Asia | China – Day 2 – the Great Wall
April 5, 2003
We set out 8:30 for the Great Wall. This is 2 hours outside Central Beijing. It’s awe-inspiring the way it’s built into the mountains. There’s the vendor gauntlet but I’m in good shape for it. It’s always, ‘Hello lady, one dollar.’ I loved the Mao hats and they’d be so chic in my Cuban community. NOT!
Took cable car up the Wall. Stairs down. Parts of the wall were blocked off for ‘renovation’. Walking it is very arduous in places. Lots of up and down, slopes, steps, holes, walking through guard houses. Surreal in the sense that you can’t believe you’re actually at the Great Wall but it didn’t wow me architecturally the way Uxmal [Mexico] did. Is it wrong to say it’s the Wow-Really-Impressive-Wall? It didn’t even keep the Mongolians out anyway since the sentinels were easily bribed. There were some people working the area dressed as Mongolians. A parallel to the Renaissance Festivals here. Turns out there are no veggies in real Mongolian bbq.
Climbing back down to ground level very taxing. Views from the Wall itself are spectacular in terms of scope but there’s not a lot to view since there’s nothing else around it. No river or body of water. No foliage right now. The mountains are only a darker brown than the Wall itself. Don’t get me wrong, this was a great experience but hard to capture in words. A lot of vendors selling ‘I climbed the Great Wall T-shirts’. ‘Hey lady, one dollar,’ no matter what the item for sale is.
Two hour drive back to Beijing to visit the Temple of Heaven. Chinese guide Kevin. Personally I liked the Lama Temple better. The Temple of Heaven has a Feng Shui layout. The architecture of the buildings is more impressive than the contents. A lot of the layout is based on astrology.
At the Temple of Heaven we have our first experience with Chinese tourists who’ve never seen westerners before and ask (through Kevin) to take our photo. My hair is an attraction because it’s curly. The two blond Norwegian women in our group are treated like super models.
I had to go by 4:30 to meet my escort to the Shaolin Monks show by 5. Had a great night but not because of the show. I was the only person from my group who went and there were only about 15-20 people at the show and the auditorium capacity is probably around 200. Apparently this SARS thing has gotten way out of hand (by which I mean it’s jumped from the ‘Money’ section of USA Today to hard news). Chinese newspapers are reporting the problem is solved (phew!) and that it’s really a sexually transmitted disease. There are rumors that planes aren’t allowed to fly into or leave Hong Kong. U.S. and other countries have expanded travel warnings. Some people are walking around with masks. Fab business opportunity for antibacterial hand rinse.
The Monks show is very tacky. There are some impressive acrobatics and martial arts tricks but it’s sad really and I suggested to P. [group leader] there’s no need to mention that tourists check it out.
What made the night great were the two young escorts, Lucy and Phina, who both want to break into the guide business and Phina especially wants to practice English with a native speaker. She has this hysterical palm pilot gadget that spits out english words with audio as a learning aid. For some reason mid-show it just kept saying ‘mantis’ repeatedly. I tried to explain to them the colloquialism of ‘blow my mind’ in all its tenses. They say there’s a coffee house in Beijing called English corner where Chinese can practice English but unless a native English speaker is there it’s not much help. They also wer very conscious of the feelings of the Monk/Performers, afraid their feelings would be hurt duet to the poor turnout so they clapped a lot.
Afterwards we went to the night market. This was not in a maze of Huton. It was sort of like a street fair. Fare included goat balls, scorion, silkworm, fermented tofu. I had egg & leek dumplings, fried vegetable balls, a piece of lotus (yum!), banana dumplings (seemed to be lacking in banana). The best was the milk cake. They somehow make milk a solid and then fry it and pour cream on top. Awesome. The night market was in an upscale shopping district but I didn’t take advantage. Very safe to walk around at night. I did make a wrong turn and had to backtrack up/down. The only way to cross main Beijing thoroughfares is over a footbridge or under via the subway stops. Turned in early. Tomorrow, more Beijing sights.