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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Destination: The Great Wall

At 10:00 p.m. on Tuesday evening someone from the travel agency called to advise me that I should be ready for pick up Wednesday morning at 7:00. Swell. The hotel starts serving the 68R MB "free breakfast" that I'd already pre-paid at 6:30 and I wasn't about to lose out on this, being of Scottish descent. So, I promptly swooped down at the appointed hour; they opened precisely at 6:30 and I was out and in my room awaiting "the call" from the driver when it rang at 6:50.

I rendezvoused with the bus that was collecting an assortment of tourists for our day together. These folks include: a 50's aged couple from New York, three young women who recently graduated from medical school in Maryland and were about to start residency, a 30-something Chinese couple who spoke no English, a late 50's man from Malaysia whose grandparents left China, a young Hong Kong man in his first job out of college who was now a resident from Australia, the driver (who I felt safe with), our female guide who spoke good English and yours truly.

The only thing I knew about this tour was that it included the Ming tombs and the Great Wall. I never imagined everything else that was thrown in between. The young man from Australia and I had a lot of fun of the "in between" items in our running dialog today.

First, we stopped at a jade factory and massive store. Shopping opportunity! I bought nothing. Next, we visited the Ming tombs. However, our next stop was rather fascinating. Thanks to Chairman Mao, Chinese naturopathic and acupuncture experienced a major renaissance in the 50's. As an outgrowth of this, there's a sprawling place dedicated to expanding this knowledge to other countries (I think this is where my chiropractor studied) and they are very proud of this fact. We were ushered down the halls and into a small lecture room where a Chinese man explained the high level concepts of the healing arts. Then two doctors and their assistants in their white smocks appeared. Apparently our ying and yang was about to be examined and the prognosis and remedy prescribed. I declined. Interestingly, the amount of all Rx recommendations ran between 420 – 480 RMB.

Afterwards we moved to a cloisonné factory and after watching them at work we got, yes, more opportunity to shop. I bought nothing. (Having been in China I now know the going prices for many things; alas, these items were 3x as expensive as they should have been and signed that said "no bargaining.") This activity was closely followed with lunch which happened to adjoin the shopping mall. The Great Wall—my reason to go on this tour—was next.

We arrived at 2:00 p.m. We were to leave at 4:00 p.m. Initially I thought, swell, two hours for the one thing I wanted to see today. However, that was sufficient time since I was ready to depart at 3:30. As we wound our way through the proactive proprietors our tour guide took our additional money—yes, this wasn't included in the price—to pay the 60 RMB to get a ride up to the middle level of the wall and thus decrease our strenuous walking. I was very willing to part with the sum given my last experience in climbing stairs. Nothing prepared me for what happened next.

As we walked through what looked like an ancient walk way we strode straight into what I can only describe as a misplaced carnival ride. They had individual cars on tracks aned you jumped into one and they pulled you up the hill. All of us were flabbergasted. And, I must confess the ex-amusement park employee that I am had flash backs. This was like standing in line at Knott's Berry Farm to climb aboard the Log Ride, only as a solo. Only there was no water splash at the end. Not quite what I was expecting at the Great Wall.

We clamored out of the vehicles and proceeded to wind our way through half of humanity. (I had always seen the Great Wall without people on it, silly me to think it would be desolate when I arrived.) The steps were old since they were well worn in many places, but it was clearly rebuilt. It took about 30 minutes to crest the first major landmark in the wall. Dutifully all of us on our bus took pictures of each other. The wind was blasting and making my runny nose runnier and my contacts scream. So, I opted to return and ride the amusement park ride to the parking lot and wait for the group. I had accomplished my mission: to walk the Great Wall and have a photo to prove it.


At 6:47 AM, Lorraine said...

You have become a savvy traveler I see and I am proud of you. The amusement ride amused me totally.


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