Monday, May 26, 2014

Beijing - the Great Wall

The Hotel 161 had another smiling girl sitting at a desk selling tours. John and I had discussed going to the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China by train. I asked the girl about this and she said that there were always huge crowds at Badeling and I would have a much better experience at the Mutianyu section, further out from Beijing with no crowds. Of course, I would have to pay about $40 but who cares. And I would get to see a Ming tomb.

The next morning I was ready at the appointed time in the foyer along with a German couple and another German man travelling by himself. The hotel is on a very narrow hutong street so we had to then go out to the big street where a van was waiting for us. We squeezed into the back. A few minutes later, I was really glad I was as far away from the front as possible. I will just say that the traffic was quite an experience and our driver was anxious to get to our destination on time or even early. Overtaking on blind corners was standard practice. And of course, the horn got a good work out.

The bus at the Ding Ling Ming Tomb. OK, I admit it. When I heard the name I could only think of the word ding-a-ling.

Our guide went over to buy the tickets for the group. At the start of the ride he started into his spiel and the driver turned on the air-conditioner which had a loud fan. Even though the guide was facing towards us, I could barely understand a word he said. Meanwhile he kept looking at me the whole time so I had to look like I was paying attention.

Marianne might say I am good at doing that at the dinner table at times.

The prior day the pollution was dreadful in Beijing. Luckily this day was a lot better and the sky was relatively blue this far away from Beijing.

Entrance to the tomb.

Cypress trees in the surrounding garden.

This is the only Ming tomb that has been excavated.

I'm not sure how to 'portray'. Perhaps they mean 'play dead' which would be appropriate for a tomb. It probably means 'spit'.

The dragon was the symbol of the Emperor.

Women have to go up one side of the steps and men up the other. We also had four Belgians in our group.

I didn't know there was a problem.

Cell Phones Too?
So what about cell phones? Can’t the electricity travel through the radio waves associated with the devices and deliver a shock to the person using them? No. Radio waves don’t conduct electricity. As long as the cell phone is not connected to an electrical outlet, no lightning can reach the user through the wiring in the house. And there’s no evidence that cell phones somehow “attract” lightning.
Interestingly, though, there is another danger posed by using cell phones during a storm, especially while outside and holding a metallic cell phone to your ear. Skin is a poor conductor of electricity. Most of the electricity from a strike is conducted over the skin rather than through the body. Add some metal in contact with that skin, however, and the impact is multiplied as the electricity has an easier entry into the body.

The tunnel gate. We did not go down there.

One of the underground chambers leading to the tomb area. The Chinese throw small denomination notes into the pile of money for good luck.

More opportunities for good luck.

Replicas of the original coffins. You can read more about the emperor here.

That is some door.

We exited and went back to the bus.

I would have liked to have spent a bit more time there exploring the grounds but I would have to say that one Ming tomb is enough.

As is the usual Chinese custom, we were then taken to a Jade factory for a tour and to have lunch.

A tour guide from the factory showed us various types of jade and explained how it was valued for its cooling properties as well as for jewelry. Emperors would have a jade block under their pillow to cool their head.

The sweat shop. jade dust flying everywhere as they carved intricate patterns but no protection.

We were shown the difference between jade and glass and shown to make sure that the jade is actually jade by holding it up to the light.

Jade bangles are popular with Chinese women. You get your first bangle if you a re a good child. You get your second bangle when you marry and the third when you have a baby.

You might notice the calculator at the side. When ever a Chinese person has to tell you how much you have to pay, they whip out a calculator and punch in the number and show you.

Most of us were quite bored after a quick walk around the showroom. Fortunately there was a seat.

Eventually we were lead to a large dining room where we had a good lunch and got to know each other better. The Belgians were from Brussels and there was some discussion about how good Belgian beer was. One of the Belgians was about my age and he had a very poor opinion of English ale. I told him that he just didn't know how to appreciate it and he needed to be trained. I don't think he believed me.

A little while later, we arrived at the wall.

The path up to the entrance is lined with shops like these.

Again, our guide went to get the tickets. He tried to talk us into using a chair lift to get up the hill to the wall but all of us bar the single German wanted to climb.

The Belgians.

The route up to the wall.

I was reminded of climbing the Grand Canyon and Mount Warning. Lots of steps. After sitting around on the train for seven days, I needed the exercise.

You also had an option of a toboggan ride coming down.

It was pleasant climbing even though it was quite warm.

Shades of Disneyland, a rubbish bin designed to blend into the landscape.

The bottom of the wall.

I mounted a few steps through a portal and there I was on the Wall. Again, one of those things I never thought I would do.

As promised, very few people. It was quite peaceful which is rare for China.

The effort to build this thing had to be enormous.

When I entered the watch towers, I immediately decided that the cool of the watch tower was preferable to the heat outside. So I restricted my climbing up and down the steep slopes of the wall and mused on the mentality of those who decided that building these walls was a 'good idea'.

There were a few vendors selling cold water and beer.

The chair lift.

The toboggan. I was not brave enough to try that.

I met the German couple who now live in Munich. She is expecting their first baby later in the year so they decided to do their trip to China by train now when they could still travel. She was going to be eligible for her third bangle. They made me look like a wimp since they took the southern route though Samarkand and western China.

We met up again at a cafe when we came down from the wall. The beer was very welcome.

Interesting three wheel car.

We took a freeway back to Beijing. To speed up traffic at the toll booth they had extra girls sitting in front of the regular toll booth so that they could collect two tolls at once. Very healthy for the girls I am sure sitting next to the exhaust fumes all dday. Surely they have heard of EZ Pass.

Next it was off to the silk factory. Many tourists complain about these side-shows, but I thought it might be interesting.

This would be suitable only for an Emperor because of the dragon symbol.

The little white blobs are balls of silk created by the silk worm.

The silk thread is wound on to spools.

The staff show how they create a quilt which they reckon are really good. They also make pillows. 

Quilts ready to go. They will also vacuum out the air to make the pack thinner for travel. The Belgian bloke bought one and had it vacuumed but it ended up fatter than the sample model.

A bit over 6 yuan to the US $1. The Germans could not buy anything since their beds don't fit the listed sizes.

The Olympic Stadium.

Our final stop was a tea shop down a side street.

We went into this special tasting room where a sales girl gave us sample of their different teas. All were delicious and the biggest surprise was a fruit tea that would have our friend Wendy in ecstasy. She likes fruity teas.

Our hostess. She tried to sell me big boxes but I had to explain that I did not have any room in my bags. I did buy some small tins which I should be able to fit in somewhere.

Apparently visitors of state are taken to this tea shop.

So I had really enjoyed my outing except for the scary roads. It was a long day since we left at 7:30 am and arrived back after 6 pm.

I went to the restaurant next door to the hotel for dinner. I wasn't sure how much to order but it was so cheap that it didn't matter.

Way too much food but it certainly tasted good.

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