GREAT WALL OF CHINA
Hi – we are camping on the Great Wall of China at the moment and it is startlingly crazy and awesome and unbelievable all at once. I just can’t believe they could build something like this – it’s so huge and long and absolutely the steepest path I have come across – its not like they tried to weave in and out of mountains they just went straight up and then straight down.
On some parts I was trying to use my geometrical eye to guess the gradient and there were times where it was definitely over 60 degrees and we were on all fours.
We came with 5 other travelers from our hostel – from the US, Britain and French Canada – and we’re on a pretty remote part of the wall – only a few other Chinese tourists on the way. We’ve only had to walk two kms before we found a flat landing to set up our tents.
There are so many well placed arched windows pointing down so the soldiers trying to keep out the Mongols could shoot through without being shot – our resident pirate – Emilio – thinks this is great and creating vivid stories in his mind.
To see the incredible sunset we decided to walk/climb up a few more posts to the top of the mountain and the sunset view was definitely worth it though I walking along thinking – ” they are just crazy – who would even think of building something like this here? Why didn’t they go around the mountain at this point?” I guess if they went around the mountain they couldn’t see the enemy coming or it would have been easier to be attacked. All very interesting and mind-blowing.
The kids thought it was amazing and I was surprised at their energy levels but they also loved having other travelers around – they just didn’t want to stop talking to them – and when they had told them our whole life story they started songs from the ‘Sound of Music’. Sandy and I thought that maybe they’re like this because they’re getting bored of us.
The other thing that’s crazy is its only 5.30am right now but it has been light since 3.30am which to me means ‘change your time zone’ but no – China is definitely a one time zone country – I guess it’s much easier to control things that way and creates less confusion.
The birds are chirping, the squirrels are busying themselves collecting Buddha knows what, and our last day in China is about to begin…….
I really like Beijing – initially we were wondering how we could try and avoid it completely cause we generally don’t love the big cities (New York City being a major exception) – but it has quite a nice feel – despite the smog!
Originally we thought maybe we could go through north eastern China into Kazakhstan though we definitely didn’t want to miss Mongolia so unless we had our own transportation & a guide who was going to deliver us to the border then Beijing it had to be. It is quite groovy, very fashion conscious and reminds me a bit of 1990s Japan. There’s definitely a feel of new found wealth and increased living standards. Also how could you miss Ikea, Zara, the Gap, the biggest Apple store (which apparently makes more money than the Manhattan shop which is open 24/7), Louis Vuitton, Chanel, every corner either having a McDonalds, KFC or Starbucks etc – all great hallmarks of a communist society on a capitalist steroid.
The place where our hostel is is a groovy little street with very little cars because they just can’t fit through, red lanterns hanging from the trees and of course lots of people.
There are lots of western eateries but enough great Chinese places to be able to avoid them. Yesterday though – we just couldn’t resist a nearby Thai Restaurant – I think Thai food is a lose second to Greek food in my favourite foods ladder. Speaking of food – I wonder if Mongolia will even get into my top twenty – I’m a bit worried about the food there since they are such a meat based culture – I can do ten days of dairy food as long as I don’t have to eat sheep testicle soup. I’m cringing as a I write! The kids are adamant they don’t want to eat horse meat – though are so excited that our home-stay family apparently has lots of horses.
Kalika and I had some special time together as we tried to find the office from where to pick up our Mongolia Train tickets. It was difficult to find cause I am so bad at orientating maps at the best of times but I just couldn’t find the sun through the smog to help me with which way west was. Eventually we found CITS travel and got our tickets – Kalika got showered with ‘cute’ and given pens and they asked if they could take a photo for their Facebook page – ‘what I thought Facebook was banned’, ‘Yes it is but we have special permission since we are an international travel company’ – aha – loopholes! Lucky we found an incredibly yummy cake shop on the way home.
The kids are getting a bit tired of monasteries and sacred sites etc etc though they were quite intrigued about the story of the 1989 Tianeman Square protests and why so many people died, why there are still 150 or so political prisoners in jail from that time and they would like to see that amazing picture of the lone protester who stopped the tanks. I said we would google it in Mongolia – I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t get through China’s firewall. Also, Yasi and Toby are getting used to the concept that history really depends on who’s writing and recording it – for their own purposes. It’s an interesting concept to try and impart.
Anyway back to Tianeman Square (which we had to go through security to get to – even drink water from out bottles) it was eery being there cause I guess in 1998 I was a first year uni-student and it was probably the first time I took much interest in world politics so the images for me were still pretty vivid. Pretty vibrant also though – lots of families around out for a walk – lots of hawkers pretending they want to practice English (and then rip you off – we were warned of them by our hostel so I tried to respond in Greek to one guy – that quickly shut him up).
A humongous Chinese flag with the most upright and rigid army guards near it – we were trying to make up a story of what would happen if their mobile phone was vibrating in their pocket and it was their girlfriend on the phone cause they were late for dinner – interesting scenarios abounded.
And of course – how could you miss the huge picture of Chairman Mao in his heyday!