We have just finished the Ming Tombs, it is still morning and we are headed towards Badaling, The Great Wall. I have been told this part of the great wall is the most commercialized of all of the wall locations. It is also probably the most photographed section of the wall I am looking forward to seeing it.
We are back on the toll way headed out of Beijing. The van is starting to get warm and my eyelids are starting to get heavy, I glance around the van and everyone else has succumbed to the warm and they are snoozing. Not that it surprises me as they typically have slept when we travel. Just as I am about to give in I catch a glimpse of the wall on the skyline. I am now wide awake.
I have been warned about Badaling being a carnival of sorts except during winter, I am quite happy that we are here on a winter day and that we are not going to have to fight crowds. We exit the toll way and pass through a vast parking lot, that is thankfully empty. It is this location that most would park during the busy season and take a shuttle to the wall. We cruise through it and right up to the location. There are some buses but for the most part it is not busy. It is about time to eat and we are looking for something, really anything that will provide sustenance.
We finally find a little shop and get a place to sit and order some rice, egg with tomato, and some pork ribs. We struggle a little at this meal today. I have been told that some people think that Marco Polo never really made it to China and that much of his book was not authentic. I haven’t really given it much thought but when I learned one of all the things he failed to mention was eating with chopsticks I have to agree that it would make you wonder. I mention this because Sarah decided that chopsticks weren’t cutting it today. Her experience for lunch follows:
“A little thing I hated over there; loathed over there, would be those blasted chopsticks. I used them when we ate but it was getting ridiculous! I just wanted the food to be in my mouth and those freaking things were preventing food from getting to my mouth NOW! We finally asked for a fork and I was brought a spoon looking thing. It worked. I was just starving and the chopsticks WERE pissing me off! I threw them at one point; it was so frustrating especially since everyone was using them and made it look so easy!”
We manage to eat without too much drama. The owner’s little boy shows up just as we are finishing and we are able to take some pictures and share some Great Value fruits shapes with him. He and Makaela are great friends. We bundle back up and head out the door and make our way to the starting point for the wall. The sun is finally starting to peek through the clouds and haze. I doubt that it is going to get any warmer but at least it appears that it will clear off the haze and fog.
We are fortunate that it is winter, there are no lines to get on the tram and we are able to go right to the ticket window and get on tram. I can only imagine that the line here in the summer is horribly long and the wait oppressive. I am happy to be able to make wall adventure without a wait. We have elected to ride the tram to the wall and then walk back down. I am even considering taking the mountain slide down but we will see how we feel when we get back to that point.
We get to the top of the tram and exit a tunnel (doubt that it was part of the original wall) that brings us to the civilized side of the wall. I think about the purpose of the wall in the first place, keeping the Mongols from invading and wonder if this stretch of the wall was ever really used to keep the hordes from coming in from the north. We pause to take bathroom breaks, this is certainly one of those situations where it seems to make sense that if a bathroom is available we probably should use it.
The crest of the mountain, this ridge, is a formidable obstacle and the presence of the Wall really makes it quite impossible to penetrate if there were even a small presence of defensive force available. The wall is massive. I try to get MaKaela to sit on my shoulders as we stand near the edge of the walkway but she is frightened by the sheer drops that are just beyond the rail. I can’t say that I blame her.
We are on the civilized side walking along a little path. The wall towers above us. The towers, Dialous, are even more impressive. We climb the access stairs that rise through the middle of the wall until we exit the stairs onto the surface of the wall. To the south of us is an enormous rock/boulder/mountain. This boulder/mountain is steep and appears to be slick. With the light dusting of snow from this morning, we wouldn’t even consider trying to scale it to the wall section that is above us. To the north the wall wanders and meanders along the ridges of the mountain range. I marvel at the efforts that would have made this possible in the first place. The inner engineer in my wonders why they wander with the mountain as in many cases the distance to build the wall along the ridge is much more than it would have been to build it deeper/taller in more of a straight line. I wonder what kinds of technical challenges they had to address that would have prevented the seemingly more logical design.
