Get ready, dear Reader, because today we are getting up early to explore one of China’s must-see sights: The Great Wall. The morning air is cool and everyone is quiet as we make the 90 minute bus ride to Mutianyu – perhaps the most in-tact and tourist-friendly section of the Great Wall. Even with all of the sitting we have been doing during our train travels, I still relish this time to daydream and gaze out of the window. Beijing, and the grey clouds that loom over it, fall behind us as we drive further into a greener, more beautiful landscape. Immediately, I begin to relax.
What’s So Great?
Once we arrive, Ashley and I make our way past the vendors in search of the trailhead that will lead us up to the Wall. We do have the option of taking a cable car to the top but it is a beautiful day and I, for one, could certainly use some exercise. The path brings us up some beautiful stone steps and past silent, shady picnic areas. Ashley and I reach the actual Wall and are positively delighted to find that we are the only ones within eyesight. I have always been a morning person for precisely this reason – after all, you can’t deny the appeal of a new day that has yet to be sullied by other humans.
Now that we’re here, let’s set some things straight…. The Great Wall of China isn’t, actually, one wall. It is a network of walls built to protect China’s northern border from invaders – remember our friend Genghis Khan from Mongolia? Yeah, invaders like him. Various Chinese dynasties made contributions to the wall network and the Wall’s earliest segments are said to date as far back as 7th century B.C. – B.C., people! Pretty impressive.
Ashley and I get some nice photos before the crowds descend and we make our way from one watchtower to the next, noting that some parts of the Wall are in better condition than others. Two men stop and ask us, in English, to take their photo. Happy to comply, I say that I am also from the States. “Where abouts?” Boston. The men seem excited and say they are from just outside of Boston – a town called Woburn! I find this both amusing and slightly irksome because, for a good portion of my life, I grew up in a town very close to Woburn called Billerica. Ah, what kismet! Now, there’s nothing wrong with either of those towns or the people in them necessarily… but no matter how far I travel, I have a truly uncanny ability to attract Boston-area “bros.” I chat with the men a bit and wish them well on the rest of their trip. It just goes to show that you can walk the entire earth and still find remnants of home!
We’re ready to head back to the hotel and are faced with the option of hiking back down to the entrance or taking a toboggan. Obviously, when given the opportunity to take a toboggan down the Great Wall of China, you simply must. You shouldn’t turn down toboggan rides in general, as far as I’m concerned.
Our group is quiet on the ride home as well, too tuckered out from the day’s explorations to chat. My “whatever” stance on China has softened after spending a day outside of Beijing and, though I am certainly ready to relax, I am not in any rush to return to the city.
Hutongs and Century Eggs
For dinner this evening, a few of us venture into Beijing’s famed hutongs (or alleys). My stomach has been on the fritz since we arrived in China so, while I’ve been subsisting on a few crackers at a time, I am still eager to join everyone for one of our last meals together before we return to our home countries. Shenny, who speaks Chinese, is kind enough to help us order and she suggests some traditional Chinese delicacies. So… right about here I need to confess that I have totally pedestrian taste buds. If a young child won’t eat it, than there is a good chance I will not either. Traveling is a passion of mine, but eating abroad is fraught with untold un-tastiness. Suffice it to say, I’m dining on more white rice.
But back to the delicacies…. One of the items on our table this evening is a Century Egg (sometimes also called a “thousand year egg” or “millennium egg”). From what I gather, chicken or duck eggs are coated in a mixture of clay, salt, and rice husks and left for a few weeks to several months to… “pickle”… I suppose. The result is a brown, green/grey colored egg that smells like ammonia. Often this delicacy is sliced and served as an hors d’oeuvre. It’s more than my stomach can take on a good day so I leave it to my more fearless travelers to enjoy! Yikes.