My 40th Birthday on the Great Wall of China

Trip Start Jun 12, 2012
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Trip End Jul 20, 2012


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Friday, June 22, 2012

Today is my birthday and we woke up and decided that we'd move over to the Hilton so we could enjoy the free breakfast every morning.  Even though the Fairmont is rated as the #1 Hotel in Beijing on Tripadvisor and we verify that it's an awesome hotel (again, the rooms are like the Waldorf Astoria rooms in NYC), the problem is breakfast and the snacks/drinks.  The breakfast at the Fairmont is 600 Yuan per day and we figured that for the five days remaining that'd be 3000 Yuan which is almost $400. So, we moved over to room 821 in the Hilton Beijing which is on the executive floor. We like that because we get free beverages and snacks all day.  And, of course, the breakfast.  The Hilton Xi'An reminded us how much we like to have a big breakfast before going out and doing our exploring for the day!

After we got situated and had a good, free breakfast, we struck out for the Great Wall of China! Mickell chose a less touristy area which is around 70 kilometers out of the city. Our original plan was to take the city bus out there, but we noticed that traffic was very light today. Today is the beginning of a 3 day holiday called the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival. That means that there will be a lot more people doing touristy things today, so en route to the bus station we bargained with the taxi driver to drive us out to Mutianyu so we could take the cable cars up to one of the most picturesque sections of the wall. Our agreement was for 500 Yuan to take us out there and get us back to the Hilton. We were pleased with the deal considering that the hotels and travel agencies were wanting up to 4000 for such a simple excursion.

We were hoping that the rain last night would help with the smog, but it didn't. The air pollution here is really a problem. Interestingly, there's a bit of a kerfuffle going on right now between the Chinese government and the US Embassy here in Beijing (the US Embassy is 1 block away from our hotel). So, the Chinese government posts air quality statistics to inform the public about the daily quality of the air. The reading is almost always in the "good" zone. But, the US Embassy has a twitter feed that goes out to its expats and other interested people that posts the air quality as reported by the air quality machine located within the confines of the US Embassy compound. Well, it seems that there is a bit a of a discrepancy between US government readings and the readings that the Chinese government is reporting. The US Embassy machine has reported that often the air here in Beijing is in the cautionary zone for people who have respiratory conditions. The Chinese government has asked the US Embassy to stop reporting the data, but the US Embassy has refused stating that the information is intended for US citizens who are working, living, and travelling within the country.

Anyway, long story short, the air is really smoggy. It's so smoggy that visibility is limited to probably a couple of football fields in front of you. You have the feeling that it's cloudy all the time, but it's really not. I'm not sure the people here ever really see blue skies. I know the government is doing a lot to try to fix the problem, but the measures will take a while to work. I noticed that some of the cabs are running on compressed natural gas and I've noticed all kinds of green initiatives underway (massive tree plantings, recycling bins are everywhere, etc.).

So, back to the wall. The trip took roughly an hour. We got to the base of the mountain and the we told the taxi we'd be back in roughly 2 or 3 hours and he agreed that he'd be waiting for us.  The Great Wall of China is a massive wall made of stone, brick, and wood built along an east-to-west line across the historical northern border of China to protect the Chinese Empire against incursions by various warring peoples.  The wall dates to as early as 7th Century BC and it's continued to be built, rebuilt, maintained, and enhanced throughout time.  The majority of it was constructed during the Ming Dynasty.  Other purposes of the Great Wall have included border controls, allowing the imposition of duties on goods transported along the Silk Road, regulation or encouragement of trade and the control of immigration and emigration. The defensive characteristics of the Great Wall were enhanced by the construction of watch towers, troop barracks, garrison stations, signaling capabilities through the means of smoke or fire, and the fact that the path of the Great Wall also served as a transportation corridor.

