Tuesday, April 19, 2011: Beijing Bound
長城, The Great Wall
We arrived in Beijing at 7:30 am. We walked through the hip n’ happening railway station and proceeded to grab a taxi to get into the main city, and boy was the line long! Luckily, there were other drivers offering comparable prices, so we hopped on board. Little did we know how great our experience in Beijing would be, thanks to our incredible driver. Our driver took us through Beijing, the first time I’ve been here. I have been ashamed as a proud Chinese (and Taiwanese) to have NOT visited to the nation’s historic capital after 20++ years. Now I can say I’ve been a wild bumble bee all about Beijing!
I was in for a wild ride through Beijing: traffic jams, harmonies of blasting horns and honks, cars clumping at intersections, speeding mopeds, dainty bicycles, metal box carts rocking along, and pedestrians sporting a rainbow of umbrellas and sun hats. It was mayhem, particularly through the side streets where old brick homes lie and wise elders sit fanning the day away. Finally, we got on the highway, which would take another 2 hours to get to the Great Wall. I fell asleep on that long journey, and when I did wake up, I up in the mountains already.
Oh, the Great Wall, how really great indeed. In Chinese, it’s called 長城 Chang Cheng, or the “Long Fort Wall.” Apparently, an alternative name is 萬里長城 Wan Li Chang Cheng, or the really long fortress. Made of rammed earth, and subsequently stones and bricks, it was built in ancient China to protect the northern border from invading nomads and barbarians, such as the Xiong-nu people and Mongolians. Interestingly, it was not built at once, but instead as separate entities from the 5th century BC to 16th century. Most notable was the wall built in the 220-206 BC by China’s first emperor (and unifier), Qin Shi Huang-di (秦始皇), which has pretty much disappeared after years of erosion. The Great Wall that exists nowadays was constructed primarily during the Ming dynasty. Numerous forts and signal towers at select peak areas allowed for vigilance, visibility, and rapid communication when danger was imminent. Many lives were lost in the process of building this world wonder, close to 1 million. Those too weak were eliminated and buried with the wall, sad but true. And what we have today is a surviving Great Wall and a long cemetery.
We took the cable car up. My mom actually yelled at me and my dad gave me a look when I suggested we walk the Great Wall. I mean, you come to the Great Wall to walk the wall and look forward to some much-needed exercise. So I lost the argument, and I rode the dumb cable car. Honestly, I was a little concerned about the wobbly, dainty car rolling around the corner. You practically had to jump in it quickly to be safe, because it did not stop for you. I think I was more worried with the weight my dad was adding, because the whole car shook when he jumped in. In the end, it was not that bad; I was imagining the worst when I did not have to. I had the backwards seat going up, so I had the behind view while moving forward. It was a good 5-minute or so trip up. Looking down, I noticed how high we were traveling, with the rugged hills and barren rocks passing swiftly by. We got out at the top of our destination and moved on to walk down these rocky, bumpy stone steps to get to the wall trail. I felt unstable walking down the steps, because you only have these strings for banisters and gravity is pulling you down the uneven stone steps.
And Dad unfortunately fell victim, with my sister coming in a close 2nd place. My dad was walking ahead and my sister was farther behind me. One moment, my dad was doing his usual hobble down steps, and next thing I know, I braked suddenly. Up front, I saw my dad on the ground, stuck and in pain. Some nice people nearby helped me lift him up, because otherwise, he was 1) too heavy to lift with us Asian ladies and 2) he was hurting. His face was twisted in pain and he had a difficult time using his left foot. I mean, he always had a hard time with his left leg in general because of childhood polio, but now he really could not use that leg. Finally up at the top, we settled dad down on the steps. Upon first glance of his foot, it looked fine, maybe a little swollen. Dad was in intense pain judging by his contorted face, complaining, and with obvious weakness. We sat him there at the steps and went forward to the Great Wall.
Lucky me, I was the only one with comfortable enough shoes and the interest to climb the Great Wall. I had an injured dad, a mom who hates the sun, and a sister stumbling in her new hooker heels. I thought to myself, “Really guys? I’m the only one with the balls to battle through the tourists and make the most of my vacation? Really? I’m alone on this journey?” And so I was… We first took some pictures at the nearby wall area. I went up further up and climbed to the nearest fort ahead.
Man, there were soooooo many tourists. I mean, I was among them tourists too, so I could not complain too much. Apparently, every day is a busy day on the Great Wall, it’s only worse during the summers when people have long breaks. The way up was so difficult, probably worse than the initial steps getting to the wall. There were the flat, stone inclines where you battle so hard moving forward; it was like mountain climbing on a smooth surface. Going down was far scarier. I felt gravity drag me down and dissipating my potential energy, and if I did not try to hold the side walls, I could have slid and rolled down like Sonic Hedgehog. Ok, in reality, that would not happen, but the experience gave me that illusion. In addition, there were intermittent hard stone steps. It was uneven to the point that there were higher ones I had to lunge for and smaller ones that were easier to step over. Either way, the climb was extremely difficult. Even when I consider myself relatively fit and healthy, I had a pumping heart and some sweat down my back by the time I conquered the fort. Going up, you are fighting gravity so high on the mountains. Going down, you are flying forward. The experience was challenging, but nevertheless exhilarating and enjoyable. The view was breathtaking, overlooking the rest of the Great Wall trail and the beauty of mother nature. It made me wonder, how on earth people back in the ancient days hauled up the bricks and stones and constructed the massively unbelievable fortress, when high-tech technology was nonexistent. Truly mysterious and mind-blowing, a great feat accomplished and to this day, awe-inspiring and beautiful. Yes, some rocks and stones can be beautiful too.
To conclude this segment of the trip, we experienced what we wanted to see and unfortunately cut the trip short. We went to retrieve Dad, still sitting and suffering. Now the challenge became carrying him up the steps, which was slow, but not that terrible because he still had his right, normal leg. By 11:00 am, we were back to Beijing. Next stop, off to the acupuncturist, 老中醫.