Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Silk Road Trip Day 2 - Up to the Great Wall

After we finished at the Internet cafe yesterday, Steve and I wandered around looking for a restaurant. Not finding anything to our liking, we just stopped at a bakery for a quick Chinese donut (not sure really what it was, but it was good), and drink. Then, back to the hotel to link up with the group.
We went to a Kung Fu show at the Red Theater. What we feared would be sort of cheesy turned out to be a great show. Part Broadway, part "Kung Fu" (the TV show of my youth), it really entertained. The martial arts abilities of the performers were incredible, with some fantastic displays of acrobatics, kicks, punches, flips, and even a section where they went up and down and swung around on big ribbons of cloth hanging from the ceiling. It was really something. Gary said that it would not disappoint, and he was absolutely right.

When we finished, we were pretty hungry, so we ducked down an alley in the Hutong behind the hotel to look for a place to eat. We passed a few before finding one that was clean, well lit, and had a waitress that almost begged us to come sit down. Since there was no one there, we passed it by in favor of one that had a lot of locals, piles and piles of yakitori (not sure what they're called in Chinese yet) sticks, a couple of dogs sniffing around the trash under the chairs, and a table full of drunk guys who offered us cigarettes.

Sitting down, the aforementioned gentlemen, well lubricated by the 5 or 6 bottles of beer on the table, began to talk to us. We had declined the cigarettes, which is apparently the customary thing for men to do (offering them to other men), but they were pretty friendly. Their English was limited to "Hello", and "Thank you for come China", but when our beer came, we offered them a hearty "ganbei" in response.
We ordered a hot pot meal, basically like shabu-shabu in Japan where they bring a boiling pot of water to which has been added some onions or spices. Then, you get a plate of meat (not yak this time), and other plates of vegetables, and you just dump it into the boiling water until it's done. We figured that considering the questionable sanitary conditions, boiling everything would be a safe way to eat. So far, we've not been proved wrong.

We couldn't eat everything, but we tried. At the end, when we called for the bill, it cost us 45 Yuan, or about 6 dollars. Not to bad.

We got up this morning before 7, and went down for breakfast at the restaurant. Debbie joined us, and we met the rest of the group right at 7:30. Boarding a van, we drove 3 1/2 hours to Simitai, a great section of the Great Wall of China. On the way out, we passed through sections of Beijing under improvement, getting ready for the upcoming 2008 Olympics. We passed a group of what we initially thought was maybe a group of military getting ready for physical fitness training. Turns out, it was a group of employees preparing for the day. It's a little bit less restored than other sections, apparently a lot less touristy, and was an incredible thing to see. It snakes up and down mountains that would be difficult to walk up without anything on your back, much less hauling up rocks to build a wall.

We got our tickets, and then started the climb. It brought back memories of the "Steps of Repentance" at Mt. Sinai, in Egypt. We walked 12 sections of watchtower, and put in a full day's worth of exercise in just a few hours. Not sure just how far we walked, but it seemed like 2-3 miles at least, all of it uphill.

The views from up there were amazing. We had perfect weather, and that far out from Beijing (120 km or so), the air quality was much better. No brown haze hanging around. The steps were quite steep in parts, but we all just kept at it slow and steady. As part of the deal, you also get your own farmer woman who will walk a foot behind you asking you to buy postcards or t-shirts all the way up and down. Somewhat annoying, though I did give mine a bit of money for her letting me take her picture. She was a bit peeved that I didn't buy anything from her, as she'd walked all the way up and down basically for nothing. I felt a little bad, about that, but what can you do?
After that, we ate some lunch at a restaurant nearby, which included a couple of Dixie cups of beer that may have been the best beer I've ever had. All that walking worked up a thirst. Lunch bill...20 Yuan (about $2.50).

Once lunch was done, we headed back, making great time and getting back to the hotel in only 3 hours, despite traffic. We cleaned up a bit, and then all went out to supper at a Peking Duck place (dinner bill, 30 Yuan, ~$4.00). Afterward, we were walking back toward the hotel and we heard a loud racket and came upon a group of women in a formation, marching up and down the sidewalk, enthusiastically waving handkerchiefs. Also, since we're going on an overnight train tomorrow, we got a few snacks to keep us tied over (groceries, 46 Yuan, ~$6.50 - We're not in Japan anymore, Toto). I'm beginning to dread going back to Japanese prices...

Tomorrow, we'll see a few more sights around Beijing before boarding an overnight train to Xian. That should be fun. Haven't been on an overnight train since the obligatory backpacking around Europe trip. That was a good time, too, but not quite as adventurous. I'll let you know how it goes.

No comments: