Thursday, November 22, 2007

China Odyssey, Day 8 - Beijing

Day 8 – Beijing
Thursday November 22
The Great Wall

After breakfast we headed out for our primary stop of the day, The Great Wall, stopping along the way to tour a cloisonné factory.

The tour of the cloisonné factory was very interesting. Cloisonné is an ornamental form of enameled copper. Our tour guide there was named Babbit. Everytime we moved from one place to the another, he would say "Follow Babbit" or “Babbit say". We were shown all of the steps in cloisonné fabrication, from copper to paint to kiln. All work is done by Chinese women sitting at tables in a very warm room. Door openings are covered with insulated blankets instead of conventional doors. When you left one room to go to the next it was positively frigid. At the end of our tour was a store where Kathy made some purchases.

Kathy paints Cloisonné

Our next stop was the Great Wall. Dating back to the 5th century BC, this Great Wonder stretches more than 4000 miles across the northern Chinese border. First extended to form a continuous fortification in the 2nd century BC by China’s first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, the “modern” wall was built in the 16th century by the Ming Dynasty. At it’s peak, the Ming wall was said to be guarded by a million soldiers.

We first visited an un-restored section of the Ming Wall, called the Wild Wall. The approach to this access is along a narrow road which passes through a village, then winds up the mountainside. The ascent from the parking lot to the wall was rugged and steep, and required some serious stair climbing. The stairs were irregular stone blocks. Kathy purchased a walking stick to help her make the climb. Keith was impressed with Kathy’s negotiating skills as she bargained with the parking lot vendor. Keith and Kathy made it to the lowest accessible surface of the wall, but did not climb to the summit with the rest of our hardy tour group. Neither of us are in the best condition, and the climb was not an easy feat for us. We did it like the tortoise, slow and sure. Some of our group climbed much higher, but as the fog/smog were so thick, the view was the same from both sections of the wall. If you look north from the wall you are facing Mongolia. The Chinese tour guide told the men to relieve themselves in that direction, should the need arise. There was a monument at the foot of the wall, called the Fortress of Ping, which reminded Kathy of a character in the movie Mulan.

Road to the Wild Wall

An Arduous Climb

A Crowning Achievement

After leaving the wall we returned to the adjacent village to have another excellent home hosted lunch. They candied sweet potatoes were to die for.

After lunch we were scheduled to return to the hotel, but one of our group mutinied and insisted we visit the Restored Great Wall, which was about 7 kilometers from the Wild Wall access. We were very grateful to this mutineer; the contrast between the Wild and the Restored Walls was striking, and both venues were very interesting. The entrance to the restored section of the Great Wall is located near the Ba Da Ling Hotel and Coffee Shop. It is very, very touristy zone; shops and street vendors line both sides of the street leading up to the entrance of the wall. We walked up to the entrance and took some pictures, but decided we did not need to climb this portion of the Wall. One ascent was great, but one was enough!

Approach to the Restored Great Wall

Tourists Climb the Restored Great Wall

We felt very fortunate to have visited both wild and restored accesses to the Great Wall. The wild wall especially provides a vivid sense of the magnitude and grandeur, and of the remoteness of this ancient fortification. The restored wall also was interesting, but had much more of a “Disney-esque” feeling.

On our return to the City, we stopped on the side of the highway to view the new Bird’s Nest Stadium, built for the forthcoming Olympic Games. The stadium is impressive, but it is a shame that many of the sights in and around Beijing, including the Stadium and the Great Wall, are badly obscured by fog and smog. We arrived back at the hotel exhausted, and slept through supper.

Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium

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