Friday, January 11, 2013

Mutianyu

The alarm went off early on Wednesday. 5:30, to be exact, and I just
gave myself a ten-minute snooze twice. I had taken a shower the night
before, so all I had to do was get dressed, although that does take a
few minutes when you're wearing five layers. I quietly left the
hostel room and stepped out of the hostel into the still-dark early
morning. It's not too far to the hostel where Kelley is staying, and
I was to meet her there at seven. I made it a few minutes early, just
as it was starting to get light. From there, we joined a group from
her hostel to go to the Great Wall at Mutianyu.

I've been to the great wall before, two years ago, but to a different
section, Jinshanling. However, it was quite cloudy and foggy when I
went before, and while it was quite picturesque to see the wall
shrouded in fog, emerging from the mist, I also wanted to see it in
bright clear sunlight. For that, we picked the perfect day.

It took us awhile to get out of the city, as we fought morning traffic
and picked up other people from different hostels. Once we got on the
road, the tour guide stood up and gave a long spiel, while most of us
tried to look politely interested. She asked for our forgiveness for
the time wasted getting out of Beijing so many times that actually her
references to it were far more annoying than any waiting time. Most
of us dozed off as soon as she turned her back, until she woke us for
a bathroom break when we were nearly there.

We had three hours to spend on the wall; we took a cable car up from
the area where we parked. The view was spectacular; I'll add pictures
to this post when I can, but it'll probably be at least a week,
because the computer here in the hostel doesn't get along with my
camera. There was still a dusting of snow on the surrounding
mountains, so that they glittered in the light. The wall runs along
the ridges of the mountains, so you can see for miles from up there.
Our walk along the wall took us higher and higher, from guard house to
guard house, and the view just kept getting better as more and more
distant hills became visible the higher we went.

On a Wednesday in January, there were very few people up there other
than our group; we managed to get several pictures with no one at all
in them, or just a few people in the distance, which is always a bit
tricky in a country with 1.3 billion people. With that many people,
it always surprises you a bit to find yourself alone.

The most unusual part of the outing was getting down the mountain from
the wall. Of course, you can hike down the trail, or take the cable
car (ski lift type) back down, or you can take the slide. There is a
metal slide built down the side of the hill, below the cable cars.
It's not straight down, but rather winds its way down curving back and
forth, just as a road would do. You sit on a plastic sled with wheels
at the top; pull the central lever back to slow down or push it
forward to go faster. Altogether, it was over a kilometer in length,
with all the winding back and forth. It looked a bit scary at first,
but it didn't go that fast, and was a lot of fun.

Once we got down, we had an arranged lunch in a restaurant in the
village that obviously is used to such groups every day; they served
all the Chinese dishes that foreigners tend to like, except for the
dish of tofu, which was hardly touched. Most of the group were just
tourists in China, and used spoons to pile food on a plate in
helpings, instead of the normal Chinese way of taking a few bites at a
time with chopsticks; I ate the Chinese way, as did another man at the
table who has also taught in China for some time.

Kelley and I were the last to arrive, although we weren't late, so we
each took a place at a different table. The guy next to me turned out
to be from California originally, but he's lived in New Zealand for
the past two years, working with Peter Jackson's company doing
animating work for The Hobbit. I was impressed, anyhow. Now, he and
his friends were taking a vacation, taking the TransSiberian railway
from Moscow, all the way across Russia to Beijing.

After the big meal, everyone dozed again all the way back to Beijing.
Kelley and I went to our hostels to rest for a while, then met up
again to go eat at Peter's, a Tex-Mex restaurant she'd heard of. I
splurged on fajitas--Mexican food is a treat here in China. They
weren't any comparison to La Fuente, but they were pretty good.

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