Archive for April, 2010

Beijing, April 19 Monday

April 20, 2010

We hired a car today and drove to the Ming tombs. There are 13 tombs here, spread around the valley, but we visited only two, the Yongle tomb, he who founded the Ming dynasty, and Ding Ling, the only one that has been archaeologically excavated.

There’s a museum here with some pretty interesting exhibits.

The soul tower is not particularly picturesque, but it was interesting to overhear one of the tour guides saying that it hadn’t originally been painted red, but was hastily re-painted during the cultural revolution to preserve it from the thugs of the day. (My words, not his.)

The Dingling tomb is in a beautiful, relaxing, pleasant park of cypresses (cedars). A sign says that ring-dating the trees proves that they are much older than the tomb, and were therefore transplanted here when the tomb was constructed in the 1500s.

The underground palace is a curiosity, but hardly beautiful. It’s really a series of arched tunnels, coffins in one chamber, and thrones for the emperor and empress.

Back in Beijing, we thought to go see the Olympic park, the bird’s nest and the water cube. But first, a quick stop for lunch. TGI Friday’s was close by. People asked me whether it was the same as the US version, and I had to admit I had never been into a US location.

We wandered around the bird’s nest for half an hour, but the water cube was closed. The most interesting thing, IMO, was the dozens of vendors hawking kites in the plaza outside.

Okay, time for a foot massage. If your feet weren’t sore when you came in, they would be when you left. Oh, does that hurt!

Silk street, where Kent bought a few things. I would have bought a bikie cap if I had seen any, but that’s too specialized for the venue.

And then out to Beihai lake, where Weining negotiated a pretty good price on some green laser pointers. We found a second storey restaurant overlooking the lake and had yet another really good meal.

Tomorrow we work.

Beijing, April 18, Sunday and the great wall

April 18, 2010

Weining hired a van for the day, but only four of us were brave enough, or foolish enough, to go out for a day on the wild wall: Kent, Weining, local colleague Tan Ho and myself. The van picked us up about 9 on another murky day, and dropped us off at the Jinshanling entrance to the great wall about two hours later. (picture below at Simatai, the far end)

Kent brought along hiking boots. It’s six miles, we’re told, to the Simatai entrance. How hard can that be? – I thought, and decided to just do it in running shoes. Well, there is a bit of vertical gain on this hike. Should be fun.

Before we had even left the parking lot, we had been adopted by two young women who thought we looked like likely customers. They stayed with us well past the halfway point, one of them almost to the very last gasp. Helpful and friendly, and asking every few minutes if we wanted to buy something from their little bags of goodies: a picture book, a tee shirt, whatever. Here she is, walking with Kent several hours later. Weining in the blue tee shirt and Tan Ho in blue jeans.

This is said to be the non-tourist section of the wall, and I don’t even want to imagine what the tourist sections must be like. There were certainly enough opportunities to spend our money, including hawkers at various places along the wall. You have to admire their enterprise, hiking up here with drinks or tee shirts and other Troedel on the off chance. A fair number of other hikers, too, though as always, the crowd thinned out as we got further from the parking lot.

The Jinshanling section of the wall has been restored and is in good shape. The first bit isn’t even that steep, except of course for the steps required to get to the mountain crest. We can see more wall and more haze off to the limits of our vision in both directions. Abandon hope, ye who enter here! And we did indeed hike to and beyond the furthest of the towers visible in the haze.

This is a defensive wall, or was, deliberately built along the crest of the mountains. By the time the enemy had struggled up the grade, he would be completely exhausted and hardly in shape for yet more strenuous exercise fighting to overwhelm the wall. We’re told, however, that the wall was repeatedly breached over the course of history: the soldiers weren’t paid very well and were easy to bribe. Like having a bicycle helmet draped across the handlebars, protection is only useful if you use it.

