It is the most impressive thing I’ve ever set eye – or foot – upon.
The original wall was begun during the reign of the First Emperor of China along an east-to-west line to protect the northern borders of what was then a smaller-in-size China from invaders. This wall was built by connecting sections of wall that were already 500 years old.
Over the subsequent centuries new sections were built and then connected. However, little of that wall remains. Much of what we see as the Great Wall was reconstructed between 1400 and 1600 AD.
We visited the Badaling section, about 90 minutes outside of Beijing. Constructed of stone walkways, some set at steep angles with guard houses, the Wall is a difficult walk.
Worse in slides.
Even worse with pulled tendons in your feet. Which you get from wearing slides on the Great Wall.
Leaving Badaling, the temperature was a breezy 77 degrees. As we headed back into Beijing, the temperature climbed. And kept going.
Figuring this out was complicated by the fact that everything – including the temperature reading in our van – is in Celcius, so I tried to remember my old high school math teacher’s quick formula, and do it in my head.
USEFUL MATH BREAK:
It goes like this. Take the Celcius temperature and double it. It was 28C.
28 x 2 = 56
Now take 20% of 56 and subtract it from 56. An easy way is to put a decimal in (56 becomes 5.6), double it (11.2) and subtract that number from your initial doubled number
56 – 11 = 45* (* close enough, we’re figuring temperature, not landing a rocket. No one ever says “Carl, it feels hotter; are you sure you didn’t forget to add the .2?”)
Now add 32 (to make up for the fact that freezing is 32F but 0C).
45 + 32 = 77 degrees
(Cx2) – ((Cx2) x .1) + 32 = F
As we drove into Beijing, it was hitting 40C. Do the math.
(40 x 2) – ((40×2) x .1) + 32 = F
(80) – (80 x .1) +32 = F
80 – 8 + 32 = 104
It was 104 degrees in Beijing.
And we were going to Tianenmen Square and the Forbidden City, which is a great expanse of concrete and stone.
Tianenmen Square is China’s equivalent of the National Mall in Washington DC. It’s bound on one end by the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, where you can still see him on display, nearly 40 years after his death.
Complete side note: Communist countries have this thing about keeping their leaders on permanent display. Russia has done it with Lenin. If you’re really curious about the process, click here and here.
On the other end of the square is the entrance to the Forbidden City, the ancient home of the First Emperor. It is, of course, marked by a giant portrait of Mao.
Tianenmen Square was also the site of the June 4 Massacre. On that night in 1989, citizens, mostly students, took to the streets in protest, wanting greater reforms. And their military murdered them. Unofficial estimates say over 4000 died that night.
Walking in Tianenmen, it’s impossible not to see the grainy video that was smuggled to the West in your head, and imagine those thousands of people being murdered by their own government in the middle of the capital.
Security was tight. Uniformed and (pretty obvious) plainclothes security forces were everywhere, including the severe-eyed, stone jawed dude wearing the most ironic “Mr. Music” t-shirt boring holes through everyone at the Meridian Gate. Every pole was covered in a swarm of CCTV cameras.
Still, we managed to get a bit of Wilkes in:
The Forbidden City is awesome. It’s also where we all finally broke. It was a humid 104 degrees, we were in the middle of a giant stone city-within-a-city-within-a-city, there was no breeze and we were done. We didn’t make it all the way through. It’s set up like Russian nesting dolls. Gate, giant plaza, gate, giant plaza…. and we couldn’t do it. We were – finally – done.
Back to the hotel to
burn my clothes take a shower.
That night, our last in China, we headed back to Wangfujing Street. Wangfujing Street at night is incredible. It’s a giant road, closed to traffic, that’s part high-end shopping district:
…annnnnnnd then we hit what’s known as Crazy Food Street.
I’m told that Chinese don’t really eat this stuff, but tourists think they do and so they sell it because adventurous westerners who think they’re Tony Bourdain will actually buy some of this stuff to try it.
Let me apologize for the slight blur in advance. This was Dante’s 5th circle of Hell, not because of the food (more later), and I just wanted to get shots and get out.
There were also whole roasted baby robins, skinned snakes uncooked on a skewer, whole uncooked squid (do-it-yourself calamari?). If you saw it in a nightmare, it was there.
The reason for our haste wasn’t just because of the local culinary color, but because we went from high-end Wangfujing into the depths of poverty in 20 feet.
At 6’3″ with blondish hair and blue eyes, I stood out. I had countless phones shoved at me and pictures snapped for the last 10 days.
This is where it went to horrifyingly heartbreaking. One female beggar, she could have been 25 and she looked 55, came up to me and shoved her 2 year old into my arms and yelled in broken English “PLEASE! THANK YOU! PLEASE! THANK YOU!”.
I was terribly alarmed for the kid, and I had no idea what she wanted – well, money was obvious – but I was wondering if she was trying to sell me her child.
I had been warned that some beggars are actually human slaves, and that giving them money only enables the trade. I don’t know if it’s true, but I was also warned that giving money to one also makes you a target for every other one. I’ve been in major American cities and I’ve seen panhandlers, but nothing like this.
I’m trying to keep walking, and this child is getting squished between her mother and I. I have my hands over my head and I’m getting panicky. As she keeps yelling “PLEASE! THANK YOU! PLEASE! THANK YOU!”, I keep saying “No. No. No thank you. No”, until Xaio gives her 5RNB (about 80 cents US) and she goes away.
This is China.