Wednesday, March 2, 2011, (Beijing DAY 3):
My alarm goes off at 5:45 AM. I have an ambitious day planned today and need to get started early. Breakfast service begins at 6:30 AM and I am there at 6:40. I am out the door at 7 AM on my way to the subway station 250 meters west of the hotel.
I had initially arranged yesterday for a taxi to meet me this morning and take me to the Great Wall at a point outside of Beijing. The hotel concierge would arrange that and estimated the taxi would charge 800 RMB ($123). I considered it throughout the rest of yesterday and when I got back to my room I did some Googling and decided to be a bit more adventurous. I canceled the taxi.
This morning I take the Beijing subway, unassisted, to a bus depot at Dongzhimen (2 RMB, or about 30 cents). Beijing’s subway is just as crowded, if not more than Shanghai’s. I stand out as a westerner and get a few stares. It requires a transfer
but I arrive without getting lost. At Dongzhimen, I board the number 916 bus heading north of Beijing to Mutianyu village. The spot is about 56 miles north in Huairou County. I luck out because this bus turns out to be an express bus.
Upon arrival in Huairou, several men are waiting at one of the first stops and when the back door of the bus opens they call me outside, and each bids to take me to the base of the Great Wall. I agree to 120 RMB (about $18) without negotiation. I almost certainly could have paid half that, but I’m already saving a ton by not taking a taxi from Beijing.
At the foot of the mountain, my driver guides me over to the ticket booth, suggesting I buy the chair lift ticket. I decline and purchase only the admission ticket. I intend to walk up the mountain. The ticket people think I am crazy, explaining it will take 45 minutes. The chair gets me there in 5 minutes! But to me, the walk is part of the experience and so I set out.
The climb is steep. It is colder here
than Beijing due to the elevation. Snow is still much more visible, but the sun is out and I believe the path will be clear of snow and ice. I am the only person climbing the stairs and I pause on occasion to take in the view. There is a fork in the path with a choice of Tower 8 or 10. I take the path to the right.
I’m thankful for my hours on the elliptical machine and stair master back at the gym, because I reach the base of the wall in about 20 minutes. I mount the steps up the wall and take in the view. There are only a few visitors here, which is one of the primary advantages of this selection.
The Great Wall got its start as a series of earthen berms constructed by seven different powerful kingdoms. It was turned into a wall only after the unification of China in about 220 BC. The wall uses the natural terrain and covers mountains, plains and deserts. This particular section was constructed about 550 AD, and the existing wall was built on top of that original section in about 1368. It
has of course been restored since that time as well.
The Wall was ultimately ineffective, as it was breached twice, the first time by the Mongols in the 13th century and the Manchus in the 17th. Nonetheless, it is an impressive feat and one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
I hike between several watch towers. These are constructed two arrows distance apart so that no section of the wall is unprotected. There are ramparts across the entire length which allows defenders to fire arrows upon attackers. Holes in the lower portion of the wall accommodate cannons. On average, the walls are 8 meters high and 7 meters wide. Stairs are sometimes shallow and wide, and at other points narrow and steep.
I had planned to hike back down the wall as well, so I had turned down the ticket offer down below for the chairlift. However, I now need to use the bathroom, and can you believe they have never installed plumbing or sewage lines along the wall?
I hike back down to the
point where the chair lift stops and purchase a ticket for the toboggan. Yes, you heard that right. I’m not waiting for the chair lift…I have to go! So I pay for a toboggan ticket, stow my camera and begin my descent. There are several signs along the path down directing riders to slow down. I ignore them and speed through the turns. The staff staked along the way yells at me, but I ignore them and lean into the curves. I make it down in about 2 minutes; hit the brake and dash for the restroom.
With that business taken care of I am free to stroll the souvenir stands and am amazed at how cheaply they are hawking t-shirts for. I don’t buy any because I am certain they will fall apart the first time they are laundered. I drink an Americano coffee then find my driver for the return ride to the bus stop. He offers to drive me into Beijing for just 100 RMB more, but I’m counting the bus trip as part of my adventure.
The return bus ride is not an express bus, and is standing room only the
entire hour and a half ride back. I get some photos, but I plug in my iPod headset and tune out for most of the ride back.
I am mindful in crowds to keep my wallet inside my coat breast pocket, and my coat zipped to thwart pickpockets. Violent crime rates in China are very low. There were 31,000 murders in China last year but none of them in Shanghai. So the entire trip I have not been worried about safety.
In the subway, I make the first train without incident. While waiting for the train at the second station, however, I am approached by a prostitute who wants me to take her back to my hotel. I firmly tell her “Bu” (Chinese for “No”, actually short for “bushi”) and shake my head. She lingers behind me so I move to another portion of the platform.
The train pulls in shortly and fortunately she does not follow me on this car. I make it to my terminal station and head back to my hotel. I will rest a bit and decide later what to do for dinner and where to go this evening.
I’m back from visiting the Wudaoko area, just a bit north of the hotel. It’s a shopping and night life area, not far from Tsinghua University. I hopped on the subway just one stop away and strolled around, sampling some of the food. The first item I had is sort of like a hot pocket, or as I recall growing up, a beerrock. Essentially it’s a thin roll filled with meat, potato, onion and spices. It was fresh from the oven and delicious. I ate it while standing on the side of the street watching people go by.
Before I left the hotel, I checked my directions with the concierge. He was very helpful and cautioned me to beware the traffic, that it is particularly dangerous in that area. This brings to mind: my general observation is that all traffic lane markings, traffic lights and even curbs and medians are general guidelines only. Pedestrians do not have right-of-way, and in fact must be on the defensive at all times, even when they have the light.
are a breed unto themselves. Though not nearly as heavily used as say 20 years ago, they are far more common than in the US. It seems that riders either put on blinders or operate under the impression that they have a guardian angel protecting them because there are frequent instances when they are barely missed.
Back in the Wudaoko area I sample some other foods, but nothing as good as the first item. I stop in a coffee shop, order an Americano and a slice of cake (total 38 RMB, or just under $6). The bonus is they have complimentary wifi here and I retrieve a ton of work emails on my iPhone.
I had been able to get some wifi access in Shanghai, but nothing since I have been in Beijing. The usual complimentary wifi spots require a Chinese wireless account number. The government controls the Internet tightly, so I’m surprise that I am able to so easily get online with the coffee shop.
After finishing my coffee I head back to the subway and the hotel. I need to begin packing. I check out
tomorrow at noon, but won’t head to the airport until about 6 PM or so. My flight is at 9 PM. I have two specific sites in mind to visit, and one of those will be on the way to the airport. Other than that, I plan to sleep in and maybe hit the pool tonight before 11 PM.