While the first Jinshanling section of the wall is in good repair, and the last Simatai section is in equally good repair, there is a stretch in the middle that is almost ruined. A few of the towers are closed off, too unsafe to enter. There are trails along the mountainside below, for those who would rather cover distance instead of walking in the footsteps of history – the vendors, most likely.

Well, the hard part is the vertical part, and the down was even harder than the up. Ankle-high steps are okay, but many of these were knee high and occasionally higher. In the ruined areas, the footholds were often rocks or corners of the old bricks, pretty irregular. I hope the knees and ankles will survive!

The country is dry barren desert, and we didn’t see much wildlife. One lizard, that was about it.

I brought along my hiking GPS receiver, thinking to geotag my photos, but it turned out the software I had installed on my laptop was somehow defective (what I didn’t realize until later was that the hard disk was in the process of dying horribly and files were already being corrupted). I’ll have to reinstall it when I get home and retrofit the photos. Small problem.

GPS results from later: 5 miles, 2700 vertical feet. If about two third of the route is uphill, that’s eight hundred feet per mile of uphill grade. Even worse is the sixteen hundred feet per mile of downhill! If I were doing it again, I think I’d start at the Simatai end, to spare the knees and hips from that brutal descent.

We were all happy to see the crest and the descent into the valley where lies the Simatai trailhead, just beyond the lake. The wall itself  rises to the mountains beyond, another hike for another day.

Kent phoned his daughter from the great wall. He thought it would be quite a novelty. I considered doing the same, but it’s something like midnight in California, so Jacky might not appreciate it.

There’s a chain bridge across the end of the lake at the bottom, then another grunt to the trailhead entrance. From there, it was possible to catch a ride to the parking area. That would have been yet another adventure, but we chose to walk instead. Next time!

Our car was waiting for us, drove us back to Beijing, considerably more subdued than we had been this morning. You know it’s a great day when you hurt everywhere and you’ve had a once in a lifetime experience.

At 6, we picked up Jean and went to South Beauty, a Sichuan restaurant where we joined a colleague from Shanghai for an evening of good food and conversation. Kent and Weining went on afterward for foot massages, but I decided a good night’s sleep was more to the point, and begged off.

A great day, truly a great day.

Beijing 2010 April 17

April 17, 2010

After another interminable journey, the flight from SFO finally terminated at Beijing in mid-afternoon, a cold foggy day. The pilot said visibility was 2200 meters, but on the ground, I’d guess it was less than half that. Gene and Kent were on the same plane, and Weining met us at the airport. We were at a couple of hotels, so it took quite a while to get us distributed and checked in, following which we went out.

We had initially said we’d go shopping, but none of us travellers was up to much, so we deferred that in favor of food. Grace and Jean are already here from meetings last week, and they met us at the restaurant.

Interesting place; it turns out the best restaurant in Beijing for Peking duck is here, upstairs, but not part of Chef Dong’s operation, though they may have common ownership and management. There’s a glass wall into the kitchen where you can see the ducks partially pre-cooked, waiting to be ordered and finished up into meals. There is free wine in the waiting area to help pass the time. Pretty classy.

So we missed our chance to try the braised sea cucumber. Well, maybe next time.

We had about five courses, all of them various parts of the duck (don’t ask: we didn’t).

Although some of us were past due to fall asleep zonk by the time we had finished eating, there was nothing for it but to go for a massage. We’ll see how many bruises I have from that experience! I saw a tee-shirt once that said pain is weakness leaving the body, and I guess I shed quite a bit of weakness.

11:30 by the time we got back to the hotel, after midnight by the time I got to bed. I had set my alarm for 6AM, 40 minutes later than usual, but woke up spontaneously about 5:30, got up and took care of some things like reading the email, editing yesterday’s photos and such. Breakfast at 6:30, and at least some of us are meeting at 9 to go hiking at the Great Wall.

You know what they say: there will be lots of time to rest after you’re dead.

You know what I say: anything worth doing is worth overdoing.