Welp, here I am. It's Monday night here. I arrived in Beijing on Saturday evening without much fanfare. The hostel I'm staying at provided me with transportation from the airport, which was terribly convenient. I went to the hostel cafe and met a few people who were going to the Great Wall the next day – the hostel provides transportation to a more remote section of the Wall every other day, and so I signed up to go, and then had to go out looking for some food to pack for breakfast and lunch. So I headed off into the wild blue yonder.
My first foible was pretty funny – I feel like a right idiot about it, but all in all it was amusing. So I'm at this fruit stand buying apples and the vendor tells me Y4.8. (And I'm excited because I understood what he said.) So I hand over a 5. And he says "No. 4.8" I hand him the 5. "No," he says and punches 4.8 into a calculator and shows me the numbers. "Yes," I say and hand him the 5. He starts getting all upset and pushing my money back at me, and I can't understand what he's saying. Confused, I say, "Too much or too little?" "Too little," he exclaims, and I examine my bill that clearly says 5, which is clearly enough money to cover 4.8. So we go through that scene a couple more times, and finally he just puts my money back in my hand and starts tending to some other customers standing there. Those customers were very sympathetic toward me and one of them points out the word jiao on the bill and then I realize what an idiot I've been. I had forgotten that Tao (my Chinese tutor) had told me that the smaller values of money also come in paper form. (Smaller value than what would be equated to a dollar bill. Most countries I've been to, anything smaller than a "dollar" comes in coin.) So here the jiao comes in 1s and 5s in paper (analogous to dimes and 50-cent pieces). So I had been offering the vendor 50 cents instead of 5 dollars. I was able to rectify the situation then, and I got my apples.
In traveling tradition, I got up way earlier than I ever would at home to take the bus to the Great Wall. (We left at 6:30am) The portion we were taken to is about a 3-hour drive outside of Beijing, and is not much visited by tourists. We walked a 9-km section of the wall between Simatai and Jinshanling. To my relatives who did this same stretch, you will be jealous to know that it was an overcast day with an occasional breeze. Still, it was exerting and hot. Though the distant mountains could only be seen in outline, I think the tradeoff for cooler weather was worth it. It would have been brutal beneath a full bright sun.
So this stretch between Jinshanling and Simatai is not all reconstructed, renovated and kept up like the stretch just outside Beijing where the bulk of tourists go. Which I appreciated ... to see it in a more natural state. Though to be sure, it would be a real shame to let it continue to crumble and decay without any attempts at stabilization, so do I hope the government doesn't just forget about it.
Here's a view from inside one of the guard towers that was in better shape than some.
I ended up with two companions for the day whom I met on the bus (minibus) ride; the three of us walked together. I was astounded to find that most of the time the three of us were alone on the wall – we could see no one ahead or behind us. I never thought to be virtually alone at a tourist attraction in China! Anyway, that was really magical at times, alone on this huge serpentine wall, this really ... umm ... what's the word I'm looking for ..... this really great wall. Imagining the Chinese soldiers patrolling along the top, standing watch in the guard towers, and the barbarous Mongol hordes riding up across the folds of mountains, assaulting the Wall in their yelling, vicious throngs, being repelled by the staunch Chinese soldiers standing atop; then the Mongols ride on down a bit and simply go around the end of the wall and continue on their merry way pillaging China. ha ha. Every wall has a terminus.
It's astounding, this wall. You've all seen pictures, but being there gives you a sense of scope that a photograph cannot. (a common phenomenon, of course) At the end of the 9km trek, there is a zipline that runs down over a little lake to the parking lot; one can opt to take that rather than walking down to the lot. My knees were begging for mercy, so I shelled out the cash to take the zip line down. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it also looked like a lot of fun. Weeeee!
Thus ends my first full day in China ... a spectacular one, filling me immediately with awe at the power of past empires. Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.