It's now Sunday morning and we are killing time in our hotel tin Beijing, before we head out to the airport for our flight to Hohhot (Gracie's city!) this afternoon. I had originally hoped we might go to church this morning, but for reasons that will become clear in a minute, I was too nervous to risk it. So instead I'm trying to catch up on overdue blogging.
Our first full day in Beijing (Friday) dawned a little overcast (or smoggy, not entirely sure) and chilly but not bitter cold. We started out in the hotel breakfast buffet, which offered an interesting assortment of Western and Chinese food. There was traditional breakfast fare -- eggs, waffles, french toast, bacon -- as well as food we would associate with other times of the day (such as cold cuts, salad, and baked beans), Chinese selections (fried noodles, wonton soup, a variety of dumplings and baozi (buns)), congee (regular and "purple"), and some items unusual for any hour, such as "ham sushi." The food was overall tasty, if a little bland, although Joy said the coffee was awful.
We met our guide Vanessa and set out for the Mutainyu section of the great wall, about an hour and half outside the city. We passed by glittery office towers and international hotels, fancy shopping malls, bland-looking residential blocks, and some (although not many) traditional looking buildings. Eventually the city gave way to more rural sections, where we saw a lot of squat, run-down looking buildings, orchards, and fields growing who-knows-what (a self-described "city girl," Vanessa couldn't tell us.). We even saw a double-decker truck full of donkeys (which are eaten in some parts of China, Vanessa said) and several herds of cows (we love cows!)
The Great Wall was built over time between 1500 and 500 years by the Imperial Chinese to keep out the invading Mogol hordes from the north (anyone seen Mulan?). Although the widely-held belief that the Great Wall can be seen from space is apparently a myth, there is no doubt that it is an impressive feat of engineering and labor, stretching west from Beijing for thousands of miles (although many sections have been damaged by times, invaders, and in some cases local farmers taking the stones and bricks to build their houses.) It is punctuated every few hundred yards by guard houses, some one story and some two, that served as watch stations from which fire or smoke signals could be sent to warn the city of approaching invaders.
At the Mutainyu section (one of three restored sections in the Beijing area), you climb up a hill to take cable cars from a parking area up to the wall itself, which you can walk on for quite a distance, if you are sure of foot and strong of lung. We were still a little jet lagged, so we didn't venture onthe steeper parts, but we got a feel for it and enjoyed the sense of history and the sweeping views.
When we had had enough, we walked back to the Grand Hyatt to get a taxi (we almost got in to one stopped on the street, but when we showed the card with our hotel printed on it, he quoted a price four times what we had paid to get there, and although it still wasn't that much, it made me nervous). We thought getting one with the help of the hotel concerierge would be safer and easier. Safer, maybe. But easier, not so much! We waited in line for over an hour as taxis pulled in and left without picking anyone up, people jumped the line, etc. If it hadn't been so cold and we hadn't been so tired, we could have walked back in less time than it took! Ah well, a true Chinese cultural experience!
Off to the airport to fly to Grace's city!!