Saturday, September 1, we started the day off with the breakfast buffet at our hotel in Beijing, the Poly Plaza. It was beautiful and delicious. We were up well before the rest of our group, so they didn’t come down till we were finishing our tea.
Then it was off to the Tian’anmen Square. It was amazing to be standing there, knowing a bit of the history about that place. With our Western eyes, it was hard to fathom the depth of love the people here have for Chairman Mao. We saw the building where he is encased in a crystal casket, but seeing as it was Saturday, we were told it was his day of rest. Any other day, people would line up for hours to walk past and pay their respects.
The young, blonde haired kids in our group were instant celebrities! Everybody would clamor round, the brave ones would jump up and touch them and start having their picture taken with them, while the more shy would just gawk and point. The guide kept saying, “They say you have such a beautiful child. So pretty! They want to have their picture taken with him/her.”
The venders are amazingly bold, too, and the idea of personal space is foreign. We got a couple little trinkets, and we also got a group photo taken by a professional photographer in front of the famous picture of Chairman Mao. It came in a beautiful book with photos of Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City, and was delivered to our hotel.
Next was the Forbidden City, which is attached to T.S. As soon as we stepped into the first of three parts of it, I was taken in by the sheer size of it. We live in St. Augustine, the oldest city in the US, and I think of our old historic fort, and how miniscule it is in comparison. And how YOUNG the US is. (Not that I didn’t know that, this just puts it right in your face!) We walked, and walked, and walked, through all three parts. The last part, the leaving part has a gorgeous garden, and would have been a lovely place to stay for awhile, but by then we were tired, HOT (it was about 100 degrees), and ready for lunch.
Lunch was at the restaurant at the Cloissonne Factory. Oh, my goodness! Lunch was served family style and was great, but the SHOPPING at the Friendship Store there!!!! I am definitely not a shopper, but that was so much fun. I love the way they do it, where you go around and pick things out, they write it on a ticket, and after you’re done, you pay, then go around and collect your wares. We ran out of time before I could get as much as I would have liked to. Plus, we were a little concerned about the weight limits on the in-China flights, and now we’re buying more stuff to cram in our luggage!
Dana has just passed the writing duties to me, Bo, since our next stop was the Great Wall and I experienced it much more than she did. We arrived at a section of the Great Wall that is about an hour and a half northwest of Beijing called “Badaling”. When we arrived we were greeted by a steep hillside that the wall ran up, which was not the image of the wall that I had conjured up in my mind. I guess I had an image of a leisurely stroll with my bride along the wall over some rolling hills in the countryside. Instead I was greeted with a section of the wall that that had so many steps that even Rocky would have had issues climbing them.
The wall was broken up every few hundred yards by guard towers. Standing at the bottom there was one guard tower that was towards the top of the mountain and on a rock outcropping. To many of us in the group, this seemed like a good point to climb to. So with a head full of machismo, not brains, I struck off up the wall. My original thoughts were that this was going to be a very do-able walk up the wall, not terribly tough. That thought went right out the window on the first leg of the climb which was by far the easiest. It was a walk up a ramped part of the wall that contained no steps and lead to the first guard tower. When I was winded at that part, I should have known that the rest of the climb was not going to be the cakewalk I had conjured it up to be.
After resting for a quick minute at that guard tower I struck off for the next tower. This section of the climb was by far the steepest as it seemingly went straight up the mountain. The steps were all uneven heights and worn from centuries of idiots like me challenging them. After resting my burning legs atleast half a dozen times and wondering if my trip insurance would cover me being plucked from the top of the wall by a helicopter, I reached the next tower. When I reached the tower I rested for a few minutes. It was an amazing time as a Chinese gentlemen reached the tower a minute or so after I did and we shared a look and a smile that said “I can’t beleive I just did that”. And to prove that guys all over the world are all the same, we both grabbed our guts, jiggled them, and laughed. Who says we don’t speak the same language?
At that point Marty from our group came by & said that he would climb to the next tower with me, which was the tower that I had wanted to climb to when I looked up from the bottom. I did not have the heart (or brains, for that matter) to tell him that I was just going to let it be my little secret that I valued my life more than the view from that next tower. So I set out with him and followed him up the steps to the next tower. The steps again were very steep, very narrow (sometimes only a few feet wide), and this time the designers of the wall, those wild and crazy guys, threw in twists and turns just for fun! But after a few more minutes of climbing, and some seriuosly agonizing prayer (please Lord, don’t let my heart explode infront of all these people, that would be embarassing) I made it to the tower. Atlast, I had reached my goal!
Once at the tower I sat down and chugged some water which I had in the 20 lb backpack that I had carried with me. My shirt was soaked. My head was pounding. My legs were burning. William showed up with his daughter who I believe is around 5 to 6 years old and still had the energy of a 5 to 6 year old who just climbed the same steps I did. She was bouncing and flitting around, talking about how she wanted to keep going and climb to the top of the Great Wall of China. I told her that this was the highest part of the wall in China, and that the next tower was part of the great wall of Mongolia. Meanwhile William, Marty, and I were contemplating camping out at that tower and catching a cab to the airport in the morning. Well…atleast I was contemplating that. I don’t want to speak for William and Marty.
Once at the tower, Marty and I climbed the guard tower for the view from the roof. The steps in the guard tower were amazingly steep, nearly vertical, and worn from hundreds of years of foot traffic. If only they had know about the benefits of floor finish and a proper maintenance program thousands of years ago when the wall was built, but I digress. The view from teh top was amazing and well worth the torture I went through to get there. I took photos, took video and was joined by a family of French Chinese folks. Very weird. The best part was that there were 2 small children, a father, an older daughter, and her fiancee, who was a native Frenchy while the rest of the family was Chinese, but spoke French. Anyhow, the engaged couple got in some sort of fight while on the top of the tower and fought all the way down the steps. I don’t know what it is about seeing people argue in French, but it was awesome!
Anyhow, I began my descent down the steps figuring this would be the easy part. WRONG!!! My legs had been burning going up, now they wer quivering like a bowl of jelly! The thought of just tucking and rolling down the steps was contemplated more than once, and were it not for the people in front of me, might have been tried. By the time I reached the bottom I was totally soaked in sweat, and quickly aquired a Red Bull (which by the way is much better in China for some reason), a Coke, and a popsicle. After making it to the bus Marty, William, and I decided we would be much more comfortable in a new shirt, since ours were soaked. Let me just say that Chinese shirt sizes do not match our American shirt sizes. My wife just told me to wrap it up and stop typing, so more from us later, we are off to get Tian!