Today is our day to visit the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs. We are meeting at 8 AM since Badaling is about 60 miles from the downtown. We were told to bring warmer clothes because we will be up in the mountains, and also to bring an umbrella. Yesterday we had a brief sprinkle, but the weather was great — not too hot and cloudy. Today’s weather turned out to be perfect — sunny, comfortable, and bright.
We started off by visiting a Cloisonne’ factory where we were shown the practice of producing these characteristically Chinese handicrafts. The process is very labor-intensive which probably explains the high prices that these pieces fetch in the marketplace. Then we spent some time in the factory store where everyone made at least one purchase.
Next we headed for the Ming Tomb area where we walked the entire Spirit Way, the route that the emperors took to pay their respects to their ancestors. We finished here at the Ming Tomb Museum, on the route to Yongli’s tomb, the Ming emperor who built the Forbidden City and who restored much of the Great Wall. The museum displays some of the objects uncovered when the Changling tomb was opened in the 1950’s.
We had another nice lunch in the vicinity, then headed for the Great Wall at Badaling, the first part of the wall to be recently restored to promote tourism. This was definitely the highlight of the day, if not the entire trip so far. The Great Wall was one of numerous major projects for the great Emperor Qin Shi-huang who was the first to unite the many separate Chinese provinces into a single country. He also strung together the various pieces of provincial walls into a single entity. This all happened around the year 221 BC. Thus the Great Wall is over 2000 years old. It is also over 3,000 miles long, extending from the Gobi Desert in northwestern China to the China Sea.
The experience of climbing the Wall was absolutely unforgettable! We have heard and seen pictures of the Great Wall since we were kids and today we actually saw and walked it. However, it was not an easy thing to do. The wall is extremely steep, in some places almost vertical, so it requires great exertion. The reward, however, is breath-taking — seeing this gigantic structure snake its way up and over ridges and valleys as far as the eye can see.
On the way back from Badaling, we stopped briefly at the Olympic Village to take pictures of the Bird’s Nest Stadium, soon to be the sight of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Beijing, formerly known as Peking, is quite impressive because it is a very clean city. I have yet to see any trash on the streets. It is also very modern, with many tall buildings. Chinese food has been quite an adventure. A Chinese lunch and dinner is comprised of seven or eight courses which include several varieties of sauteed vegetables, plus saucy dishes which are made from either chicken, pork or fish. Lastly, they have either fried rice or sesame rice (sweet and sour rice). Desserts might include fresh fruits or perhaps a mango pudding (a cross between a flan and a pudding).
Driving through Beijing, I noticed that the sides of the highways are decorated with thousands of rose bushes which adds a touch of color to an otherwise drab landscape. The Olympic Village and other preparations cost over 3 Billion dollars; the Bird’s Nest Stadium alone cost the Chinese government .5 Billion. China is growing by leaps and bounds and is no longer a third-world country.