The Great Wall of China

Trip Start Mar 16, 2012
Trip End Mar 24, 2012

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What I did
Great Wall of China

Flag of China  , Beijing,
Wednesday, March 21, 2012

“When asked, 'How do you write?' I invariably answer, 'One word at a time,' and the answer is invariably dismissed. But that is all it is. It sounds too simple to be true, but consider the Great Wall of China, if you will: one stone at a time, man. That's all. One stone at a time. But I've read you can see that motherfucker from space without a telescope.” 

- Stephen King

I spent today roaming around one of the Seven Wonders of the World: The Great Wall of China. And great it was. This was the one thing I knew I wanted to see while here, a staple Bucket List item for anyone.  

The day started with a grim PM2.5 reading of 386 (China claimed an 81), considered hazardous. As bad as I'd seen, air soup. And one would think as you head an hour out of the city, things may clear up. No. But what are you going to do? I'm only in China for a week and today we are heading an hour north to the small town of Mutianyu to catch a glimpse of this wonder. This part of the wall is a bit farther out and typically not as crowded as other sections. 

The Great Wall of China stretches from east to west, up to the edge of Inner Mongolia and is the world's largest and longest manmade structure, stretching over 4,000 miles. It was first built in 220–206 BC by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huan, and since then reconstructed during the Ming Dynasty through the 1600s.  It was built to protect the Chinese Empire against invasions from nomadic tribes, and at its peak, was guarded by over one million men, while double that died during its construction.   

It's one of those sites that you have butterflies for, and revert to an eight-year old with excitement, searching for your first look at it. The drive up took us through what seemed like a Chinese Poconos, with family resorts in the woods, small lakes, corny amusement parks and endless picnic tables. Sadly, the "fog" was winning that day and Hilary was explaining that we were actually surrounded by another taller layer of mountains that we couldn't even see. My first look at the wall would not come from the road below. 

As usual, QS drove us straight to the ticket office where we were surrounded by vendors hawking postcards, t-shirts and just about anything with the wall emblazed upon it. You begin up a steep walk towards a double ski lift that looks like the FIS lift on Ajax. Very bizarre getting on one of those without skis. Half way up, there it is, fortress-like, stretching along the top of the ridge. The horrible conditions made it close to no visibility, but the closer you got, the more impressive it seemed. There it was, the Great Wall of China, and we were about to get on it. 

Jump off the lift and off you go, up steep stone steps, to surface on the top to a wide stone road. Everywhere you look, the wall snakes up and down over hills, with lookout towers at the peaks. Again, the visibility was a huge drag, but it actually had an incredible quiet and again, mystical feel. And best yet, there were no crowds. There were times when it was just Hilary and me at a section. I'd take a private wall visit with poor visibility over clear skies and Disney crowds any day.

(And even though there were very few people with us, there's always those people who insist on wearing bright red, orange, and blue jackets, ruining a perfectly good photo op. Fineable in my opinion, neutrals should be mandated on the wall. Thank God for Photoshop.)

We walked up and down the wall, taking endless photos (challenging), visiting with the few other tourists from all over the world, stopping occasionally to drink it all in. And, like in India, were often asked to stop and pose with Chinese families, celebrity-style, for photos. 

The steep hills and uneven steps (supposedly intentionally designed to trip up invaders), does a number of your legs and lungs - a work-out! You can climb up top some of the watch towers to feel how the guards did when they were stationed up there, living on a cold rock floor, in the freezing cold. No thank you.

The wall just kept going, so we just kept going, and wondered where and when it would ever stop. We finally got to one section where the wall climbed so steeply and so high, that we lost it in the cloud. We then decided to turn back.  We headed back towards the chair lift, but that's not how we chose to descend. Nope, we're tobogganing down, of course.

A silver toboggan course takes tourists whipping and winding down the mountain over valleys and under the chair lift. A huge poster encourages you that tobogganing is so simple, plus rules reminding you to not make calls or take photos while on the ride. Whoops. The line was backed-up because a woman held the brake the whole time and got stuck. Once rescued and off the course, it was our turn. It's hilarious and at parts you really haul. There are signs along the way telling you to lean into the curves, slow down, and do not stop, while bored men stationed about, completely uninterested in your safety, look at their cell phones. It was awesome.

Once safely at the bottom, we headed through the vendors, head down, to QS. We did get lured into a table of dried fruit where I was force-fed samples of an endless dried fruit salad of yummy cherries, strawberries, kiwi and more, while Hilary haggled. We paid $10 for two tiny bags of nuts. But man where they good. Then off to lunch at The Schoolhouse, a fantastic art school and restaurant in town. We sat down to a huge steaming bowl of Workmen Noodle Soup compete with perfectly poached egg, followed by a walk through the glassmaker's studio. The room was filled with glass dogs, roosters, rats and the other animals of the Chinese calendar. 

Hilary pulled a fast one and bought me a perfect gift of a glass turtle, that I have been told is one of my power animals. The turtle represents a model of settled, universal order, who moves slowly, traveling its own path, in its own time. 

In the Far East, the shell is a symbol of heaven, the square underside a symbol of earth. The turtle's magic can help unite heaven and earth within your own life, a symbol of an invitation for the blessings of both heaven and earth.

What a - Bucket List - day.


Pics from Dongcheng District:

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Dad on

So good you had it mostly to yourself. Steve's quote is great.

Rosemary on

Speechless. Loved the Wall facts. Turtle-symbol info really cool. Keep writing, Kristin! I LOVE reading about your adventures. XO

Kelly on

Ahh, it takes me back to my "bucket list day" on Jan. 2, 2006, standing on the wall the day before "Gotcha Day" when I adopted Makenna. I'll never forget those two glad you got to see it!

Erin on

What. Had I known you could tobaggan down it would've been higher on my list. Very cool, even with the nasty "fog"...

Jill on

What an adventure! Thanks for sharing.

Heather on

Amazing KR. Simply amazing. I really want to go there. I had NO idea it was 4000 miles long. Thank you for teaching me something new and opening my eyes, yet again.

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