China 17: The Great Wall and Summer Palace

Monday, 28th April, 2014

We were bright and early for breakfast which was just as well as the lifts were chockablock around 8 o’clock. I asked at the desk for Mrs Zhang, the hotel sales manager who only works Monday to Friday and sure enough, just after 8, she appeared carrying my iPad. We couldn’t use it until the afternoon as it had to be charged.

It was a two hour journey by mini bus to Mutianyu, the section of the Great Wall we were visiting, but the scenery was interesting as the countryside grew more mountainous and the massive tree planting campaign organised by the government was evident. Apparently it is designed to stop the sand from the desert blowing across Beijing in spring. There hasn’t been a bad sand storm for five years according to Xing Xing.

Our first glimpse of the wall was quite exciting. Off the bus and onto a chairlift we were soon heading up the mountainside. Once on the wall we were pinching ourselves to think we were actually there. We had roughly two hours to walk on the wall before going back down the chairlift to eat a Subway lunch. There was also a cable car about 45 minutes walk along the wall and it would have made sense to go back down in that but according to Xing Xing we couldn’t do that because it was a different company. The top of the wall is not flat and we had a considerable number of shallow steps leading up or down from one watchtower to the next. Inside the towers it was lovely and cool as it was hot in the sun outside. I was surprised to see graffiti, especially at the top of one of the towers. Graffiti walls had been set up for people to write on and they were full too.

Near the cable car we turned back to retrace our steps. The queue for the toboggans was huge but as they didn’t encourage people over 60 to use them we happily rode the chairlift back down. The two hour trip back was sleep inducing but we were finally back in our room and ready to connect to the outside world. Annoyingly this hotel does not have wi fi in the rooms. We had to take the iPad down to the 1918 coffee house which has free wi fi if you buy a $10 coffee. The surroundings are beautiful and full of antiques while Charlie Chaplin played on a screen and had us in stitches. John downloaded the Herald to find not much was happening while we were away. I sent some emails and downloaded some (keep sending them please). It’s good to hear from people back home. John complained about the smokers on the balcony and demanded to know when smoking was going to be outlawed in this country.

At 6.30 we opted to join the dinner group so ten of us went to a different restaurant and let Xing Xing order for us. It makes us lazy but we can be sure of a balanced and varied meal at a low price. We had asparagus lettuce julienned and seasoned with sesame oil. I later found it on a fruit stall and will try to get some when I get home. I also liked the bamboo shoots ( not from a can) and the lotus root. Very crunchy. There were meatballs, dumplings, a bubbling hot beef soup and a fiery tofu dish.

A few people came up to our room to look at the view as we can see Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City, the War Memorial and Mao’s Mausoleum from our window. Below us is the hotel courtyard and each side are some very run down Hutongs.

Tuesday, 29th April, 2014

Today was the last day of our tour as we will all be going home tomorrow. It was another warm day with a bit more haze than previous days but not enough smog to worry us. It took three quarters of an hour by mini bus to get to the Summer Palace. Our first impression was of massive crowds of people surging from all directions but once inside we were able to find a space to listen to Xing Xing tell us about The Dragon Lady. Having just read a book on Empress Dowager Cixi I was ready to defend her but Xing Xing gave a fairly balanced description of her life except to say that she spent all the money reserved for the navy on renovating the Summer Palace and her leadership was very corrupt. OK, everyone makes mistakes, even divine rulers, so I kept quiet. Beside Lake Kunming is the longest covered walkway in the world, the ceiling of which is decorated with paintings depicting famous books in Chinese history. We could hear a group singing Communist songs with great gusto but could not see them. At the end of the walkway was the stone boat which reflects badly on Cixi because it was built with Naval funding. According to Jung Chang she only used the interest on the money to renovate the Summer Palace. I think she lived to regret this error of judgment, just as Barry O’Farrell and numerous others have done.

A brightly decorated boat took us across the lake after which we walked over a concrete bridge and around an island. It was then time to move on to the Olympic Site. It was quite exciting to see the Birds Nest in reality, not far from The Cube and the most amazing “seven star” hotel built in the shape of a dragon.

For lunch we ate at The Pearl Market. John and I had Subways to give us more time to shop for souvenirs but the sellers were very pushy and asking ridiculous prices. We had to bargain them down to about a tenth of what they were asking and then we still felt they had got the better of us.

Back on the mini bus and we went a short distance to The Temple of Heaven. At least the crowds had thinned a little. This was where the Emperor would go twice a year to offer sacrifices to ensure good weather for crops. The buildings were vividly decorated in various shades of blue and looked spectacular in the sunshine. A number of future brides and grooms were having photos taken. It looks hilarious from the back as they have clothes pinned or bulging open. Only the front matters. I think they hire the clothes but am not sure why they do it.

Tonight we are having our Farewell Peking Duck dinner. Garnet, our Canadian representative is going to make the speech and presentation to Xing Xing. John and I are collecting the money.

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