Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

China: Day 3

by Kathy 26. May 2010 23:09

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<< Day 2: Beijing—Tiananmen Square & the Forbidden City | Day 4: Beijing—The Summer Palace & 798 Arts District) >>


Beijing—The Great Wall


We woke this morning eagerly anticipating our visit to the Great Wall. Today was the day!

But first, we had to find breakfast. We planned to hike for a couple of hours on the Wall, and we needed to have plenty of energy.

Ben’s efforts at quizzing the desk clerk about a breakfast restaurant yesterday hadn’t been too successful. Today was my turn.

I approached the desk clerk, who was always very polite as well as earnest in his assurances that he was there to answer “any question” we might have. (The fact that his answers were often not helpful did not detract from his sincerity in wanting to help us.)

After exchanging greetings, our conversation went something like this:

Me: Does this hotel serve coffee? And do you know of a place where we can get breakfast?

Desk Clerk: Yes, we have coffee, and we have breakfast.

Me (after a stunned silence, in which I'm wondering why he didn't reveal this yesterday before our elusive search through the surrounding neighborhood): This hotel serves coffee and breakfast?

Desk Clerk: Yes. Breakfast is 20 yuan [about $3].

Me: What do you offer for breakfast?

Desk Clerk: What do you like?

Me (wanting to try a typical Chinese breakfast): Well, whatever you normally serve for breakfast will be fine.

Desk Clerk (very long hesitation): Egg? Bacon?

Me (not wanting to offend him, but realizing that he is naming food that he thinks I will like): Is that what you serve other guests here? We just want to eat whatever you would normally serve to your Chinese guests.

Desk Clerk (big pause): Yes. Egg? Bacon?

Me (seeing that we are having a dance of miscommunication and that I am not helping): Okay, eggs and bacon are fine. Do you have toast?

Desk Clerk (writing up the order on paper): Yes, toast.

Fifteen minutes later, we were each served a plate with one fried egg and two pieces of toast (the cook must have been out of bacon). And each of us, including the children, got a cup of coffee—the presweetened kind that comes from a can of powder. (The children don’t drink coffee at home, so they passed their cups to us after taking a sip—accompanied by much giggling and sideways glances at each other that read, “I can’t believe Mom and Dad are letting us taste coffee!”)

After breakfast, we walked down our small alley and met the driver who would take us to the Great Wall. We had chosen to visit the Mutianyu portion of the Great Wall, which was about 1 ½ hours north of Beijing. Mutianyu was supposed to be less crowded than the section closest to Beijing, plus there was a toboggan that we could ride down at the end of our hike. Before our trip began, we had lined up a private driver who would take us there, wait for us while we hiked, and then drive us back to Beijing.

The street near our hutong was very quiet this morning.

Further down the road was heavier traffic, including pedal bicycles and electric bicycles:

Where was this pristine and roomy tuk tuk last night when we needed it?

We passed the northern wall of the Forbidden City.

A long line of tourist buses and cars stretched down the street and around the corner, waiting to discharge passengers at the northern gate:

We didn’t expect to find Santa in Beijing!

This office building had panels that reminded me of a dominoes game:

Some modern buildings:

The traffic and the air pollution today were both pretty thick:

The stop-n-go traffic increased our 1 ½ hour drive time to nearly 3 hours. We sat back and looked at all of the sights. How many rows of cars can squeeze across a 3-lane road (in one direction)? And what was the story behind these men peeking out of the rear truck windows?

The truck’s interior would probably be a bit claustrophobic if the windows were shut.

This couple was out for a little cruise:

Creeping down the highway allowed us to see things that perhaps we wouldn’t have noticed if we had been zooming—such as this little bird.

These men were in the process of planting new trees by the side of the road.

During our travels through China, we saw literally thousands and thousands of newly planted trees, many with long poles (like those below) to hold them upright until their roots grew long enough to clutch the earth.

A crowd waiting for the bus:

This man had a stash of sport bikes, including an older model and sidecar with “Save the Glaciers” painted on it.

We left the highway behind. All around us were massive new development projects in the process of being constructed. The first step seemed to be the posting of large signs, depicting what the finished community would look like. The designs were often elaborate. Look at the bridge on this one:

Here are a few more examples:

We could see a new development through the trees.

Many people are displaced by the new projects. The people in China do not own the land on which their houses sit; instead, the land is owned by the government. Therefore, when the government decides to sell (for a large sum of money) to a developer the rights to build a huge new set of apartments on land that already has farms or villages, the people living there must move away whether they want to or not. The government will generally pay them some money to move, but the funds are usually insufficient to cover the cost of another home.