We stand and look in all directions. I don’t really have a plan for how to explore this site. I look to the north and the will climbs up and away from us. To the south we go back towards our starting point. I know the crowd I am traveling with and we turn south, but my heart says I really want to go north, away from the crowds (even though there really aren’t many people here) towards something that has to be even less busy than what we are seeing. We have to go back down the stairs to the civilized side and make our way around the boulder/mountain. We get back to the top of the wall and look around. The wall really does wander and meander, it is obvious that whatever was on the other side of the wall was terrifying and the Chinese did not want it on the civilized side.
The hunter in me wonders what kind of problems this wall caused for the wild game that would have existed in this country when the wall was built. The migratory routes would have ceased to exist. It would seem quite probable to me that the wall would have lead to significant migratory problems and potentially lead to the extinction of whatever was living and needing to travel where the wall now prevented them from going. We think we have problems now with pipelines crossing large expanses, the pipelines of today, are not even a problem when we consider what a project of the Wall’s significance is compared.
We begin working our way down the wall towards the bottom. The vistas around us are impressive. We take so many pictures. The challenges to build this are mind boggling. We do not see where the materials used in the wall originated so it is obvious the much of the material was hauled from other locations, a humanly challenging task. It is particularly impressive when we think back to the experience on Taishan with the porters that carried the sack of rice on a pole, knowing that this enormous feat of construction used that kind of labor.
We are finally at the low point of the wall, in front of us, to the west is more wall, it climbs back up the mountain and off towards the sun. I have plenty of energy but my travel companions are done with the wall for this trip. We exit the wall and wander through a little city of sorts, mostly tourist trap kinds of places but we find the sign for the restrooms and at least one of group takes advantage.
We have not exited the wall anywhere close to where we started. I am certain that in our decent that we did not cross over but the one road that we are standing on and I am certain that I have not seen it before. We have lost the driver. I try to explain to him where we are but his English is not good enough for me to explain where we are (which isn’t really easy to explain because we can’t really tell him where that is. He did know that we were going to ride up and walk down so it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out where we are but maybe that is just me.
We finally have a Chinese guy and his girlfriend stop to ask if we need help. I ask him to tell our driver where we are. He speaks very good English and is actually back in China for break, he is attending school in Arkansas. The driver finally gets to us and we go down the mountain to the car. We have actually been parked on the “wrong” side of the wall. I had thought that we were on the civilized side of the wall when we made our accent but it was on the other side of the wall.
We are happy to be back in the van, we are certain that the trip has been worth it. The wall is really spectacular. I will make other trips to see it. I will go to different locations and see how it is different. The Badaling section has had significant restorations done on it in the last 25 years, it is still obvious that many of the materials are old. We took several pictures of stones that had been worn out. The edges were protruding and the middles were worn out. Obviously, millions of feet had taken their toll on these stones. I expect that most of that wear is from modern history rather than ancient history but from where I stood it didn’t really matter the rocks were just old.
We do not use the freeways to return home once we are in Beijing. We exit and take surface streets, I don’t really have any idea why but we are able to see a number of sites that we wish we had time to stop and see. We get back to the hotel at 5pm. We are hungry and stop at one of the hotels along the road by the hotel. It is a nicer restaurant that is known for its Peking Duck.
Makaela loves the place, her favorite thing is the little chopstick holders that look like ducks. She wants to play with them, they are just right for her little hand. The problem is that they are porcelain and we are afraid that she is going to break them, or at least the restaurant staff is afraid she will break them. The staff brings her a plastic bowl and spoon almost immediately. We eat and enjoy the food but I am very surprised at the price of the meal. I expected the price to be several hundred RMB but the bill is over $650, I am frustrated that I don’t speak enough Chinese to argue about it.
We go back to the hotel and notice that the King’s Speech is just starting. I saw the edited version on a flight but the rest of the family hasn’t seen it. It is on one of the Chinese movie channels so it will be the edited version also. It is a very good movie and we enjoy it. It makes me wonder why Hollywood makes such a big deal about making these versions available for those of us that don’t want the profane and nudity of the American version. I hope that we can remember to get the legitimate King’s Speech on DVD over here so it will be the equivalent of PG-13.
I head off to bed knowing that tomorrow’s schedule is going to be shot. Sarah is starting to get sick and we are all getting a little cough. I suspect that it is because of the air pollution that we have been breathing the past few days. Our respiratory processes are paying the price of being in this city.