Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Chug Chung or More Commonly Known as the Great Wall


I have had three extremely busy days and so I have sat down outside my new little hostel in Guilin to try to catch up. With a Jamisons and a bottle of local beer at my side I am sitting next to a beautifully lit up lake enjoying the evening. But I digress...back to Beijing.

One of the must visit places on my list for China was the Great Wall. Now the Wall is several thousand kilometers in length but only portions of it have been restored for visitors such as myself. The wall was built in mainly two stages, if I have my facts straight, in order to protect the loosely unified kingdoms of China from the Mongols to the north. It almost reminds me of the Wall in The Game of Thrones! I could go on about the history but I am sure there are more scholarly people out there that would be more accurate in their factual information.

There are five sections of the wall which are open to the public in the vicinity of Beijing. I opted to visit it at Mutianyu since this is further from Beijing and not quite as busy. I joined a small group of other travellers from my hostel (3 Americans, a family of 4 from England, and 2 others who did not speak English or socialize with the rest of the group). Generally, I abhor organized tours but finding transportation on my own to this particular section of the wall would have been a formidable task so I opted to put my biases to rest on this occasion. As usual, they couldn't just take us to the Wall but had to make several stops along the way...basically, to try to get us to buy products. Our first stop was a Jade factory which was actually a bit interesting and I even lost all my resolve and purchased a Happiness Ball!

The Brits and I waited patiently for the others to complete their shopping expedition and finally we were on our way. Next stop was the Ming Tomb. Lovely gardens but slightly underwhelming otherwise. Basically you walk down several flights of stone stairs to four underground chambers where one of the Ming Emperors was laid to rest along with the Empress and later his favourite concubines. This was rather unique since concubines were always laid to rest in an outside chamber but apparently this concubine had actually been the mother of the next reigning Emperor and he decided to upgrade his mother's final resting place!

Next stop, lunch! The young American gentleman has lived in China for three years and spoke Chinese so after he had had a brief conversation with a staff person he informed the rest of us that we had been asked if we would like local beer with our meal but he had taken it upon himself to say no for the whole group since he felt that we shouldn't drink beer before attempting the Great Wall. Being rather thirsty, I ignored his suggestion and went to get a bottle of beer! The beer I have had in China is possibly even weaker than American beer so I was pretty confident my Canadian constitution could handle it!

We finally made it to the Wall! Now
Stairs, stairs and more stairs!
if you have never been to the Wall you may imagine a very long winding path, made of stone on top of a mountain. Well it is winding and it is on top of a mountain but what should be stressed is that the mountain top is not flat but rather it undulates up and down in a series of rather steep inclines. Although we were transported to the wall itself via a cable car which was actually more of a ski lift, once at the wall the exercise has just begun. In order to reach the highest point of the wall at this section the weary traveller must climb a seemingly never ending series of stairs with rises and inclines that would never pass the Ontario Building Code. This is also being attempted in temperatures exceeding 40 Degree Celsius. Now, I was determined, so I set out on my trek with sturdy, strong strides but by the second series of stairs I was moving a bit slower and was forced to use hands and feet as I scaled the impossibly steep stairs. Taking frequent breaks to rehydrate with my water bottle (which had actually nearly reached a boiling point) and take scenic pictures with my phone, I resolutely continued my trek. Now, I don't want to brag but two tall healthy looking Germans that I chatted with gave up and turned back as I carried on. The American ladies in my group barely made it up one set of stairs and although I considered giving up when one of the women selling refreshments along the way said, "ar", meaning two when I asked how much further, but I wasn't going to be beaten! I proudly scaled the last set of stairs and enjoyed the fabulous scenery as I awaited the rest of my group. It is really hard to imagine the lives of the people who were made to build this incredible structure.

The English mom, her sons, and I snapped several pictures and walked back together. This wasn't as difficult but it was undignified in parts since I was forced to descend some of the steps on my butt!

The quickest, and most enjoyable way to get down from the peak is by toboggan. This was a great end to my excursion. As I walked through the market to our van, I was very proud of myself as I was able to ask a vendor "How much?" in Chinese and was able to negotiate the purchase of a wall ornament!

The Wall was an exhausting experience but well worth the effort. Just as I had dreaded, the tour bus did not head to our hotels and instead stopped at a "silk factory" which basically turned out to be a large bedding and clothing store. I was about to ditch the tour at this point since we were now back in Beijing and I was quite confident in my ability to use the metro system but Ping, our guide, assured me that this stop would be no more than twenty minutes and the nearest subway station was at least a thirty minute walk. An hour later the Brits and I sat fuming as the American women went on a shopping expedition for what seemed like a whole new wardrobe. Shopping should never be a group event!

Part of the Wall where tourists aren't allowed!
Finally was able to retrieve my bag from The Classic Courtyard and headed to my next abode. I wasn't completely sure how to get to Kelly's Courtyard but I did know that it was between two metro stops. I disembarked from Xisi station and knew I needed to head East. Compass app proved very useful at this point and I headed down the street. The hostel is tucked away off of a small Hutong. There are no signs and even the local people looked at me blankly when showed them my scrap of paper with the name of the hostel written in Chinese. I did finally locate my new home and was pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful accommodation with lovely rooms surrounding an enclosed courtyard with a pond and greenery. There is a rooftop terrace furnished with cushioned rattan furniture, overlooking the local Chinese neighbourhood. A pity I can only stay here one night!

My new friends at a stall near my hostel in the Hutong.

1 comment:

  1. lol i definitely wouldn't be able to do any of the stairs on the wall hahah


I would love to hear from you!