Tuesday, July 9, 2013

China Day Three - We Climb The Great Wall!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Our first full day in Beijing began with a 6:30am wake up call, a huge breakfast buffet downstairs at 7:15am and meeting Angela in the lobby at 8am to get started.

First on our agenda? An item that was actually on the bucket list of several people in our family - climbing the Great Wall. There is over 4,000 miles of the Great Wall throughout China and contrary to popular belief, it does not all connect. We headed for a section of the wall located in an area of Beijing known as Mutianyu. It was about a 2 hour drive there, which was still in the north section of Beijing. The day seemed brighter and appeared less smoggy than the day before which was nice.

The drive gave us time to get to know the other adoptive family riding with us that day - Tom and Annalisa Queen from South Carolina. They were traveling with their niece Tara (a college student) and their son, Matt age 7. He was adopted from China when he was 2. They were in China this time to adopt an 8 year old girl and a 9 year old boy from Hunan and they met their children the same day we met Davis.

The scenery along the drive was nice too; the further out we got it was a bit more rural and several times we saw fields of goats and sheep grazing.

At Mutianyu, we took a cable car (more like an old ski lift) up to the top of the mountain so that we could walk on the wall. The boys were apprehensive about this at first, but eventually got on the ride. The view was quite something!
The shops at the base of the mountain.
Above the shops, the cable car to the left and one of the watchtowers to the right. 

Glimpses of the toboggan run from the cable car ride. 

At the top there were two options for hiking - a long way with a gentle slope or a shorter spur with a steep climb. Of course we picked the latter and we had a time limit of one hour!

It wasn't as easy as you think it might be. The wall follows the curve of the mountain up and down, so it was tough in places. The level of gap or rise in between steps varied. There was a small one, where you could easily take two at a time. There were other sections where the rise seemed normal in between each step. And there were other places where the rise was so steep you had to really concentrate and at times even crawl up holding onto the side or to the steps themselves. Those who had already reached the end of the spur and were headed back always stopped to encourage the folks who were climbing. It was hot and challenging but so rewarding! The views were magnificent and the feeling of accomplishment was amazing.

Up at the top we were able to see a spur of the Great Wall that has not been restored and is no longer accessible to hikers. You could see the vegetation growing up through the wall. 

Back at the base camp, we got a few group pictures before going down. 

When we were all done, we took the toboggan ride back down the mountain. They have made a metal toboggan ramp crisscrossing down the mountain. You rode on a plastic sled with a handle to control your speed. Granddaddy and Daryl each rode by themselves, while I rode with Parker and Joyce rode with Wesley. The boys were nervous about the ride, but seriously enjoyed themselves, declaring it to be the most fun ever!

We shopped a little bit in the market near the entrance for "I Climbed the Great Wall" t-shirts and then headed off to lunch. Angela set us up at a restaurant named Dayali and our whole group enjoyed a private dining room, with a circular table equipped with a huge glass Lazy Susan. Angela ordered for us and soon the dishes began appearing family style in the center. Everything was absolutely delicious and we stuffed ourselves. One of the biggest hits was the tower of Chinese French fries. And we even got to try the famous Peking duck! 

After we "waddled" back to the van, we headed back towards the center of the city to tour the Forbidden City and Tiannemen Square. Unfortunately there was an accident that clogged up the interstate and we made it there shortly after the Forbidden City stopped selling tickets for the day. So we took some time to walk around the two outer courtyards and Angela brought us up to speed on the history of the place. 

When we emerged from the Forbidden City, we turned back to see the picture of Chairman Mao on the front of the gate. Across the street was Tiannemen Square and we took the road underpass to get there.  It is so massive that it can hold 1 million people. For that reason, there is no access without going through a security bag check. The grounds were decked out in flower sculptures in preparation for July 1 which celebrates the anniversary of the Communist party.

Inside Tiannemen Square was a monument to war heroes and also the building where Chairman Mao's body is on display. We did not go in the latter. The van picked us up on a side street by the Beijing School of Music, which also happens to be the site of where the 1989 Tiannemen riots were the bloodiest. So much history of ancient and modern times in one area.

It was also in the Forbidden City and the Square that we first realized how conspicuously we stood out as a family. Four American adults with two stair-step boys that were dressed alike attracted some attention. It never really felt rude or impolite, more like curiosity. A couple of times the boys had their picture taken by people who sort of threw their kids up next to them and then said "Thank You!" as they rushed off. And the boys had their hair rubbed too.

Upon our return to the hotel, we said our goodbyes to the Queen family until next week in Guangzhou. We again freshened up and then headed out to explore another mall. This time we ended up at McDonald's and managed the point and communicate again to order our dinner. Later we stopped at a convenience store for bottled water - the attendant spoke no English and we worked it out just fine - he typed in the amount for us to pay on a calculator.

But it was the encounter I had later with our housekeeper that proved I am finally getting better at charades! Our room was stiflingly warm the first night and no better on the second. So we called and asked for someone and they sent us a housekeeper who spoke as much English as I speak Chinese. After going round and round I finally pointed to the word cool on the thermostat and put her hand up to the vent. The lightbulb went off and she went to get a maintenance man. He came in with a ladder and got inside the vent to open it back up. Immediately cool air came flowing out! After our adventures of the day it didn't take long for everyone to completely crash out.

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