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Monday, April 10, 2017

Forget the egg rolls - pass the Gluttonous Bullfrog!



March 20, 2017 - Day 3 - Badaling - Great Wall of China

We’re off to a late start today for our trip to the Great Wall of China  – which is good - as I need the extra time to get down from my room.  I’m having a problem with the elevator in my building.  It’s one of those elevators that has a slot where you need to put your card in BEFORE you push your floor number.

The first time I entered the lobby of my building I nodded to the soldier on guard duty there. He’s there in case I might want to lead a rebellion of the housekeepers or they added him after the big kerfuffle about the wall safe incident in my room.  I guess they figure if I have something important enough to put in a safe they better lay on some extra security.

I got in the elevator, the doors closed and I put the card in the slot, pressed the floor number and waited.  After a few seconds the doors opened -   and the soldier was still there staring at me.  I nodded at him and try again with the same result.  After the third time, the soldier sighs, takes the card from my hand, reverses it, puts it in the slot, withdraws it, hands it back to me and presses the button.  The doors close and I magically appear on my floor!   I’d like to tell you that this was a one time occurrence – but I can’t. After that, I simply walk into the lobby and hand my card to the soldier.  Saves time for everybody that way.

The Great Wall at Badaling
We leave around noon for the ninety minute drive to Badaling where we’ll have our first encounter with the Great Wall of China.  Unfortunately, it begins to rain and by the time we arrive the wall is hidden by clouds (which are different then smog – they’re wetter and don’t taste as good).

Draped in plastic garbage bags disguised as rain ponchos, we proceed to climb the stairs up to the wall.  There really isn’t much to see as everything is draped in mist.  The rain changes to sleet and the enthusiasm to walk the two miles of wall which are uphill in both directions decreases.  On a positive note, Feng points out this part of the wall is normally crowded with tourists – who seem to be absent.   After twenty minutes and a couple of photos we retreat to the bar - where we find the rest of the missing tourists.  We commiserate over drinks speculating the day can’t possibly get worse.  Right?

Juyongguan Pass Hotel

Wrong!  By the time we arrive at our overnight accommodations at Juyongguan Pass it’s dark.  Beware when a hotel is advertised as “traditional” or “quaint.”  These are code words for “rundown” and “old.”   Our accommodations are part of an international hotel chain that includes  the Bates Motel, the Overlook Hotel, Castle Dracula  and the always popular Hotel California.

Even though the hotel is empty we are given rooms widely scattered in the ramshackle hotel – probably so we can’t hear each other scream in the middle of the night.  It takes me ten minutes to find my room down a darkened hallway.  I actually have to dig my flashlight out of my backpack to see the room numbers.  No problem with key cards here.  We’ve been each given an appropriately named skeleton key that weighs about a pound. 

In Beijing I’d been upgraded to a very nice suite.  In order to even things out I’ve been downgraded to a cell with peeling wallpaper and mold in the bathroom.  On a positive note: the room is nice and toasty which is a definite plus after the freezing afternoon on the wall.  However my joy at the warm room is short lived when I discover the reason: the thermostat is only a wall decoration.  It only has two settings: “really hot” – or “really cold”.  

I don’t have time to muse on my accommodations as I am already late for the “special dinner” that is being laid on featuring local cuisine. It takes me a while groping down darkened hallways to find the “restaurant.” I am the last one to arrive where I discover we are the only diners.  I decide not to tell the others about the shouting and what appears to be dog yipes  I heard  as I passed the kitchen.

My fellow travelers don’t notice me arriving as they are too busy trying to decipher the well-used single page menu. Tonight’s exotic delicacies include:
                Sliced Ox tongue and Tripes
Juyongguan Pass Menu
                Marinated Jellyfish in Aged Vinegar
                Mixed Black Fungus

…and my personal favorite:

                Gluttonous Bullfrog!  

The menu is bad news for the Brits who look at rice as an exotic foreign dish.   In order to be helpful I suggest the mystery meat - I tell them I hear it’s really fresh. 

After a scrumptious dinner I follow the bread crumbs back to my room hoping my batteries don’t die.  The thermostat might not work, but the TV does -  so I catch up on the curling news.

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