The Galloping Granny walks the Great Wall and waves
to the Man in the Moon
IF, AS astronauts report, extra-terrestrial tourists can see the Great Wall of China from outer space then it stands to reason that whoever is out there keeps a permanent eye on China’s biggest tourist attraction. So as I struggled to keep step with the multitude of marching tourists I managed a big wave for the Man in the Moon.
We were staying in the warm, wet blanket that is Beijing, an hour’s drive from a popular viewing point at Badaling where some sort of wall was started as early as the seventh century BCE (Before the Christian Era) as a barrier against the marauding hordes from the eastern Steppes. Most of the building was completed in the 14th centuryAD, during the Ming dynasty.
The slight fly in the ointment is that unless you’re prepared for a two-hour uphill hike from Badaling you need to take a cable ride car to the wall itself. Swinging crazily above the ground, the cable car ascended slowly, which gave us an incredible opportunity to photograph the wall snaking far into the distance. Perhaps we could even see Mongolia?
The steps rose up before us and we marvelled at the determination of those architects through many centuries. What vision they must have had!
But alas, the ‘good walk’ we had intended to take was well nigh impossible, given the crush of sightseers. We were cheek by jowl with what seemed like thousands of people and had to walk in symmetry to get anywhere. Indeed, the sheer volume of people was the overriding impression left by our 72-hour China stopover en route to Tokyo.
The airport at Beijing was heaving with what seemed like the entire population of China’s capital city, plus a few of us foreigners, all trying to get home or to hotels. The humidity level increased from hot blanket to hot shower and getting to our out-of-city-centre hotel in the Hutong residential area would have been nightmarish had we not written its name in Chinese characters on a piece of paper.
Not for us the five-star luxury hotel, with fully fitted en-suite and tea maker. We stayed in a 200-year-old courtyard hotel with more atmosphere than amenities.
The streets and alleys of Hutong transported us back to the China I had studied at university. The smells; the hotch-potch of people; the silent electric scooters which crept up on us, frightening me half to death; serried ranks of cyclists balancing immense piles of goods high on the handlebars, often with a small child hanging on for dear life. It was just as I had imagined and just what I wanted.
We dined well, if unwisely, on everything including braised intestines (gizzard) ,although we politely declined the fried enema in favour of what (we hoped!) was chicken.
We took in as many sights as we could, including of course the Forbidden City, only twenty minutes walk from our hotel, crossing on the way the infamous Tiananmen Square which made us wonder: whatever became of the iconic ‘Tank Man’ who leapt on to the front of an advancing tank during the protests? Apparently, no one knows for sure.
We saw Ming tombs, ornate silk garments strewn with precious stones of past emperors and their empresses, their jade drinking cups and rice bowls and their jewellery. But the highlight was still that 13,000-mile long Great Wall of China.
And being able to wave hello to the Man in the Moon.
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