Genevieve and Sebastian (acting crazy) in the back of the van:

They had been remarkably patient during this long drive.

Despite China’s continuing dependence on coal, it has implemented an amazing amount of new “green” energy projects. For example, these street lights were solar-powered.

The “new” was juxtaposed with the “old.”

This man was carrying a bag on a pole over his shoulder:

Moving some large pipes down the road:

Transporting dirt:

The road ahead:

On both sides, the trees had been planted in neat rows:

This community had an interesting entrance, with a gate and a bar across the road (to keep out the tall trucks, perhaps?).


Passing a bulky load:

The passing technique in China seemed to be very slow and easy-going, quite different from the “get it done” approach in the U.S. When approaching a slower vehicle, our driver would sometimes ride in the opposite lane at a mellow pace for long periods, including through blind corners. No one seemed too keen on pushing the pedal to the metal (perhaps to save gas?). Everything flowed gently, with a relaxed rhythm. This slow process was actually very good, as cars coming the other way had plenty of time to move over to the shoulder or weave around us to avoid a head-on collision. With that said, our driver was very skilled.

We passed through one small town that had a lot of flowers for sale.

Piles of new red brick lined the streets, evidencing the current construction boom.

A red brick building with a peeling grey façade revealed that the grey “brick” surface was merely a thin covering.

Women chatting:

This large fruit sculpture had a sign announcing that we were in the “county of fruits.”

We all said “wow” (or perhaps it was “whoa!”) at this creative entrance to a new housing development:

These columns marked the entrance to a golf course:

Lumbering down the street was a donkey pulling an enormous load:

This man had quite a load himself:

A decorative water wheel had been placed at the spot where the water gushed over a low wall.

Some sculptural fish:

The walls along the roadside were built with a crenellation pattern to look like the edges of the Great Wall.

The public art was vibrant:

We were thrilled to get our first good look at the Great Wall, running up a steep mountain.

To get to the Great Wall, we could either hike up the hillside, or take the gondola that is shown in the above photo. We chose the gondola, as we wanted to save our leg strength for hiking on the top of the Wall.

One misperception that many people have about the Great Wall is that it is a single continuous wall that was built at one time. In reality, the Great Wall consists of many separate pieces, as well as branches that “T” off of some portions. Parts of the Wall were built at different time periods.

The Mutianyu portion of the Great Wall is believed to have been first built around 550 A.D. Almost 1000 years later, the Ming Dynasty rebuilt this part of the Wall to protect the imperial palace in Beijing. A 1.4 mile expanse was restored in 1989, and is now a major attraction for tourists. The Mutianyu Great Wall is considered one of the most picturesque portions due to the steepness of the mountains that rise all around. The Wall is described as flowing along the mountain ridges “like a flying dragon.”

Genevieve posed in front of the map, showing the two cable cars, the toboggan slide, and the numbered watchtowers.

We would be taking the cable car up, hiking along the Wall, and then taking the toboggan down.

Near the parking lot was a small market area packed with vendors selling T-shirts and souvenirs. This woman had some nuts and other snacks, and she offered me a sample.

Sebastian and Genevieve on the cable car—going up!

We could see the Wall along the ridge.

Looking back down:

Finally, we reached the top! There in front of us stretching out into the distance was the Great Wall in all of its magnificent glory.

A large stone at the side entrance read, “Once intended to ward off enemy attacks, today it brings together the peoples of the world. The Great Wall, may it continue to act as a symbol of friendship for future generations.”

We stepped onto the Wall.

After reading, and dreaming, about a place for so long, actually being there is a bit surreal. I stood still, relishing the moment.

There weren’t many people around us.

We could see a very steep section far away (in the above photo) and decided to walk toward it until we started getting tired. Then we would retrace our steps to the cable car drop-off, and continue walking until we reached the toboggan ride.

Genevieve and Sebastian led the way.


We had to climb all of the watch towers, of course! Some of the stairs were a bit tricky.


On top of a tower:

The towers provided even grander views of the Wall. Here is a scene showing where we started from—the small platform area on the far right side, with a railing.

The Wall rose, dipped, and curved, in a rhythm that traced the contour of the mountain ridge.


And Sebastian too!

Sometimes the path became very narrow:

This is one of my favorite shots of the day:

The steep section didn’t look so far away anymore. I started considering the possibilities. Could I entice the children to climb that far? Would they be too tired? A small group of people was coming from that direction. “Oh, it’s only another 15 minutes,” one said. “The watch tower about ¾ of the way up is the end. The Wall is blocked off past that point.” I turned to Genevieve and Sebastian and asked, “Do you want to climb up there?” “YES!!” was the booming response.

