Monday, November 15, 2010

Day 2 - The Great Wall and Ming Tombs

We awoke to a very gray and very rainy day.  Just what one wants on perhaps the only day in one's life that they will get to stand on the Great Wall of China.  But I was still excited to go.  During the bus ride there, Jimmy gave us a history lesson about the wall.  He also said that as an option to walking to the top, which would have killed the sisters, there was a gondola that could take us up!  This held great appeal for the majority of the tourists, as due to traffic we would have about 45 minutes to spend at the Wall.  When we finally arrived we stopped at a huge gift shop for a quick visit to buy umbrellas and rain ponchos.  Then it was off to the gondola!

The signs in line touted the amazing views one would hive while riding up the majestic mountain to the top of the Badaling section of the wall.  We were all very happy to be riding up!

Smiling Dad

But the view was not as awe inspiring as we had been led to believe by the signage!

It didn't matter though, because after the ride, and walking through a tunnel, and descending some muddy, uneven stairs, and climbing some more uneven stone stairs.  We were happily perched upon the Great Wall of China!

 In the view above, you can sort of make out the steep rise behind my father there.  the view was the same in the other direction.  Due to lack of time and after walking around a little, Dad sent us up the hill to see what we could see while he waited at the low spot and was again photographed with the curious indigenous folks... including two very amused Nepalese guys!

So Jason and I climbed to the top, both ways, and were stopped at the towers which were sealed shut.  Here's the view down.
 At the top of the other second side, which was a considerable distance farther up, we asked one of the dozens of people congregated there to get a picture of the two of us.  That was with Jason's camera, and we have not swapped pictures yet.  But there was a section of wall that led off down another route ...
 After Jason and I had our picture taken, the gal who took it asked to get a picture with us.  That started a flood of people posing with us, and had it not been for the fact that we had about ten minutes to get back down the steps and slopes and head back for the bus, we could have been in a few dozen more shots!

One thing that surprised me about the Great Wall was the lack of uniformity in the stairs.  They were made more difficult to climb and descend because there was no uniform height from step to step!  Also surprising was how much traction we still had even with the rain.  It was a pretty cool feeling though, standing on the Wall I've been hearing about since I was a kid.  And although the photos may not be of the long Dragon snaking it's way through the mountains, the misty, rainy day added a sense of drama and mystery that would have not otherwise been possible.

The Great Wall was also the first clue spot in 'Big Bird goes to China', and now I could tell the Boyo that I had seen the Monkey King and been to the Wall!

 That's the wall there behind the mist.

We climbed back on the bus and spent the next hour or so driving in very slow traffic.  We reached the big gift shop that we had stopped at.  It had taken us only ten minutes to drive from there to the wall, but over an hour to get back.  Jimmy had been on his phone for a half hour before we arrived, and informed us that there was a very bad accident down the road, and that there was no way we were going to make it to the place that we were going to eat.  He told us there was a buffet above the gift shop and asked us collectively if we wouldn't mind eating there.  So we did!

The food was very average.  But we did have time to browse the gift shop, where there was a gal named Little Fish (seriously) who was doing names on rice paper in Chinese calligraphy.  By the time I found her, the bus was loading, so I asked her to do one for my Sweet Pea.

It was very fun to watch!  Before I left I took pictures of my kiddos and had a picture of each saved on my camera so I could see their smiling faces when I wanted.  I showed a picture of my little Sweet Pea to Little Fish, who then called over some of the other gals and they oohed and aah'd and told me how beautiful she is...they are right, of course, but I digress.

After lunch and shopping, we headed for the Ming Tombs.  There is a seven kilometer road called the Spirit Way or Sacred Road that leads to one of the tombs.  This is lined with all sorts of animal statues, both real and mythical (including a Chinese Unicorn called a Qilin - pronounced 'Chillin'.  Though it is more of a dragon than a unicorn)

 At the entrance to the Sacred Road is a giant stele on a dragon turtle.  This is symbolic of long life or eternity, and the stele had contained a carved history of some of the Qing Dynasty.  According to Jimmy, it had once contained some history of the Ming Dynasty, but after they were overthrown, the stele was erased and later inscribed with Qing history and placed here! 
 Among the animals lining the route was the very camel from the Big Bird video!
 This was the second clue in the video, and like the Monkey King, was a major find, as instructed by the Boyo!  I knew he'd be thrilled to see me with it.  And he was.

