Friday, December 31, 2010
Great Wall of China and Ming Tombs
“He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man.” Mao Zedong
The buses were in front of our hotel and waiting for our 7:30 a.m. departure to the Great Wall of China. We ran the “Ha-low” gauntlet to board the bus and settled in for the hour+ ride out to the wall. This is what our family had been waiting for – sure we wanted to see the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square – but the Great Wall? That was the quintessential image of China – I’d seen it in magazines, picture books, it was even in the opening image of one my all time favorite kids movies “Mulan.” Wrenn, my daughter, sat next to me that morning and she glanced at me at one point with the expression of “who are you?” on her face. I was so excited – I was uncharacteristically giddy. I told her I was sorry (I think I was freaking her out a bit) but that I’d seen pictures of The Great Wall and of course had thought to myself that it’s magnificent, but it wasn’t even a dream of mine to come to China and see it because I’d never even thought it would be in the realm of possibilities. And yet, here I was, sitting on a bus traveling with my family to experience something I’d never even thought possible (I know, there’s a lesson in there for me).
We arrived early, and boarded the ropeway to the top and had two hours to explore the Great Wall. It wasn’t exactly a picture perfect day – it was hazy – but while it started out a bit brisk, by the time we were all walking on the wall, we were shedding our layers and for a few, brief moments the sun broke through the. My family took off – setting a goal of reaching a far off gate. I decided to take my time, I would not be here again and I wanted to take in every, single minute. A couple of things struck me; one was that it was really quiet out there, of course it was November not exactly the height of the tourist season, but after the hustle and bustle of Beijing it was very peaceful (I understand however that if you come in the summer it is anything but quiet, more like a carnival atmosphere with hoards of tourists); another thought was that the United States is a toddler in World History, well maybe more like an infant. This original wall was started 2000 years ago (221 B.C.). With a country so rich and deep in culture, no wonder our two countries can have culture-clashes at times. It makes me want to learn more about China, with it’s population at over one billion people and it’s emergence as a world power I’m thinking we’d all better know a lot more about this country.
I did eventually meet up with my family, after climbing more than 400 steps up a steep incline to the northern most point where you could explore the wall (you can only traverse certain renovated sections of the wall). Jeff was already sipping a beer he bought from one of the vendors – he asked if I would like one and just at that moment all the vendors quickly packed up their wares and vanished over the “do not enter” sign to the off-limits section of the wall. We tourists stood there looking around wondering what just happened, when someone spotted a figure hiking up through the brush off to the side of the wall. We all surmised that a guard must be headed our way and these vendors weren’t exactly “approved” for selling their goods on a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Noting the time, we headed back – each family member at their own pace. I wanted to savor, I wanted to try and not forget a single moment. When we were stateside and oblivious to the fact that the military would one day send us to live overseas, our trips consisted only of places we could drive to – exclusively on the East Coast. Jeff and I would sometimes refer to these trips as “Scouting Expeditions” – as in, we’re here to gather information so that when we come back we’ll know what to come back and see. Our trips in Asia have a different mindset – these are onetime deals, at least for me – hopefully our children will be able to come back to some of these places with their kids … a long, long time from now. So the approach is somewhat different and when I leave a site, like the Great Wall, it is bittersweet. I’m so incredibly thankful I’ve had the chance to have the experience, but sad at the same time knowing I will not pass this way again.
We boarded the buses and headed for our next destination a Cloisonne Factory/lunch. Seeing the Cloisonne being made through the windows of the factory was interesting and we were able to get in a bit of power-shopping and purchase some gifts for our friends and family back home. And then we were off and running again, next destination – the Ming Tombs.
This is the final resting place for 13 of the 16 Ming emperors. We stopped first at the Spirit Way, passing through the Great Palace Gate and by a giant bixi (a mythical tortoise-dragon-like animal). The Spirit Way is lined with 12 sets of stone animals (sitting and standing) and officials. Along the path are beautiful weeping willow trees, which were in abundance both in and around Beijing. With all of the leaves off of the deciduous trees, these sweeping flowing beauties offered a bit of welcome color to the landscape and I loved them – making a mental note that one day, I wanted a garden with a weeping willow tree that would remind me of China.
Another long day, but it was a great day with the highlight of course being the Great Wall. So much to think about and ponder on the bus ride back to the hotel, more great stories and information from our guide, George, which I’ll save for my final Beijing entry. Till next time, sayonara.
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