Wow! So it’s been about a month and for that I apologize. This blog does mean a lot to me and it is something I want to get into the habit of doing during the school year, so that it is natural and part of my routine for when I go to France (by the way, I’m going to France – in January – for 8 months).
The past 3 weeks I’ve been doing my classwork, getting sick, and seeing lots of Buddhist temples – a typical China experience. I do have some regrets of places I didn’t see, but I figure that since I’ve put in the work to learn Chinese, I’ll be back to Beijing. I’m currently in Shanghai, so what I’m going to do is take two concepts every day: a Beijing topic, and a Shanghai one. This way, I can cover the things I missed while still updating everyone on what I’m currently doing. So with out further ado… I believe I left off on the Great Wall!!!! Exciting!
A few weeks ago, my class took a trip to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. This isn’t the most touristy of the Great Wall sections, but most certainly not the least. The drive to the Wall is just over an hour, but it’s completely worth it. When you arrive the path up to the wall is flooded with street vendors. Many of them have the very tacky touristy kind of thing, but there’s definitely some good things in there. You’re then given a choice: you can take the cable car up to the wall, or you can walk up. Two things to consider: 1) The Great Wall was built on a mountain ridge so you are currently standing a few hundred meters below it, and 2) According to lore, if you climb to the Great Wall, you are a true Chinese Warrior.
We’ll I’m about as warrior-like as they come so I did the climb. It was only about 20 minutes of stairs. In the altitude and heat, it is enough to get your heart pounding, but it’s certainly not the worst thing I’ve ever done (see: Yosemite Falls). The steps up offer a lot of great views, but none truly compare to the top of the Great Wall.
To be honest, another reason I’ve shied away from the blog is because I knew that the next thing I had to write about was the Great Wall. It’s something I definitely couldn’t let people down with – It’s the Great Wall of China for god sakes! But it’s also something that I had such an indescribable emotion, that I’ve been afraid to come up with the words. Reaching the top of the Wall was something so much more than a good hike, or your next landmark on a tour. This is a place that has a lore and an ethos all to itself. And it certainly lives up to it. I was both inspired and humbled by the wonder I was standing on. It took millions of workers thousands of years to build the single largest defensive structure in the world. It represents a culture, a history, a people, values, ethics, religion. It inspires awe in every definition, from the architecture, to the scenery, to the strategy, to the people. It’s been a great long while since I’ve felt such a strong emotion, and if any of my three readers ever get the chance to go, don’t even think, just go. But now back to the concrete stuff.
The view from the top of the tower was one of the more impressive vistas I’ve seen. The verdant, rugged mountains sprawl for miles, showing the sense of treachery and that invaders would have to endure: a true darkness to the beauty. The Great Wall isn’t quite as wide or as physically tall as you might think (or at least not in this section), but it was wide enough to fit five horses (if that means anything to you), and is it difficult. Moving between the different towers, I certainly was winded quickly. While it is only a short distance, there are many many stairs. Maybe a couple hundred each between towers, both down and up.
The stones on the wall look old, but not unsafe. My favorite Great Wall anecdote, is that while one certain section of the Wall was being built, the Lord who was overseeing it wanted his section to be the masterpiece of the Wall. So he designed the most treacherous and rigorous section he could. Apparently, each square inch of the Wall took one worker a whole day to complete. After about 20 or so years of this, the Emperor found out and had to go to this section himself and stop the Lord from being so crazy.
I’ll let the pictures of the Great Wall speak for themselves and they truly do. But on the way down, I had an awesome bargaining experience. That weekend’s homework was to practice bargaining in Chinese. It involved a lot of “多少钱？” “太贵了” and 二十快吗？” In English that’s “How much money?” “Too expensive” and “How about 20 kuai?” So as I was walking down from the Great Wall after a good hour or so of reflection and photo-taking, I stopped by some of the vendors. They all wanted me to buy from them, but I really wasn’t planning on buying anything; I wanted to practice bargaining the next day. So on my way down I saw this one table with some wooden carvings. There was a really cool one of a dragon and I asked him how much it was. The man said 80 kuai – while that’s the equivalent of maybe 12 bucks, you have to think in kuai! A fancy meal costs about 40 kuai so think to fancy meals worth. So he offered me 80 kuai for this statue, and I liked it enough, but not that much so I just told him I didn’t want it. As I walked away, he started shouting “70 kuai”, “60 kuai”, “40 kuai” “30 kuai” “20 kuai!!!!!!” 3 bucks for this statue was not a bad price at all, so I bought it… the old walk away strategy.
So right now you’re at the halfway point. Go take a break. Rest your eyes. Come back. The blog will be waiting on the next post.