Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday, April 4 - Badaling? Badda-bing!

Happy Easter! We did it! We "conquered" the Great Wall of China...or at least a small part of it! Following another hearty breakfast, we headed out to the Badaling section of the Great Wall, northwest of Beijing. (Did I tell you that "beijing" means "northern capital"?) Badaling literally means "reach eight directions", because the maze of its ridges stretch in all directions. We had a ride from Beijing of @ an hour and a half, allowing us to mentally prepare for the ascent! Everyone in our group enjoyed success at some level and it was exhilirating! Karen, Nancy and I climbed together (we somehow lost Marci along the way!) and we made it to 5 of the towers, with the 6th in sight but not enough time to defeat it. Come to find out, there were 25,000 towers built on the Wall so our work is cut out for us! Each tower is a distance of two arrow shots from each other. I got to thinking: wouldn't this depend on the strength of the shooter? the size of the bow? Another one of life's mysteries.... Along the 4,000 mile stretch of the wall are many little remote villages. The people that live there have very few resources and less money to build their homes. As a result, they started to take stones from the wall until the government stepped in to show them the error of their ways!

Cloudy vs. Crowdy: Well, the day started out a bit cloudy and we had been experiencing crowds just about everywhere we went. As we approached the wall, Simon, our Chinese guide, was giving us some history and traditions of the wall warning us about the expected crowds due to the holiday. He said that because it was cloudy, the temperatures would cooperate making for a more comfortable climb but because of the crowds, it may take us a bit longer than usual. Clear enough, right?! Well, fast forward to what Cheryl heard, evident through her question: "If it's crowdy why would that make it easier? Wouldn't that make it more difficult getting around people? ...and why would clouds make it a longer hike than usual?!" Silence...then laughter as we realized what she thought Simon said. She heard him say that because it was "crowdy", not "cloudy", it would be an easier climb. We had to assume it was the spoken word, the differing pronunciation of the "r " and "l", that caused the confusion....and our laughter! Thanks, Cheryl! :) In all fairness to Cheryl, it was both "cloudy" and "crowdy" today!

The Great Wall is simply amazing - just ask any of the 150 million people who have visited it thus far! On the approach it appears to crawl over the misty mountains disappearing into the valleys only to emerge again as it climbs the next rise. This pattern continues as far as the eye can see...for almost 4,ooo miles, actually! It is impossible to describe how utterly awe-inspiring it is. One cannot help but question how, in fact, the wall was completed at all. Climbing the
irregular steps and uneven rocky walkways, it's natural to wonder about the challenges of its construction. Hundreds of thousands of workers used packed earth, rocks and masonry to erect what has been called the "longest cemetery on Earth", with over 400,000 laborers losing their lives in the attempt. To save time, most of those lost were buried in the structure. At one time, over 70% of the population was working on its construction. It was built to accommodate ten people standing shoulder to shoulder or the width of 5 horses leading the emperor's chariot. You can almost picture the emperor's horsedrawn chariots as he inspects his empire's protection. Here's the irony: originally built to keep people OUT of China, the Great Wall is one of its most popular tourist attractions to date luring people INTO the country. Hmmmm....

Before we started our climb, we saw a large group of soldiers descending the wall having just done some training there. Seems like a perfect place for that!

Have I mentioned the amount of people we've encountered?! Well, at one point, it was so crowded on the way up the wall that you could hardly move forward unless those in front of you did. It was shoulder to shoulder in many spots. All ages were climbing today - from babies being carried by their mothers (saw no men carrying babies in China) and toddlers being steadied as they walked, to 20-somethings and senior citizens. Some of us managed to get certificates and photos verifying our efforts just in case those back home had their doubts. Yes...I have one! :)

As you know, the Chinese people have very dark, almost black, hair. Those of us with blonde hair (ok...or white...whatever!) are an anomaly and the Chinese are always approaching light-haired people wanting a photo taken with themselves, their children, their friends, family and/or assorted acquaintances. I virtually reached rock star status on the wall today after my other 15 minutes of fame yesterday at the Forbidden City. This was not unique to me as both Jameson and Morgan were also in great demand wherever we went. At one point in our trip, they were approached to have photos taken with a few Chinese chilidren but no sooner were they arranged for the photo that more and more Chinese children were drawn in to be included resulting in a very large group. Just being Americans was cause for photo ops, as well! These paparazzi moments happened throughout our entire trip but with the crowds like they were today it was an especially busy day for us "blondes". We were definetly having more fun!

After our climbing success, we rewarded ourselves with a little shopping and bargaining and headed to a tea ceremony demonstration. This brought the simple act of boiling of water to a whole new level! Tea drinking is a time-honored ritual and was another facet of traditional Chinese life we had the privilege of experiencing. We learned so much about the health benefits of teas and now the real challenge is to remember it all! Of course, shopping followed in the conveniently located tea shop downstairs from the demo rooms and most of us came away with tea and assorted gifts. In this particular shop, as in so many others, there was an overabundance of "shopping assistants" hoping to encourage us to purchase even more..."how about a gift for yourself?!"

We drove past the 2008 Olympic village, including the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube, two more fascinating architectural accomplishments we've seen here. Beautiful facilities!

After a bit of a rest in the hotel, we headed out for another Chinese tradition: Peking duck! Did you know that each duck served must be cut 120 times, according to tradition? Me, neither! The duck was very good but most of us opted out of the customary veggies that are typically included in the pancake (or crepe,'s all the same really!) because of our cautionary approach to anything that may have been washed with their questionable water. There was also the incident with the soda nazi but, personally, I can forgive her protection of the policy of one drink per patron, according to our arrangements, but her general rudeness...not happening! I asked for a coke for someone who was not feeling well (even before dinner started - our group had just been seated and I came in from the ladies room to ask) and was met with a blank stare. I asked again explaining it was someone in the group "over there", as I pointed to our tables. "With large group?", the woman asked. "Yes", I replied. "One drink", was her answer. I tried explaining that I knew this and would pay for it but I needed it for someone who was ill. Blank stare. "One drink". After some frustration, I finally got the message through and got the soda. We then sat down to empty glasses and wanted our remaining soda, since we did not drink the water. Since Marci and Rachael were not with me when I asked for the soda, they had no problem. However...I was recognized as the person who was trying to get another soda (remember I'll pay for what was given to me, if necessary...and it would be necessary!). She actually looked into my glass, which was wet from my bottled water, and was convinced I had already had the soda...back and forth with her supervisor where she picked up the bottle of soda, put it down, picked it up...walked away. Never did get that soda! :) Overall, a good time was had by all!

After dinner, we went to the Kung Fu show at the Red Theater. These performers ranged in age from @7 years old to probably @60 and each of them was very accomplished in the art of kung fu. Even though the show exhibited tremendous strength and strict discipline, we were all very tired and some may have even "rested their eyes"!

We returned to the hotel and prepared for our morning flight to Xian. Another wonderful day in China...

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