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Our first day in Beijing

CHINA | Monday, 13 March 2017 | Views [262] | Comments [1]

Today we see one of the wonders of the world:  China's Great Wall. We drive from our hotel out of the city a bit. The wall is more into the Yan mountains. We are headed to the part of the wall known as Badaling, meaning that it is protecting the kingdom in all eight directions. ("Ba" being Mandarin for "8"). This is the area that President Nixon visited in the 1970's when he came to China. Nixon also was the first American leader to be introduced to acupuncture, essentially bringing the practice into mainstream awareness at that time. Driving into the mountains, we start to see parts of the wall and some towers at intervals along its length. It was really an exciting sight.  When we arrived at the parking area, we are told we can choose either the north or the south section to hike. The north is chosen by most local people, as it is the way that was followed at one time by the emperor and it has a beautiful view. The south section would be less crowded, but still a good view. We decide to go with the less crowded option. 
We start our walk along the old stones, noticing the signs that say "no graffiti," near which are carved much graffiti. It's almost all in Chinese characters, so we decide it is beautiful. After walking a bit, we come to the first tower, a more enclosed area with stone windows overlooking the expanse of mountainous terrain and the wall snaking its way over the hills beyond. I just can't stop marveling at how amazing it is. Just the part we can see from here is an incredible building feat, and it extends for a couple thousand miles all together!  As we continue, there are parts that are quite steep, and have us stopping to catch our breath. The stone stairs are uneven; some short, some tall, and a few a bit slippery even though it's a dry day. Would be afraid to do this walk on a snowy day!! We pick out a tower to walk to in the time we are allotted for our travel group. Getting there in good time, we go further and further. After the sixth tower, we walk along and find ourselves for a good while being ALONE on our section of wall!! Most likely a rare occurrence for such a popular place to visit. We continue onto the seventh tower, and find that our path is blocked to further traveling, probably for restoration efforts. Still pretty happy, we head back, to check out the rest of the area. We had an incredible visit: a comfortably cool day with sunshine and actual blue sky, not the overcast, smoggy sky that locals call "Beijing Blue Sky."  And we had part of the wall all to ourselves.  It was more than we could have hoped for. 
     After the Wall, we visited a cloisonné facility. We got to see how each piece was made by hand, starting with the meticulous bending of small pieces of copper wire into shapes of intricate patterns. They are affixed to the hand-hammered copper plate or vase or whatever using one of the herbs in the Chinese Materia Medica: Bai Ji. The shapes are then filled by hand with colored enamel and fired in a old-style fire pit. This enamel and firing process is repeated seven times. 
We learn about the meanings of the colors used: blue is the traditional color of cloisonné, but green represents long life and longevity, red is the color of happiness, success, and double happiness, signifying happy marriage and family life. Yellow was traditionally the color for the sole use of the emperor, signifying royalty. In modern times, all people can use yellow and it means wealth, money, and prosperity. (Grey, while not used in artistic palettes, is used for building color and signifies the 5,000 year history of the Chinese people. White is the traditional color of death and mourning. At a traditional wedding in China, both parties are dressed in red.) we tour around the showroom afterward, but buy nothing, as the things we find most beautiful are exceedingly expensive. 
In the evening, we go on a night tour of Beijing. We stop in the old section of the city, with the traditional houses that were standard lodging for all residents in the city many years ago. This old section is all that remains, and is now actively preserved to keep the history alive. It is called a hutong. People still live in these houses, which feature a central courtyard, with living quarters facing inward from all four cardinal directions. Living in a house like this affords inhabitants little privacy or personal space, and is no longer desirable for younger people who prefer modem high rise apartments. Hutongs typically do not have bathroom facilities for each house, and instead have shared public bathrooms every block or so that is shared by many families. Walking through this area with houses hundreds of years old, we really felt a deep sense of history and community living. There is a small lake within this hutong area, that we walked around. Some of the old buildings, while preserved in structure, have been converted into shops or cafes. It seems like a great place to come to socialize and experience the local culture. We stumble upon a group of older men with traditional instruments playing near the lake. We stop and listen for a while to the singing and erhu and gongs, and try to imagine what the song might be about. 
Our last stop tonight is the walking street market, where you can buy all manner of street food and trinkets. Sort of like a nighttime Pike Place Market, but with crazy food choices and way more people. We are already full from dinner, but had to look around and try something. Saw many types of meats grilled on sticks, a Chinese version of small caramel apples, fried big centipede, and live scorpions on a stick!! Saw a guy ordering one. The vendor takes the stick with three little scorpions, each about an inch and a half long, and throws it back into a big vat of hot oil. It sputters wildly for a while and he leaves it in the oil for longer than would seem necessary for such small morsels. Then he handed it back to the gentleman who ordered it, and said to me, "Now, no more poison inside."  The gentleman then began to eat his scorpion snack, much to the delight of his friend and, of course, us. I chickened out and got something a bit more tame. Still a lot of fun.

Tags: badaling, fried scorpion, great wall, hutong

Comments

1

Wow! What an amazing day! Time alone on the Great Wall must have been incredible! And to balance that with some urban wandering sounds like a perfect day. I hope all continues to go well. Keep posting!!
Suzie

  Suzie G Mar 21, 2017 1:40 AM

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