Monday, November 19, 2007

China - Day 4- Beijing & The Great Wall

Day 4 arrived with much anticipation. In the 180+ days we had to look forward to our journey to the Orient, the Great Wall was a definite focal point and something everyone was especially looking forward to.

Breakfast and the hour long bus ride to the wall went bye in no time. The only thing worth noting was that by leaving the urban area of Beijing we finally saw a contrast in air quality. The skies in Beijing have this very depressing grey starkness to them. While under the cloud of smog and soot you don't really fully understand just how bad the pollution actually is. The skies don't clear up, if at all, until you get about an hour out of town.

As our distance from the city grew so too did the changes in the scenery. The colors of autumn were really starting to take hold on the mountain sides with such vibrance and splendor words only do an injustice. We started weaving our way up the mountain side, when all of a sudden the Great Wall greeted us. Like a giant ribbon resting atop the mountain crest, the wall followed the mountain tops as far as the eye could see.

It really is awe inspiring.

Our bus found the rest of the thousands of tourists visiting the wall that day and we began to file out to join the masses.

Again, before my feet could even reach the ground from the bus doorstep I was barraged with "You wan Wolex Watch?" "You wan gootchy bag?". Like moths to a lone summer's night light bulb, these vendors (hawkers) could find us anywhere in China. We didn't actually give into them until about day 6...when our wills finally broke. =)

When I first saw the masses of people about to attempt to scale the wall with our group all of my excitement was lost. The wall must be about 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide. It looked like it would be shoulder to shoulder people slowly climbing with us.
And as much fun as some sweaty, 80 year old, German ass in my face for some 5000 steps of awesomeness seemed, I was desperate to find an alternative. Thankfully, our guide let a few of us go across the street(un-guided) to an isolated segment of the wall where virtually no tourists roamed.

It was incredible. At our leisure we explored about a mile and a half loop of the wall, rarely passing any other people. Up and down with the rise and fall of the mountain we hiked on. To the Chinese who once used this wall for its actual military purpose I give much credit; this wall is a physical challenge. The steps are about 2 feet steep and a half a foot deep. Try to scale this thing whilst being shot at, at night, in the rain, in the cold does not sound like a enjoyable experience. We even ventured into some of the old guard towers and found ourselves scaling the same steps the ancient Chinese warriors climbed in the midst of said rainy, cold battles. That wall was incredible, and the pictures I took came out no different. I don't think a bad photo from even the worst of cameras was possible on that day. The lighting was perfect, the skies were clear, the leaves were in full autumn color and the wall was magnificent. I am so glad I went, and will never let go of the vivid memories of such a magnificent place.

Looking back, it still amazes me how people could build such a thing with such ancient technologies. It is said that so many lives were lost in the construction of the wall, that The Great Wall is considered to be one of the largest cemeteries on the planet. It is also said that you can no longer see the Great Wall from outer space as the pollution has gotten too bad.

When I took most of the included photos, it was from a vantage point I will be hard pressed to forget.

(Above: Jessica snapped this of me on my perch...I'm there in the middle if you can spot me, leaning over the edge in photo heaven. I'm so glad she got this photo)
Every intimate detail of my little perch on that wall has been ingrained into the deepest parts of my memory. From the eerie chill each of the bricks maintained despite the warm day temperatures, to the uniformity of each brick, to the perfect precision each stone was set. I sat atop my little ledge that must have served as a bench or perhaps bed to some Chinese Archer looking out over a country I had little comprehension of. The moment had such a profound impact on me that I am still trying to make sense of everything I experienced.

We ended our night with a Beijing delicousy, Peking Duck. Really just roasted duck, and nothing worth raving about in my opinion, but I can see how people enjoy eating something with a neck still attached. =) I guess I have never really developed my gamey food pallet. But the spectacle and rarity of the dinner was incredible to experience.

Days 1-2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9 Day 10 Days 11-12 Day 13



Jim said...

David - these are some very fine photo's - and I especially enjoy reading your vivid account of our journey (even with the occasional whining). Jim

Mea said...

Good post.