We got up quite early this morning for the trip to the Great Wall. After much deliberation, we chose the Badaling section of the Great Wall. Although Badaling has been rebuilt in places and some say it is excessively touristy, it is the most frequented part and thus (I hoped) the easiest to get to. After yesterday’s failures, I wanted to get to the Great Wall, the easier the better. Anyway, it was also the section where Obama visited the Wall during his visit, and what’s good enough for my president is good enough for me.
The weather got cold overnight in Beijing. The last two days had been beautiful – clear and warm and sunny – but today was bitter. The walk to the Wall was miserable, but we warmed up as soon as we began climbing.
The good news about the weather is that the Wall wasn’t as packed with vendors as we had feared. In fact, besides a few people selling gloves and hats and one guy selling “I climbed the Great Wall” certificates, we were hardly bothered. We were on the Wall pretty early, too – by nineish – so the tourist crowd was especially thin.
The climbing was a little tough. There were tiny tiny snowflakes falling around us and a thin layer of packed snow on much of the walkway.
The Wall follows the contours of the mountains, so it has a lot of ups and downs and is quite steep in some places. There was a sign cautioning us to “please lose headway” (which we assume meant to go slow), so we tried to be careful. Sometimes there were stairs; other times we stepped carefully on the slope and hauled ourselves up using the handrail.
The view was great, though. I bet the Great Wall has its charms in any season – green countryside in spring and summer, autumn colors in the fall, and snow-covered hills in the winter. I liked the impressive monochrome look of the scenery, with just shades of gray and white.
I happen to like my mountains in the distance, fading gradually into nothingness, so it was just my cup of tea.
My favorite views were of the Wall snaking over the nearby hills, perfectly framed in the window of a watchtower.
We climbed to the first peak and stopped for pictures in front of the path not taken.
Then we headed back towards the entrance. By this time it was after 10, and more tourists had made it out to Badaling.
When we got to the top of one particularly steep descent, we found an entire watchtower packed full of tourists waiting to go down. The line (which was really more of a mob, huddled together for warmth) was clearly going nowhere fast. My clever father, however, saw that the real holdup was the single handrail that everyone was waiting to use on their way down, and figured out a way around it. Instead of waiting who knows how long, he just sat down on his butt, pushed off, and arrived at the bottom in seconds. He made it down safely (although he may have undone all the benefits of the acupuncture), so Mom and I quickly followed him down. The rest of the visitors, confined to either side of the walkway, watched us slide down, cheering us on and pushing us away when we threatened to knock them down with our uncontrolled slide.
It was awesome. It was like sledding, but ON THE GREAT WALL. Plus there were the cheering crowds, a liberated feeling from avoiding that ridiculous line, and I bet we made it down in near-record time. Yeah, awesome.
[One humorous note about the Great Wall: Admission is free for the disabled. We have no idea why, as the Wall seems to be the very antithesis of handicap-accessible – I mean, it’s hard for fully mobile people to get around on! I would almost go so far as to say that the Great Wall (indeed, like most of China) is handicap-hostile. I don’t know about the free admission thing; maybe the idea is that, since you have to leave your wheelchair-bound friend at the entrance anyway, they may as well not charge you for a ticket. More on China and my longing for a Chinese Disabilities Act later.]
We had lunch at KFC, which officially brings the amount of Western food I’ve eaten in the past three weeks to ridiculous. We caught the bus back to Beijing and by the time we arrived, our butts had finally dried. Yay!
Because we were in the neighborhood, we decided to go to the Drum Tower.
Because climbing the Great Wall wasn’t enough, we had to make it up a flight of incredibly steep stairs.
We hoped to catch a drum performance at the top but were misinformed about the times, so we settled for the pretty view of Beijing’s 胡同 (hutong, or alleys) surrounding a frozen lake.
We liked the way it looked, so we went exploring on foot for a while. The alley we chose was filled with interesting stuff, namely a little sort of bakery. I bought almost a jin (a little less than a pound) of delicious cream puffs and little flaky sugared twists, which fortified us for the walk. We also made friends with a rickshaw driver and policeman!
When we came out of the alley, we were by the frozen lake, where we got to see locals enjoying the ice. In addition to rental skates, they were also offering two-person chairs and even a clever ice bike! It looked like a lot of fun, more suited to my abilities than ice skating, especially when they formed trains.
On our way home, we stopped at the train station. My parents travels in China are almost done, but I still have to get home to Fujian after they leave. I was hoping to go north to see my friends in Jilin, but decided the last few days before the Spring Festival probably aren’t the best time. Instead, I’m leaving Friday night for Xiamen, riding straight there on an overnight train! I’m not exactly sure how long it will take, but it really can’t be less than 19 hours. And, as I’ll be in a seat for the first time (because sleepers were sold out), it will probably seem even longer.
For dinner, we went to a jiaozi (dumpling) place near our hotel. Apparently the Chinese do with dumplings what my grandmother does with burritos – that is, put anything and everything inside. We tried pork-and-eggplant dumplings, lamb-and-onion dumplings, roast duck dumplings, and kungpao chicken dumplings. The variety was pretty wild, considering I’ve only had one dumpling filling in my life. The kungpao chicken one was especially surprising – kind of like biting into a burrito and finding spaghetti.
After dinner, my mom and I went for massage. For 70 glorious minutes, the aches and bumps of the Great Wall were smoothed away by two nice young women, who told Mom that she looked 40-something and me that I should be a model. What a wonderful end to a wonderful day!