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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Beijing, day two: the Great Wall

Our first stop on day two was the Temple of Heaven, a Ming dynasty temple built by emperor Zhu Di, who also built the Forbidden City, as a place of Taoist worship. The beautiful complex is steeped in symbolism, mostly relating to prayers for a good harvest.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, above, is lovely, but more fascinating was the circular mound alter - too crowded to photograph, though. The small platform in the center is positioned to allow voices projected from the location to bounce off the marble railings, creating a resonating sound and loud prayer to the gods.

The number of animal statues along the edge of the roof denote the buildings status: buildings used for worship, for example, will have more animals that those used to emperors.

The Imperial Vault of Heaven was also designed to echo: it is surrounded by an Echo Wall that used to transmit a whisper all the way around the circular wall to the other side. Now, years of names scratched into the wall have destroyed its ability to conduct sound waves smoothly. Stupid graffiti.

After leaving the Temple of Heaven, we drove two hours to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. So here are a million pictures. Because it's amazing. Parts were crowded, but the views were stunning. The wall itself is quite rugged, with lots of ups and downs and tiny steps. It's dotted with unique watchtowers and, as you might notice, lots of photo opportunities through stone windows.

We took a terrifying chair lift up the mountain to reach the wall, then walked from tower six to nineteen and back. This thrilled our guide, who has never had a group pass tower fourteen, and we are now basically Great Wall celebrities (I think Americans must have a really sedentary stereotype - everywhere we go people are amazed by the most basic athletic accomplishments. I mean, this was a walk of a few miles - no big deal. When we biked the Xi'an city wall later, the fact that we completed 13k in about an hour had our guide speechless. This ride included a million photos, bathroom breaks, stops to examine artifacts, etc.!).

The way back down the mountain was via toboggan slide, which was really quite fun, although it sounds cheesy! But I do love a good sledding, and this was super fun and fast. 

The Great Wall was one of the highlights of the trip: the scenery was beautiful, the structure is incredible, and the sheer size of just this small section is impressive. If you go, wear tennis shoes: it's fairly rugged; be aware that it's a bit cooler than in Beijing, so bring a jacket. 

We dropped our tour guide off at her house, which was on the way back to our hotel - a full two hours away, though. Unbelievably, this woman commutes two hours each way for her job: and that's in good traffic. She takes a series of buses every day. I can't believe her commute, but she told us that it was common. I talked to Cindy a lot: she was really interested in me and my life, and her life fascinated me. Some of her story made me a little sad, and I plan to post more about her - and maybe our other guides - later. 
Huge cups and dessert!
After getting back to our hotel, suddenly all I wanted was coffee. We found a little coffee place in the shopping streets of Beijing, and my huge Americano (no brewed coffee, which was common in the Chinese coffee shops we visited) hit the spot. I drink so much coffee that I tend to get caffeine headaches on vacation because I'm not mainlining coffee all morning. By the way, coffee is gaining popularity in China, but it is still very expensive for the most part: around $5 to $7 a cup. I gladly paid it: addiction is a terrible thing. 
After coffee, we did a little exploring in the shopping area. 

It was massive, full of typical mall brands and higher-end stores. I found my way into a store selling Chinese paintbrushes and ink, and in the back were stacks of finished art. I bought a piece, my first experience bargaining. I am pretty sure I overpaid for most of what I bargained for, but I got this piece for 80 yuan (about $13) because the edges are torn. I'll just mat over that part. 

Then we packed up, because the next day was the last day in Beijing, and we were flying out in the afternoon. Next up: The Summer Palace.


  1. The toboggan sounds great! And if Trump gets elected, we might get our own Great Wall. (Kidding? Not kidding? Not sure.)

  2. Maybe my favorite post of yours ever ... SO COOL!!!

  3. Wow, those photos are stunning!! Thanks for sharing some of them. It does make me sad to hear that other Americans that visit have given us a stereotype of being sedentary... but then again, that's probably true because people like us that run and are active are probably quite a minority in our culture. :( I'll be curious to hear more about your guide, though. One of the best parts about traveling is learning other people's stories. They do make me sad most of the time. Like when I visited a friend in the Dominican Republic when she was in the peace corp, a family wanted to host me for lunch. I bought the chicken and ingredients for the meal to offset the cost. But since I was their guest, they insisted I eat first. They gave me way too much food so I couldn't finish it. One of the kids took my spoon, and finished my bowl of food - including eating any remaining chicken on the bone. I felt terrible and wished I could have just not eaten but my friend said hospitality is so important so it would have offended them more if I hadn't eaten. But it just made me feel sad. And spoiled.