Saturday, June 16, 2007

I fought the Wall, and the Wall won...

As you can see from the pictures, today we visited one gigantic, iconic piece of construction from China's past ... and one for its future.

First we took the tour bus out to Badaling (Think Tony Soprano when you say it - badabing!) to see the Great Wall. The traffic was INSANE on the expressway; as far as I can tell, the Chinese have replaced all the functions of a turn signal with the HORN. No "signal, mirror, blind spot, move" as we learned in drivers ed. We rode along for over an hour, still surrounded by big buildings, lots of traffic, and LOTS of smog. Suddenly, I realized that there was a curved horizontal line across the sky ahead of us, and the smog was slightly darker below it. I squinted at it for a few seconds and thean realized, um, those are mountains.

Soon we were driving up a curving road through the mountains. We were fortunate enough to be on the tour where the bus takes you all the way to the parking lot. We passed many people who had parked a mile or more down the hillside who were walking all that way before even getting to the Wall. Our guide dropped us off, explaining that there were two ways we could go: up the extremely crowded side with a smoother incline OR up the not-so-crowded but (in his words) "slightly steeper" side. Yep, we ended up on the steep side. Here we learned that you do not walk on the Wall, you climb. First up some steps of varying heights (a 6" step, a 24" step, an 8" step, etc.) then come the inclines. We learned that just as your muscles adjusted to walking on one type of surface, they'd switch it up and change the terrain on you. It was hard to feel like we ever got a rhythm to our climb, and we were thankful for the handrails and for the fact that we had trained for this by hiking at the nature center for the last month or two. In the pictures you can see how high we went and get a sense how steep it was; though, we both agree that it FELT steeper than it looks in the pictures. (You can see some buses in the parking lot; that's where we started.)

Eventually, we turned around, thinking that the way down would be a breeze. Nope. Again, you had to shift the muscles you were using, and now you got a sense of the height because you could see the valleys in front of you. There were a lot of us with "jelly legs" walking back down. I'd compare it to that strange feeling you get after you've been on ice skates for awhile and then start walking around - like you're just not using your feet right and can't feel the ground. Adding to this strange sensation was the fact that at times your body was actually leaning back at about a sixty degree angle.

On the way back from Badaling, we stopped at a cloisonne factory and "Friendship" store. It's a government run shop that sells all kinds of knick knacks and souvenirs in what looks like an abandoned JCPenny's attached to a factory. We didn't buy anything, but enjoyed the family-style Chinese lunch we got to share with the other CHSFS families at the restaurant upstairs. (Did I mention that the factory/JCPenny's had a restaurant upstairs?)

When we got to Beijing, the bus pullled over on the side of the highway so we could take some pictures of the Olympic stadiums that are under construction. The scale of the main stadium is impossible to comprehend from the pictures, but you get some idea if you look closely and see the workers climbing around on top. (Also, think about whether or not your job is REALLY all that bad as you see them up there working in the ninety-five degree heat.)

Then we went to an official Olympic merchandise store so that we could be the first kids on our block to have t-shirts with those ridiculously cute mascots on them. (This is where we made our first non-grocery purchases of the entire trip.)

It was a long and tiring day, but we had a lot of fun and appreciated getting to see so much more of the area around Beijing. Tomorrow afternoon we'll fly to Nanning and get Wynn on Monday morning. Obviously, we are incredibly excited to go, but at the same time are a little sad to leave Beijing; we really like it here and would love to stick around and see more. I'm sure we'll come back again with Wynn when she's a little older.

We appear to be the only family going to Nanning from CHSFS, so we have no idea if we'll be able to get at a computer until we get to Guangzhou next weekend. We're hopeful that we'll find a net cafe or another family there to help us out, because we know there are a bunch of expectant grandparents and other concerned parties who are anxiously awaiting photos and news of Wynn. We'll do out best to keep you satisfied in that regard. :-)


And now a shout out to my husband: Scott diligently "studied" for this trip - maps, websites, language lessons, etc. Being here with him and his quickly-acquired wealth of knowledge has made this trip so much easier on me. I can relax and enjoy the trip knowing that Scott's the guy who knows how to ask if the store accepts credit cards, understands how to manuever our way through an airport, and is willing to taste any dish set before us and warn my more timid palate as to whether or not it's spicy. :-) (Of course, he lacks the instant street cred of my "teacher voice".)

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