All along the way there were two pairs of animals, one set sitting, the other standing.  Jimmy explained that this was done because, according to legend the pair that is sitting during the day stands up at night, and visa versa.  In this way, no matter what time a royal funeral procession goes by, there will always be a pair of creatures standing at attention for the Emperor.

This led to a very fun idea.  I showed the following pictures to my son, and said to him...

"Here I am, telling the camel, OK camel... STAND UP!"
 "And he DID!"
The Boyo was amazed at my powers over stone animals.  Right up until I explained about the two pairs of critters.

We all had our favorites of course...

 As we approached the stone horses, Jimmy told us that sitting on a horse and holding money would soon bring fortune, as the Chinese character for horse is the same as soon, and the character for soon is also for money.  He told us to climb up and get a picture.  We asked him if he was serious, and he looked around and said conspiratorially "Just don't get caught."  So, feeling bold again, Jason and I took turns climbing up to get our pictures taken holding a penny.
 Yup.  That's me riding a horse that was carved out of a single piece of marble before my country was even a country.

Then it was out the Dragon and Phoenix gate...that's right... a gate that had the Phoenix Bird on it!  It was like I was IN the Big Bird video!
The gate was a little confusing though, as it had dragons on top, but only cloud looking wing things sticking out.  I asked Jimmy where the Phoenix was, and he told me that the Phoenix was often represented as clouds, as the Phoenix is very ephemeral.  He went on to explain that the Dragon and the Phoenix are Yin and Yang to each other.  The Dragon representing the male, the Phoenix the female.  And that the Dragon and the Phoenix were Imperial symbols and throughout history only to be used by the Emperor.

We boarded the bus for the short drive to the Changling tomb.
 This was to be a flying visit as well, and Jimmy gave us - again - 45 minutes to explore the tombs.  I went on a fast walking tour of the grounds to scout while Dad and Jason explored the inside of the building pictured below -

 Which is a duplicate of the Imperial Palace in the Forbidden city.  Except this one housed a museum full of artifacts from the tomb.  Being inside was amazing, as it was HUGE!
 And there was a giant statue of Emperor Ming Yongle himself!
 Also, between the staircases here, and at the Imperial Palace, and The Temple of Heaven, and all of the other Imperial places we would visit, were these huge marble carved reliefs featuring the Dragon/Phoenix motif!
 And on the pillars on the railings surrounding the Palace... The Phoenix Bird!  Feng Huang herself!  The Boyo would be thrilled! 
The tomb grounds were very cool, and I could have spent hours exploring and learning.  But we had to get going to once again battle traffic to get to our Peking Duck dinner.

We had been scheduled to see the Olympic Village, but time was short, and as such we all voted as a group to be satisfied with a drive by viewing.

Behold - The Birds Nest stadium at dusk!

 Our dinner was again in a large room filled with other tourists.  I was pleased that a wide variety of foods was brought out, since I'm not ordinarily a fan of duck.
 That dish in the middle was particularly good, although we couldn't figure out what the meat used was.  (Don't even think of starting the cat or dog jokes, because in these westernized places that wasn't even an option)

The Duck came and we were told that a skilled chef can carve a duck into 140 pieces.  These are then placed in little egg wraps with some delicious sauce and a shallot and eaten like an egg roll.  I loved the sauce.  Still not so fond of duck. 
So I ate more of that yummy red mystery meat.  Then I found out that it was actually fish.  Know how?  I got a bone lodged in my throat.  I tried clearing it with liquids, rice, other foods.  But nothing worked.  Finally I excused myself and went to the bathroom to try and reach it with my fingers and a toothpick.  I did manage to loosen it.  But unfortunately it then poked smack into my gag reflex.  It happened so fast that I was genuinely surprised by the huge flow off emesis that followed, and continued until the entire dinner was evacuated into the western style potty that I was fortunately standing in front of.  It was the only meal over there where I was hungry again an hour after we ate.  Grr.

Back at the hotel, we packed up and got ready for day three, where we would see the Beijing Zoo, take a tour of the Hutongs and fly to Xian!

More Later

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