I finally made it to China! My husband has been attempting to get me to accompany him on one of his many business trips to China, but I previously had been very apprehensive to do so for a multitude of reasons (in other words, the idea of traveling to China stoked my travel anxiety and I desperately found logical reasons why I was unable to go). This year, I finally ran out of excuses, got my Chinese visa (or, rather, my husband got it for me because not getting it was another stall tactic of mine), and I heroically boarded a 12 hour flight from Seattle to Beijing.
Our first full day in China, we hired a tour guide to take us to the Great Wall. We were accompanied by my husband’s co-worker Mike, who stoically sat in the back seat as we bravely sat in the middle seat of the cold, stale van while the Chinese driver blatantly disregarded all traffic signals, traffic signs, lane lines, pedestrians and vehement honks to erratically make progress in the Beijing rush hour traffic. Our english-speaking tour guide, Evelyn, informed us that we couldn’t just go to the Wall. We had to make at least two other tourist stops as part of our tour package. My husband and Evelyn bickered for a while over exactly what we wanted to do on our tour and eventually we settled on a quick stop to a 500-year-old Cloisonné factory on the way to the Great Wall.
After over an hour of driving, where the driver narrowly escaped a multitude of potential car accidents, we arrived at the factory on the outskirts of Beijing. I have seen many beautiful beads with cloisonné work and was actually interested in learning how the technique was accomplished and I was eager to escape the smelly van for a little while.
We were met at the van by a factory tour guide. The woman spoke fairly decent english and promised us a quick tour. The first room we were led to was the copper room. Small pieces and tubes of copper ware hammered together to create the base shape for each piece.
The next room was where the flat copper wire was shaped and attached to the copper vessel by hand. The tour guide informed us that some of the larger pieces seen in the picture below take at least nine full days to lay down all of the intricate wire work.
At this point in the tour, we were no longer feeling like we needed to hurry through this experience. I think Steve and Mike were starting to enjoy the tour as much as I was when they saw the amount of skill and patience required by the artisans.
The next two rooms on the tour are where the vibrant color is added to each piece. The powders are mixed with some type of liquid and hand-painted on in layers and the vessels are fired in between each layer. The powders are sourced from local natural sources and the tour guide explained what the different colors represent (but I have forgotten most of what she said). It takes many layers to fill in all the space and create the seamless finish of the final piece.
The next room we visited had the kiln where the pieces were fired. We actually wanted to stay longer in this room because it was then only one that had heat.
Then, we visited the polishing room. Various pieces of stone and charcoal were used to polish down the surface of each piece while it turned on an archaic lathe.
The final stop of the tour was a gigantic factory store filled with beautiful pieces of all shapes, sizes, and price levels.. They did tell us most of the pieces in the store were not actually made at this factory, they are produced at another factory using more modern techniques. Of course, we purchased a few souvenirs while we were there, which is the whole reason the tour guide had to make us stop there…
I am thankful that we made this unexpected detour on our travels, even though in the moment, we all felt a bit hijacked by the tour guide. The more I learn about different cultures, the more inspired I am to continue traveling and to more open (and less anxious) about experiencing the unexpected.