Day 23 - Spectacular finale to our cruise!

Trip Start Feb 04, 2012
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Trip End Mar 01, 2012


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Monday, February 27, 2012

Our final docking was today at Tianjin, China, one of China's largest cities and gateway to the Chinese capitol of Beijing.  Definitely the dock was one of the most spectacular we experienced, though it was quite empty.  The huge terminal was built for the Beijing Olympics and about three and a half hours from the city of Beijing.  After passing through customs and collecting all our luggage from the ship, we took a bus tour so we could do some sight seeing on the way into the city. 

We traveled on ultra modern and beautifully engineered highways - but some of them ended abruptly in steep dropoffs, unfinished.  We passed isolated farms and large businesses, and many nuclear power towers.  There was very little traffic until we got to an outer ring, the route into the city.  Then it was backed up for many miles and we moved very slowly.

We stopped at a factory that produces carved stone sculptures - from very tiny pieces to monument size. Hospitality provided us with a full meal, served in many dishes placed on a large "lazy susan" in the middle of the table.  Spinning it enabled each of us to retreive any dish we chose to try.  Endless.  We were fully satisfied and ready for the sales pitch, and the show room sales people were ready for us!  We weren't even tempted to purchase but we did enjoy viewing the wondrous items. The showroom was filled with spectacular carvings and of course, they were very high priced, but the amount of skilled labor that goes into these pieces is phenomenal.  We watched some of the carvers working with templates and doing small detail work.  Can't help wonder what kind of wages they receive...

Back on board the bus to the Huanghaguan - the Ju Yong pass, and the Great Wall of China!  Ju Yong is more than 50 kilometers from downtown Beijing, and is situated in a ravine hemmed in between two mountains.  The gully in which the pass stands stretches 20 or so kilometers.  It is heavily wooded, and the scenery is captivating. 

It was astonishing, for lack of better words, to come upon the wall and then with our eyes follow its snake-like path up and across the mountains. Beyond our view, the wall winds over mountains, across grasslands and through deserts in many twists and turns, spanning a total of 5600 kilometers, or 3600 miles.  Its gigantic structural construction made it known throughout the world as one of the "seven wonders of the medieval world".  The small part of the 3600 mile wall we saw was a restored section of the wall's battlements, which were designed wide enough to allow cavalry and chariots of the era to pass.  The Great Wall was one of the two construction projects on earth that astronaut Neil Armstrong could see clearly from space, in fact, from the moon. 

In 1987 the United Nations named the Great Wall of China a world cultural heritage site.  It is known as the "symbol and soul" of China. 

We climbed up to one of the battlements on the steep, uneven stone stairs.  It was difficult and a slow trudge, but well worth it to get higher and look across the valley to other sections of the wall.  I tried to picture horses and chariots moving along the walls as they looked for potential attackers.   Thousands and thousands of people built the wall; thousands and thousands guarded it from marauders. The first Qin Emperor began extensive work on the wall against the "Northern Barbarians" from Mongolia.  The Ming Dynasty carried the project forward.  It's truly a wonder.

One downfall is serious pollution is present in this part of China and the sky was filled with haze.   Pictures do not really tell the true story of the Great Wall because of the heavy clouds hanging low.  Many people wear face masks as protection from the dirty air, as respiratory disease is common in parts of China. 

China is slightly smaller than the United States (and I was sure it was much larger!).  The population as of 2009 was 1,330,141,295.  The cities are way overcrowded and people live in tall, high rise apartments with small square footage - sometimes with several families living together to save money.  Many dialects are spoken but standard Chinese and Mandarin are primary languages.  China is a communist state. 

Again the architectural engineering left me breathless as we entered Beijing.  The buildings are unlike anything I have seen in US cities.  We were deposited at the Marriott Hotel and then made our way by taxi to the hotel we reserved ahead, the Dongfang.  We wondered what we were getting in to as we meandered through the neighborhoods down dark alleys with a crazy taxi driver;  however, the hotel itself is a very historic and rustic place and we liked its character and charm.  The historic 1918 building has a nostalgic atmosphere with large pictures in the quaint lobby.  There is a European style garden and courtyard which we could view from our window balcony.  The hotel blends classic Chinese and Western design. Our room has massive wood furnishings, heavy drapery and historic photos.  We took our evening meal in the "Old House 1989 Coffee Shop", watched some Chinese TV and went to bed.
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