Sunday, February 12, 2006

China Trip II - The Great Wall

I was very intrigued to see The Great Wall of China after reading about it for so long in the history books and seeing documentaries on it. My first trip to China didnt provide me with the opportunity to visit it due to time constraints, as it is 1.5 hours by taxi from Beijing.

I saw a recent documentary on the Wall on The Discovery Channel just before my trip and it provided new insight about this structure. What I hadn't know before was that it's actually part of a sad piece of Chinese history, ironically. Not because of the grandeur of the structure, but because of the millions of Chinese peasants that died making the Wall.

The emperors decided to make the Wall to protect Beijing from various enemies in the north. The construction is that of brick/stone outside walls filled with packed mud in the middle. This was done by peasants forced into slavery packing the mud all day long in harsh conditions. It was said, the tired just died on the job and myth has it that the bodies were burried where they fell. But researchers haven't been able to find bones in the make up of the wall using some advanced technologies (sonar, IR, etc). To commemorate the fallen workers, there's a small shrine where the Wall meets the Pacific Ocean. I plan to visit it the next time I head there.

Depsite the sad news of the construction of the wall, it is still to be hailed for its excellent design in military application. The wall is about 4000 miles in length and has numerous watchtowers and barracks along the wall. During its peak, when an enemy was spotted approaching the wall, fire signals in the watchtowers were used to pass the message along down the wall.

The popular belief that the Wall can be seen from outer space had been refuted by astronauts including China's first astronaut, Yang Liwei, (a big disappointment to Chinese leaders who wanted to use it to help boost morale in the communist party). The belief came about that we here on Earth could see deep canals on Mars, so people from space should be able to see the Great Wall. But astronauts have said they can only see it with the aid of binoculars, not with the unaided eye.

There are two locations that have been restored outside of Beijing for tourists to view the wall: Mutianyu and Badaling. I was told that Mutianyu offers a better section of the wall, but is further from Beijing. The road from Beijing to Mutianyu is notorious for traffic accidents. I personally saw 3 cars with damage on the side of the road that looked recent. I had confidence in my driver, whom we have befriended, but it was still a little scary.

The wall is located on the crest of a mountain and requires quite a hike to get up there or you can pay $10 and use a gondola/cable car or ski lift-type chair to get up to the Wall. The funny touristy thing is that they have a toboggan run down from the Wall back to the base. I was quite skeptical of this, but seeing that it was German-made, put a little reassurance in me. So, I bought the ticket for the cable car/lift chair up and toboggan ride down. I was told if I didnt want to take the toboggan down, I could get back on the lift chair. Good to know.

General map of the Mutianyu area. The dashed lines on the right are the lift-chair, where the toboggan run is and the dashed lines on the left are the cable car. There are steps to climb up to the Wall, which is free, but I didnt have time for that this trip. There's about 3 kms of open Wall area for the public.

It was a relatively cold day, about 45F/7C so I put on some layers and surely felt the chill on the lift ride up. The plan was to get up on the Wall by the cable car, walk down to the toboggan run and take that down the mountain. Somehow, I was shown to the lift chair instead of the cable car, oh well. Being winter, the surrounding area was very dry.

General overview of the Wall

It's not an easy stroll up on the Wall. Big steps leading from a watch tower to the outside.

A canon, facing north towards the invading nomads.

It was hardly ever flat. Steps constantly leading up or down. And the steps weren't even, so you had to keep looking down whilst walking.

Picture taken by street vendor. He was selling mainly water and some snacks. This was no easy hike, I was panting pretty heavily and was also sweating, while glupping lots of water.

I was invigorated by the little hike I was doing. I was loving it and was charging along at a good pace enjoying the work out. But the heavy clothes I had on made the sweat come about faster. Nevertheless, it was great to be out in the cold working up a sweat.

Inside one of the many watch towers

Snaking away into the distance

Random sight. A bunch of rams on the wall. Their herder wasnt far behind. There's easy access to the ground on the south side of the wall.

What fun this would be in the wet...

The toboggan slide under the chair lift

I was pretty apprehensive about the safety of this run, but after seeing that they had a brake and I would be able to control my speed, I was off.

The ride was pretty smooth other than going over the welds connecting the steel pieces. There were track marks pretty high up on the banks and looks like some experts were carrying some serious g forces through these corners. I wasn't doing bad and put my motorcycle lean into the turns. It was a blast. I'd do it again. What a fun way to come down a moutain.

Video of the toboggan ride. I was quickly told to put the camera away by the guards, hehe.

On the way back, out cabbi, Shen got into the dancing mood with 50 cent. Can you believe he's a safe driver?

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