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Monday, April 17, 2017

The Great Wall of China - Stairway to Heaven


March 21, 2017 - Day 4 - Julyongguan Pass - Great Wall of China 

Sumptuous Three Choice Breakfast

Another morning adventure in Chinese cuisine – no breakfast buffet here at the Hotel California – no siree!  We have a choice of about three things on the turntable of cuisine.  One of them is a plate of white sliced bread which the Brits fight over.  They’ve given up, for the most part, on chopsticks and are using their hands when forks aren’t available.
“It took me twenty minutes to pick up one banger with them sticks yesterday at breakfast,” Jane’s mom complains.

But as soon as we step outside everything changes.  The experiences of the previous night totally evaporate as we try and comprehend the magnificent view confronting us.  The rain has stopped, the skies have cleared and we are in the middle of a valley surrounded by green hills and the Great Wall of China in all its splendor is set out in front of us.  The accommodations and the meals – they were all worth it - just for this moment!  It’s probably one of the defining memories I’ll have of China – that and the Gluttonous Bullfrog – (In case you might want to cook up some of your own, I’ve included a to-die-for recipe.) 

The wall was started around 220 BC by the emperor Quin Shi Huang.   QSH, as he was known to his friends, was tired of being invaded by the Mongolians - who he described as a “bunch of rapists and criminals.”  Further he said he’d get the Mongolians to pay for the wall.   Wait a minute – that wasn’t QSH it was Donald Trump! 

It took over 2000 years to build the Great Wall of China.  The total length of the wall is 13,170 miles (21,196km).  The border between the United States and Mexico is a paltry 1,950 miles (3140km)

Donald's Great Walll
Donald’s potential Mexican wall pales in comparison with the Great Wall of China.  It’s only about 16% of the length of the Great Wall.  Given the Great Wall took 2000 years to build, it should only take 320 years to build Donald’s wall - which means he’ll have to stay in office a total of 80 consecutive terms to see it through.  Scary! And Donald’s wall is more of a picket fence when compared to Great Wall of China.  The Chinese Government is only using a small part of the wall for tourism, so that’s leaving a lot of the wall unused.  Maybe president Xi Jinping can unload about 2,000 miles of the unused wall to the Americans.  It would be a win-win situation.  Donald will get his wall for a pittance, and it will be “big, high and beautiful.”  Stay tuned. 

There is only on small problem - getting to it.   The wall was built on the highest points to provide the best lookout for potential invaders.  Hence it’s a job just getting up to it.    To get to the wall you have to climb about a zillion stairs. With a bounce in my step – that has nothing to do with Imodium taken the night before – I head off to explore the Great Wall. 

The bounce doesn’t last long.  About a 100 steps up the “bounce in my step” peters out into a “lurch in my stumble” - it’s climb 25 steps, rest, climb another 25 steps.  By the time I reach the first tower  about half the tourists have had enough.  Undaunted, and feeling a need to see just how good that stent in my heart is, I press on…  25 steps, rest, 25 steps, rest…  An hour later I’ve reached the fourth tower.  By this time there is only one other tourists on the steps ahead of me. 

At the fourth tower, I decide I’ve had enough - time to go down.  The problem is it’s just as tough – if not harder - going down as it was climbing up.  A third of the way down, my knees begin to shake and my thighs are aching.  Maybe one day they’ll put a gondola up to the top.  I think they could charge whatever they want!  I’d gladly pay it.  All complaining aside - if you’re planning a trip to China, the Great Wall is a must.  According to Chairman Mao:   “Until you reach the Great Wall, you’re no hero.”  Of course he only mentions “reaching” the Wall – nothing about climbing it.  One other tip, GO EARLY! I saw the logic in having us stay at the Bate’s hotel so we could begin our walk as soon as the wall opened.  By the time I reach the bottom the parking lot is full of tour buses and there are swarms of people on the lower parts of the wall. 

We retrieve our bags from the hotel and hit the road back to Beijing. Our first stop is a visit to a Jade Carving Centre where we’ll learn all about Jade and receive a complementary lunch.  (translation: we’re taking you to an expensive place where we expect tourists to pay a lot of money for some green rocks before we feed you).

We’re given a brief tour of the Jade carving center before being turned loose in the showroom where the expensive stuff is stashed.  Each of us is assigned our own personal “representative” (translation: salesperson) who dogs our every step.  If you make eye
My personal Jade "representative"
contact with any item- even for a nanosecond -the sales pitch begins.  My “representative” is frustrated with my lack of enthusiasm for any of the expensive merchandise .
“But you must need something!” she implores.
“Well I could use a good door stop,” I offer.
“What?”
“You know, something to hold the door open.”
“Would you want a Buddha or maybe a dragon?” she suggests.
“Doesn’t matter, really. It just has to hold the door open.”
Eventually she realizes I’m not going to buy anything and retreats; which is fine - because it’s time for the complimentary lunch. 
the non-buyer's dining room

We’re escorted to a huge dining room.  Actually we’re escorted through a huge dining room to an empty adjacent dining room.  I can’t read the name on the door, but I think the rough translation is “Dining Room for Cheap Western Tourists Who Don’t Buy Anything.”  Even though the dining room is empty we’re escorted to the furthest corner – lest our parsimonious attitude infect other potential buyers.  



Next: The Beijing Pearl Market & Night Train to Xi'an


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