We were all so happy to be experiencing this together. There were many smiles, plus some lovely hand-holding.

Here is Sebastian, getting ready for the climb:

It was steeper than it looked:

The last push to the top:

The Wall continued onward, but it was closed to the public.

Climbing down:

We would be hiking back over this section:

Genevieve and Sebastian were chatting away together up front:

I think that the Wall definitely stimulated their imaginations.

Another watch tower:

Thousands of other feet have walked this path.

Another view of the Wall:

We could see the second cable car and the top potion of the squiggly luge that we would take down the mountain.

One section of the Wall made a “T” at a watch tower and snaked up the hill:

Tall watch towers rose from the next mountain, evidencing the Wall’s meanderings along the ridge.

Sebastian and Genevieve:

The top of the luge:

The line was long, but it moved swiftly:

This Chinese man was holding his wife/girlfriend’s purse—my heart gets all aflutter at sights like that.

Genevieve took off first, and I was right behind her. Most people were going fairly slow, and posted sentries made sure to call out “Slow down!” to anyone who gathered a bit of speed. All in all, however, it was a fun and relaxing ride down the hill.

Sebastian did not weigh enough to go solo, so he and Ben rode together.

Two costumed men were waiting at the exit for a photo-op--for a charge, of course. We gladly paid.

It was way past lunch, and we were all very hungry. Our driver was supposed to take us to a local dumpling place, near the town of Mutianyu; this had been prearranged with his wife before our trip. We easily found our driver and confirmed that we would be going to lunch next. As I buckled my seat belt, I commented, “I am SO hungry!” There was a pause, and our driver said, “I will drive fast then.”

The minutes ticked away, and we were driving away from Mutianyu. Soon, we had left the town far behind. Genevieve was sitting beside me, and she whispered, “When is he going to stop? Aren’t we having lunch?” I finally said, “Are we going to be at the restaurant soon?” Well, this was the wrong question. I should have asked, “Aren’t we stopping at a local dumpling restaurant near Mutianyu?” Our driver responded by saying, “Yes, soon,” and he promptly floored the gas pedal. We drove all the way back to Beijing at lightning speed, zipping past all of the other cars, and causing me to send up little prayers that started with, “Oh, please, dear God, . . . .” Apparently, our sweet and very considerate driver had interpreted my question as an impatient desire to arrive at the restaurant quickly.

We did manage to snap a few photos along the way.

The road walls had some wonderful bas relief sculptures:

In a small town, people were playing pool outdoors.

A truck was carrying large trees on the highway:

We pulled up in front of a restaurant, and I must say that our driver did an impressive job in expertly maneuvering into a very small parking spot. The restaurant was large, with nice décor, and filled with Chinese people. The bottom floor was crowded, so we were ushered upstairs to a large round table and given menus in English, with pictures. The food was superb. Really. It was some of the best food that we ate on our entire trip. Everything was fresh and delicious. And the price was extremely low—definitely “cheap”. We were so pleased. It was worth the wait.

I don’t know the name of the restaurant because it was written in Chinese characters. However, here I am with the children in front of the entrance:

Our driver, bless his heart, wanted to take us to visit the Bird’s Nest Stadium, from the 2008 Summer Olympics. But we were just too tired, so we opted for a “drive by” experience.

Here is the Bird’s Nest:

It actually looks like a French beret from this angle:

Behind the stadium was a building that had a wave on top, like a flaming torch.

After a rest at the hotel, we walked over to Wangfujing Street to find the famous Donghuamen Night Market, where one can eat food such as scorpions, lizards, sea cucumbers, and starfish—all served on a stick. Sebastian was eager to try a starfish.

Sebastian and I, entering Wangfujing Street.

We walked down a block and easily found the Night Market. It was a popular place.

There were many kinds of food.  Genevieve tried these sugar-coated strawberries.

Squid and eel (actually two of my favorite foods):

Sea horses:


At the very last table in the market, we finally found the starfish:

Sebastian picked out a nice one and had the first bite:

He liked it!

In fact, he ate almost all of it. He shared a bite with me—the outside was very crunchy, as I had expected. However, I had not been prepared for the mushy insides that tasted very salty. One bite was enough, thank you.

We sampled other things from the market—fried banana balls (make sure you count your change!), deep fried milk, fried ice cream, and some dumplings. Yum.

