A Personal Tour of the Great Wall of China and a little lunch!!!
November 3, 2016
I’ll let Peter share his version of our arrival in Beijing Airport and I’ll start at the part where we actually meet up with Michael and Grace that I talked about previously. They had graciously agreed to give us a personal tour of the Great Wall of China and then take us out for lunch. Our outbound flight for Chiang Mai didn’t leave until 6 pm and our luggage had been forwarded so we had all day.
Journey to the Wall
It was about 6:30 am when we left the airport. We headed off in their Toyota Landcruiser to Mutianyu. This is a restored area of the wall that is north of Beijing. This is not the most famous views of the wall, but it is not as busy. Michael and Grace live in southern Beijing so they had not been to this one either. It is not as popular, and therefore they felt it would be less crowded. There was a clear blue sky and the temperature was around freezing. They said it was the first clear day in about a month without cloud and high levels of pollution. On the way there, I was amazed at how easily drivers just go with the flow. Scooters, bicycles, pedestrians, cars, buses and even donkey-pulled carts all seemed to coexist with relative ease.
Lane markings and left turns on green lights just seemed to be guidelines. Fortunately the traffic was travelling at a reasonable speed so adjustments could be frequently made.
Need a toilet in China?
In the USA you ask for the restroom. In Canada you ask for the washroom. In China and Thailand you ask for the toilet. At the visitor center at MuTianYu the stalls were marked poddy or squat. There were a couple of poddy stalls which were regular toilets for tourists but the majority of the stalls contained toilets where the porcelain bowl is below floor level. You stand on either side and squat to prevent you from having to sit on a seat touched by someone else. There was toilet paper in the hand wash area, but none in the stalls. Fortunately my hiking pants have a regular emergency stash. The paper is disposed of in a basket, however, and not in the toilet as we are used to at home. These squat toilets flush, but some places have a pail of water nearby and you are required to add your own to flush it away.
The Wall itself
We took a shuttle bus up to the top of the road, then wandered past the market stalls which open at 7:30 am.
A chairlift took us to the top of the ridge where the wall followed the rugged hilltops as far as we could see in both directions. This section of the wall was originally completed in 1404 to protect the resources and rich trading center of Beijing from invaders from the north. There are watchtowers with 360 degree views at regular intervals. They have perfectly arched doorways and windows. There was also some housing for soldiers with separate quarters for the general.
The top of the wall itself is much wider than I expected. You could drive a carriage along it, except for all the steps. The spectacular fall colors, crisp clean air and clear blue skies only added to the experience of standing on a all that is over 600 years old. It was designed to be functional but it is beautiful as well as it follows the hills for thousands of km.
The four of us walked up and down hundreds of steps, admiring the views and construction from many angles. I had decided to check my tripod in our luggage because I expected to have way too many people around to use it effectively. It was getting busier when we left about 11 am but I have many pictures without anyone in them.
We finished our visit with a toboggan ride down the chairlift hill. The plastic sleds had brakes on them that worked really well. I was surprised how much control I had. There were a couple of ladies ahead of us who were much more nervous about gaining any speed so we often had to stop and wait for them, but it was fun nevertheless.
Click on individual photos to see in a larger view
Back to Beijing
We drove past small farms and orchards on our way back to the city. There were many little shops set up along the road and many people doing manual labor in the fields. Micheal and Grace shared with us about the discrepancy in lifestyle between the country and the city. Housing in the city is becoming very expensive, however, so many young adults either live with their parents, or their parents have to help them buy a house. Rent is not relatively as much, but most people want to own their home. We also saw lots of large company buildings. The majority of the signs we saw were in Chinese and in English as this country tries to develop a more global image. Even though the Chinese speak in many different dialects, their written language is the same for all.
Hadilao hot pot restaurant
We parked below a shopping area in a northern section of Beijing. There were many security people whose job it is just to direct people in the parkade and watch the vehicles. We saw many more people working here, in the restaurant and at the Great Wall attraction that we would see at home.
The 5th floor is all restaurants and we waited in the lobby of the Haidilao Hot Pot Restaurant for a table. While you are waiting you can have your nails touched up, your shoes shined or a game of chess, all for free. We got a table right away so didn’t get a chance to advantage of these services. The service we received once seated was quite amazing. I guess in China, only exclusive private restaurants offer much for service This franchise wanted to treat everyone very well.
The waitress brought us aprons to wear over our clothes and covered our coats on the back of the chairs with a heavy cloth to keep them clean. She even left a little glass cleaner package for Michael and I. Grace and Michael ordered off an ipad. The waitress brought us plates of thinly sliced beef, kidney and mutton, shrimp, tofu, mushrooms, large slices of potato, strips of kelp, slices of cow’s third stomach, a bowl of some kind of greens and finally a bowl of raw duck’s tongue.
Two large pots of soup were placed into a well in the center of the table. One was spicy and one was more plain. All the other items were cooked in the broth. We filled a bowl with a variety of items chosen to flavor our cooked food. Some of the flavors were familiar and many were not. There was garlic, sesame oil, crushed peanuts, spice mix, chili peppers, just to name a few. I wished I had taken a picture of the other items because by the time we worked through the meal, I was too overwhelmed to remember.
We tasted a rice “wine” that was 55 proof, and some Chinese beer. It was quite a mild flavored beer but that is all that is available in China. Michael said that he had tried several craft beers when he was in Canada and preferred them. The waitress also brought us a Chinese drink that tasted like thick iced tea and another drink that was creamy, warm and kind of purple colored that is made from beans. We spent a couple of hours trying everything.
Just before we left home I saw a quote by Anthony Bourdain from CNN who talked about eating in another country required you to apply the Grandma rule. “Eat whatever is on your plate, ask for seconds, smile and say thank you.” That was the rule we applied and to our surprise we had a delicious lunch. We were delivered back to the airport by 4:30 with plenty of time to go through security before our flight to Chiang Mai.
Video clip from lunch