lower right, are a number of glasses with different teas in them, for examination.

  Recycle your trash

   These are good things. Like the 'No Somking' signs, they are everywhere. 


This is Wu Tong, who we knew as Andy, a gem of a guy who we chanced to meet at the Dirt Market and who spent lots of time hanging out with us, yakking, translating, and being a pal. Peace!

A hundred kwai ain't a whole lotta money these days.

Well, that's all folks. Click here to back go to page three or page two or page one


This site began as a practice version of an article I wrote for The Old Time Herald, and that article has been published. 
Be sure and read this fine magazine, which you can access by visiting their website at

Click here to read Jody Stecher's different and quite wonderful article which he wrote for Fiddler Magazine

This little scrapbook is a work in progress. More pictures are bound to come, and more jabber to go with them. Check in again.
Most of the photos are mine, but a few good ones are Heath's and Jody's. Xie xie! 
In case you hadn't noticed, many of the pictures have built-in captions that light up when you put your cursor over the image.
Want to see my lutherie pages? Click here. Email me here.

last fooled with on 25 February 2001