Amidst the crowds of people was a homeless man digging through the garbage can to find uneaten portions of food. We shared some fried ice cream with him.

On the way back to the hotel, Sebastian began a long and earnest discussion with me about how fast an airplane must travel in order to go around the spinning earth.

It was a good day, indeed.


<< Day 2: Beijing—Tiananmen Square & the Forbidden City | Day 4: Beijing—The Summer Palace & 798 Arts District >>


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Comments (4) -

5/27/2010 5:29:32 AM #


Hi Kathy & family!

Great Trip Report!  I'm sure those memories will be with each of you for a life time.


Donnie United States | Reply

5/27/2010 9:29:35 AM #


Hi, Donnie!  Yes, this day was truly memorable.  We will be talking about it for years and years.  Hope all is well with you and Sheryl!  Kathy

Kathy United States | Reply

5/28/2010 11:30:26 AM #


Hi Kathy, loved the pictures and reading about your day.  Genevieve and Sebastian are the sweetest kids.  Hope you all are doing great.  Love you!! Karen

Karen United States | Reply

10/16/2010 7:15:53 PM #


Hi Karen! Thanks so much for your comments!  Genevieve and Sebastian are really great kids AND great travelers--always ready for the adventure! Hope you and your family are all doing well. Love, Kathy

Kathy United States | Reply

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Map of Our Journeys

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Our travel map

Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

   Bumthang Valley
   Gom Kora
   Paro Valley
   Punakha Dzong
   Sangdrup Jongkhar
   Wangdi Phrodrang

   Janko Marca
   La Paz
   Laguna Colorada
   Laguna Verde
   Salar de Coipasa
   Salar de Uyuni
   San Pablo
   Santa Rosa
   Sud Lipez
   World’s Most Dangerous Road

   Banff National Park
   Battle Hill Nat'l Hist. Site
   Boya Lake Prov. Park, BC
   Burns Lake Bike Park
   Canyon Sainte-Anne
   Dawson Creek
   Eastern Townships
   Fort Nelson
   Jasper National Park
   Kluane Lake, YK
   'Ksan Historical Village
   Lake Louise
   Liard Hot Springs
   Niagara Falls
   Quebec City
   Thousand Islands
   Vancouver Island
   Watson Lake

   Forbidden City
   Great Wall at Mutianyu
   Hong Kong
   Summer Palace
   Terracotta Warriors
   Tiananmen Square
   Yungang Caves

Costa Rica
   Arenal Volcano
   Finca Corsicana
   Hanging Bridges
   Manuel Antonio
   Poas Volcano
   Proyecto Asis
   Sky Trek Zip Lining
   Venado Caves


   Amazon Rainforest
   Chaquiñan Bicycle Trail
   La Mitad del Mundo
   Napo Wildlife Center
   Papallacta Hot Springs
   Proyecto DCR
   Yasuní National Park


   Baja California
   Frida Kahlo Museum
   Hierve el Agua
   Marietas Islands
   Mexico City
   Monte Alban
   Oaxaca City
   Puerto Angel
   Puerto Escondido
   Puerto Vallarta
   San Agustin
   San Martin Tilcajete
   Santa Fe de la Laguna
   Santa María el Tule
   Studio of Jacobo Angeles
   Teotitlán del Valle

   Dead Vlei
   Elondo Village
   Etosha Nat'l Park
   Hippo Pools Camp
   Hoba Meteorite
   Khowarib Camp
   Moose McGregor's Bakery
   Mowani Camp
   Ngepi Camp
   Nkasa Lupala
   n'Kwzi Camp
   River Dance Lodge
   Seisriem Camp
   Treesleeper Camp

   Cañón del Pato
   Cerro de Pasco
   La Oroya
   Machu Picchu
   Nuevo Jaén
   Tingo Maria
   Yungay Memorial