The wall has been measured and it stretches over 13000 miles.  Despite popular consensus that the Great Wall can be seen from the moon, it's actually not true.  But, that doesn't make it any less impressive.  So, let's get back to it.  We arrived.  First we had to buy admission to the area and then we had to buy the cable car tickets. Admission was 45 Yuan and the cable car tickets were another 80 Yuan. The cable car took us right up to the wall and within 10 minutes we were climbing onto THE Great Wall of China. It is just so impressive to see the wall meander over the ridgeline and off into both directions as far as the eye can see.

Moreover, it's so peaceful on the wall. I can imagine the soldiers being posted at the lookouts and doing nothing for years at a time except watching for Mongolians marauders from the North. Scary, but peaceful. This section of the wall is in exceptionally good shape. I think I read that the government spent some money to refurbish it in the middle of the last century. We actually ran into a few westerners up on the wall. There were several German tourists, but we also run into one of the few Americans we've seen the entire trip. What's interesting is that we think it was Gayle King (Oprah's friend) that we ran into. We're almost positive, but we're going to check into it. We didn't say anything, of course, while we were talking to them because I'm sure that one of the reasons they travel so far away is to avoid all the star struck fans.

Anyway, I don't have the words to describe how much I enjoyed walking along the Great Wall and climbing up to the tower posts and just looking out onto the horizon. It's just very special is all I can say. We took a lot of pictures. I'm going to try to post a few of the iPhone pictures to the blog, but the best photos are from Mickell's camera and I can't get at those until I get home. One funny thing is that we brought a Chuy's shirt from Austin to have Major wear and get a photo on the wall. Chuy's (our favorite restaurant) waiting area is covered by pictures of customers wearing their Chuy's shirts in famous tourist sites around the world. I think we get a free appetizer or something if we bring them a photo, so we decided to do it. We got a good one and can't wait to post it in their waiting area when we get back.

After we got back down the mountain, we decided to buy some t-shirts and other trinkets. It was a great opportunity for Mickell to do some haggling. He is so good at it and I absolutely hate doing it so I just tell him what I want and he does all the work. After we got through all the hawkers, we met our taxi driver and away we went back to the city. We arrived back at the Hilton at 17:30 and quickly went upstairs to get ready for my birthday dinner.

Mickell made reservations at the most famous Peking Duck restaurant in the city. This is the place where all the dignitaries dine. It's called Da Dong we had reservations for 18:30. The menu at this place was massive. Thankfully, there were pictures of every dish and I ordered for the entire table. We, of course, had the roasted duck served table side. I also ordered several unique side dishes and then finally we had the most unique desert -- something called a chocolate landmine! It was pricey, but well worth the experience. I'm not a great lover of duck, but this is one of those things you have to try since it's world renowned here.

All eyes were on our table when they brought the landmine to our table. It was a softball sized piece of hollow chocolate in the shape of a landmine/firecracker. Then, they lit the fuse and it sparkled and then when it got to the landmine it popped and cracked open. Then, on the inside, were these little sacks that you were supposed to put in your mouth. The sacks contained some cake-batter like filling with pop rocks in it. So, when you put it in your mouth you continued the popping sensation. It was quite an experience! They also served us some lychees on a bed of dry ice. Now I really enjoyed these lychees. I had never had one before today.

We took a taxi home and called my Mom since it's her birthday today too! It's 10pm here and it was only 8AM there. It was great that we both got to talk to each other on our birthdays. All in all, I couldn't think of a better way to enjoy my 40th birthday!
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Comments

Karhyjpowers on

I have been following your blogs. They are great. HAPPY BIRTHDAY! KEVIN! What a way to spend your 40th birthday.

Lizzie on

Wow! I love your blog! I feel like you took me with you! The pictures are amazing! Thanks for sharing, You go Major Chewy's will be so proud!

Lizzie on

I mean Chuy's ( sorry)

Ross Man on

Thanks for sharing. Looks like an awesome time together. Happy Birthday, and enjoy your trip!

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