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Day 4: Beijing, China & the Great Wall

Beijing, China

Day 4: Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Beijing, China: The Mutianyu Great Wall and Summer Palace

Today was a GREAT day at the GREAT wall of China! We met Jack, our guide, and the driver at 8:30am and fought the Beijing rush hour traffic on our way to Mutianyu, the latest built section of the wall. It took 2 hours door to door to get there, but the ride passed quickly as we talked to Jack about life in China. Jack is our age - 28 yrs old - and is officially his own business after branching off from an established tour company a few years ago. He told us about the escalating real estate prices and the booming Chinese economy and how ridiculously wealthy some people are in China. There are luxury stores everywhere - as an example, tonight we ate in a fancy roast duck restaurant that was in a giant mall that had a Lamborgini store and a Mercedes Benz showroom, in addition to Gucci and Burberry and international designers. Jack told us about the school system, health care system, the 2008 Olympics, and various Chinese holidays. He was one of the very few students at university that did NOT study computers or math or science and instead majored in English. Jack spoke very good English but he was conscious of making mistakes with the tenses, which he said was because Mandarin only uses one tense and one pronoun (always "he", never a "she", "you" or "we"). Jack has an advanced vocabulary for someone who could go weeks without speaking English during the tourist off-season. He was a true delight!

The Great Wall was really impressive. It was amazing to stand on something with that much history and to imagine Chinese warriors fighting off Mongolian forces with their bows and arrows over the 500 meter high wall. The scenery was beautiful - lots of tall mountains with only a few patches of snow and ice remnants. It was a very clear day and we could see for miles out on each end. The base of Mutianyu was very cold but it was much warmer on top of the Wall as the sun beat down on us. We walked from tower 6 to tower 14 and climbed hundreds of stairs - this section of the wall was basically all up hill. I joked that the Great Wall of China is the original stairmaster! We took a gondola up from the base to a low section of the wall and then hiked up and then retraced our steps back. Instead of taking the gondola back down, we braved the downhill toboggan ride -- sitting on a plastic sled that raced down a winding metal track. It looked really scary but was a lot of fun! Hunter raced down and finished a good 2 min ahead of me as he was going full speed. I was more cautious (we didn't get helmets) and more slowly took the winding turns.

After the 2 hours on the Great Wall, we stopped in the village at a factory -- more like a series of rundown shacks -- where locals were making beautiful hand-painted ceramics with gold plated copper wire inlets. It was beautiful and we bought some souvenirs after watching the whole process from beginning to end. We did this while our guide and driver ate lunch as we snacked on crackers and breakfast pastries (the Chinese have very good bakeries and I have a chocolate croissant every morning!)

On the way back to the city, we swung by the Olympic village and got some great shots of the Bird's Nest and Water Cube where Michael Phelps set all those world records. Our last stop was then the Summer Palace of the Emperor. It had just been repainted so it looked much more impressive than the Forbidden City and was 3 times larger than the Forbidden City. We have lots of pictures of the many pagoda towers and pavilions. 3/4 of the grounds was a giant lake that was completely frozen over, and about 50 people braved the ice and walked right out into the lake on the ice. One person was even ice-skating despite signs that said keep off the ice! And there were no signs of security personnel, so if someone fell through the ice they would surely be out of luck!

We asked Jack to drop us off at the end of the day at the Da Dong roast duck restaurant, famous for its "special lean duck". Undoubtedly the most touristy and expensive roast duck restaurant in Beijing, it was well worth the experience and $35. The restaurant was modern chic and the duck was roasted and sliced right in front of US! I took a video of the carving :) You put the sliced duck into pancakes with hoison sauce and sticks of onion and scallion and radish and rolled it all up. It was very good! We weren't brave enough to eat the two milky substance-like soups that came with it, but we ate a fresh fruit platter that also was served with it. All of the fruit was the sliced/peeled kind.

We now have our bearings of Beijing and the area around our hotel. We can now cut through the huge shopping mall that is attached and find our way to the room. We are experts on the subway and it is easily the most effective way to get around Beijing because the traffic is so horrendous.....just like NYC and LA during rush hour!

Our impression of Beijing -- it is a HUGE, sprawling city with no signs of containment. It is not a beautiful city, but it is impressive for its size. There is much lacking in cleanliness -- there are huge sections of rundown and vacant buildings. However, there are just as many upscale, modern developments in the city and the subway and airports look so sparklingly clean -- yet, we saw two people urinating right on the floor. It is also very common to see people walking and then to start coughing and spitting on the street! So despite the appearance of cleanliness, personal hygiene is much to be desired. I have braved many restrooms only to find toilets-in-the-ground instead of actual sitting toilets.

The people, though, are much friendlier than we expected. Even though we cannot communicate with people, they still smile and nod at you and you hear a lot of laughter from groups of people and they do tend to line up instead of pushing through in herds like we do in the US. As I said before, our tour guide was SO friendly - he represents the "new China" and said there is very little government influence now among the people and with the exception of the oil, car, and airline industry, all other industries are 80% privately owned instead of state controlled. He said the Chinese do not spend time worrying about which country likes which country or whether the US has a good president as all of their time and energy now is focused on growing their economy. They are so absorbed with the growth they are rooting for the US economy to pick up too.

permalink written by  mohicanfan on December 15, 2009 from Beijing, China
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged China, Beijing and Asia

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At the time I am writing this bio (Jan 2010), I, Meredith, am a 28-year old woman living in Virginia Beach, VA with my husband of almost 6 years, who works in New York 4 days a week. We are both avid travelers and beach lovers and I enjoy writing and reading. I am also a fastidious recorder of...

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