South Africa

   Rock of Gibraltar
   Santillana del Mar

United States National Parks
   Arches National Park, UT
   Badlands National Park, SD
   Bandelier National Monument, NM
   Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
   Cahokia Mounds (UNESCO site), IL
   Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
   Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Cape Hatteras National Shoreline, NC
   Capitol Reef National Park, UT
   Civil Rights Memorial, AL
   Death Valley National Park, CA
   Denali National Park, AK
   Devil’s Tower National Monument, WY
   El Morro National Monument, NM
   Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
   Glacier National Park, MT
   Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
   Grand Tetons National Park, WY
   Great Basin National Park, NV
   Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI
   Joshua Tree National Park, CA
   Kaloko-Honokohau Nat'l Hist. Park, HI
   Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, NM
   King's Canyon National Park, CA
   Martin Luther King Jr. Nat'l Hist. Site, GA
   Mesa Verde National Park, CO
   Montezuma's Castle Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Monticello, VA
   Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD
   Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
   Olympic National Park, WA
   Petrified Wood National Park, AZ
   Pinnacles National Monument, CA
   Pu'uhonua o Honaunau Nat'l Hist Pk, HI
   Pu'ukohola Heiau Nat'l Historic Site, HI
   San Antonio Missions Nat'l Hist. Park, TX
   Tuzigoot National Monument, AZ
   Walnut Canyon National Monument, AZ
   Washington Monument
   White Sands National Monument, NM
   Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK
   Wright Brothers National Memorial in NC
   Yellowstone National Park, WY
   Yosemite National Park, CA

United States, Cities and Places
   The Alamo, TX
   Alaska Wildlife Conservation Cntr.
   Alpine Loop in CO
   Anchorage, AK
   Antares Junction, AZ
   Arctic Circle, AK
   Barrel Oak Winery in VA
   Biloxi, MS
   Bottle Tree Farm in CA
   Calico Ghost Town, CA
   Canfield Mountain Trail System, ID
   Cape St. Vincent, NY
   Carson City, NV
   Carter Caves State Park in KY
   Chappie-Shasta OHV Area, CA
   Child's Glacier, AK
   Circle B Chuckwagon Show in SD
   City Museum in MO
   Cody, WY
   Corn Palace in SD
   Crazy Horse Memorial in SD
   Custer State Park, SD
   Dalton Highway, AK
   Dinosaur Tracks in AZ
   Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC
   Dry Falls (Sun Lakes-Dry Falls), WA
   Fairbanks, AK
   Front Royal, VA
   Gallup, NM
   Goffs, CA
   Grand Canyon Caves, AZ
   Grand Canyon Skywalk, AZ
   Grave Digger Monster Truck in NC
   Great Salt Lake, UT
   Hackberry General Store in AZ
   Hannibal, MO
   Hatteras Island, NC
   Hawaii (Big Island)
   Hickison Petroglyphs, NV
   Holbrook, AZ
   Hole in the Rock, UT
   Homer, AK
   Honey Island Swamp Tour in LA
   Hoover Dam, NV
   Hyder, AK
   Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. in AZ
   John’s Peak OHV Area, OR
   Kailua-Kona, HI
   Keepers of the Wild Nature Park in AZ
   Kennecott, AK
   Kennecott Copper Mine in UT
   Kingman, AZ
   Lake Havasu, AZ
   Lake Tahoe, NV
   Las Vegas, NV (winter 2010)
   Little Brown Church in IA
   London Bridge in AZ
   Loneliest Road in America, Hwy. 50, NV
   Los Angeles, CA
   Lost Colony Show on Roanoke Isl., NC
   Lowe’s Speedway in NC
   Mardi Gras World in LA
   Mark Twain Museum in MO
   Meteor Crater, AZ
   Million Dollar Highway, CO
   Minnesota Zoo
   Mitchell, SD
   Moab, UT
   Moab, UT (dirt biking)
   Montgomery, AL
   Montpelier, ID
   Navajo Nation, AZ
   Needles, CA
   Nevada Beach, NV
   Newberry Springs, CA
   New River Gorge, WV
   New Orleans, LA
   Niagara Falls 
   North Pole, AK
   Oatman, AZ
   Old Faithful Geyser in WY
   Omak Stampede, WA
   Painted Desert, AZ
   Park City, UT (summer)
   Plymouth, NC
   Portage Valley, AK
   Portland, OR
   Prospect OHV Trail System, OR
   Resaca, GA
   Riverside State Park, WA
   Rock City in TN
   Rosa Parks Library and Museum in AL
   Roswell, NM
   Russian River, AK
   Salt Lake City, UT
   San Antonio, TX
   San Diego, CA
   San Juan Islands, WA
   San Francisco, CA
   Santa Catalina Island, CA
   Seattle, WA
   Sedona, AZ
   Shoe Tree in CA
   Shoe Tree in NV
   Silverton, CO
   Sonora, TX
   St. Louis, MO
   St. Paul, MN
   Talkeetna, AK
   Telluride, CO
   Route 66
   Twin Knobs Recreation Area in KY
   Virginia Beach, VA
   Washington D.C.
   Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park in IL
   Williamsburg, VA
   Winom Frazier OHV Area, OR
   Winslow, AZ
   Zion National Park, UT

Planning Our Adventures

For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

Click here to discover where we are now, as well as our uncoming travel plans.

Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin