The Beijing Diaries, Day 9 (Part II): The Great Wall!

November 24, 2012 in Best Of, China, Travel

The Great Wall of China

November 14

The Great Wall

With my schedule almost free for the afternoon, my plan was to visit the Great Wall of China. I had actually booked a car (for 600 yuan, including tolls) to pick me up from my hotel and drive me to the Great Wall and back, but the problem was that I never expected the closing ceremony to go over time and asked the driver to come at 2pm, meaning I only had an hour and a half to have lunch, get back to the hotel AND write an article and send it off.

By some miracle, I managed to do all of the above in time (a true demonstration of how determination can work wonders), and by 2pm I was in a Volkswagen heading towards the famed Great Wall of China.

There are supposedly three parts of the Great Wall near Beijing that most tourists visit. The nearest is Juyongguan, followed closely by Badaling, with Mutianyu a little further away. Badaling is the most popular and considered the grandest, and I believe it is the one I visited about 20 years ago during my first trip to Beijing. But it’s also the most annoying because of all the tourists and vendors and what not. So with my limited time in mind, I decided to go with Juyongguan, which is about an hours drive from the center of Beijing without traffic.

After a fine snooze we arrived at the Juyongguan parking lot. There wasn’t a whole lot of the Great Wall I could see from down there, and to be honest it didn’t look all that “Great”. It was just a long wall rising up on a mountain slope — I don’t know what else I was expecting. I paid my entry (40 yuan) and headed in. Apparently it is the beginning of the off-peak season so I was glad that there were hardly any other souls around.

The view form the parking lot at Juyongguan

One thing that surprised me was how steep parts of the wall was. It was actually a real challenge walking up and down those steep stairs, which took me all the way up and down various peaks and valleys along the mountainous terrain. The Great Wall is truly impressive when you can stand in a place that enables you to see how long it stretches for. It just goes on and on and on. And on and on.

I had supposedly entered the east side of the Juyongguan part of the wall, and from there I could see the west side, which looked even longer and challenging as it goes all the way up the mountain. According to Wikipedia, the Wall stetches for more than 21,000km, which is more than the journey from Sydney to Beijing and back. Considering the technology they had more than 2,000 years ago, and the fact that much of it is on ridiculously difficult terrain (not to mention how cold it gets in winter), it’s no surprise than an estimated 1 million+ people died while building it.

It’s a long walk

What really freaked me out were the stories that many of the bodies were simply buried into the foundations of the wall, making the Great Wall of China essentially a mass burial ground. That was when walking along the wall for about 20 minutes in the breezy cold without seeing another soul kinda scary (I was was ready to scream if I saw anyone dressed in clothes from another era).

There weren’t many people that day

Eventually, I came across a group of Hong Kong tourists, who were so loud that I realized the company of ghosts wouldn’t actually have been so bad. I was tempted to keep walking but I knew the later I left the place the longer we would be stuck in traffic on the way back. So after briefly checking out the west side of the wall, I decided it was about enough and returned to the car, roughly about an hour and 45 minutes after I arrived.

Chinglish is a lot rarer these days in government-owned places, apparently, so it’s great to see this

And this

Visiting the Great Wall was a strange experience. On the one hand it is just a really long wall, but walking on it and absorbing its majestic grandeur up close and from afar is indeed a powerful experience. It’s a unique place that infuses you with a sense of history and wonder, while at the same time making you work up a sweat from all that climbing. Ultimately, considering what a rare opportunity it was, I am glad that I decided to take the trip.

The way back is pretty steep

PS: The ride back was, according to the driver, unnaturally smooth. We didn’t really hit any traffic until we were near the city, and even then it took about an hour and 40 minutes to get back to the hotel.

Lin Biao’s Underground Bunker

June 12, 2011 in China, Social/Political Commentary, Travel

I thought Hangzhou was all temples, scenery and tea leaves, but there’s a little bit of history too.  Our driver next took us to this fascinating bunker that was built by Lin Biao, one of Chairman Mao’s closest comrades.

I didn’t know about the history of the Communist Party but Lin Biao’s bunker was still an interesting place to see.  It’s like a mini-maze, with cold, stuffy air and long corridors enforced by thick steel doors.  Paranoia must have been rife back in those days.

The story of Lin Biao’s life and his ultimate demise was also compelling to learn.  According to official reports, Lin Biao (who was second in command by that stage) attempted to assassinate Mao several times before he and his family died in a plane crash while defecting to Russia.  Despite all the battles he fought for China and everything he did for the Communist Party, Lin Biao is still officially condemned as a traitor.

Others suggest that was not that case at all.  Lin was a war hero and highly respected in the Communist Party, but had apparently become too respected, to the point where Mao got a little nervous.  The ‘accidental’ plane crash?  More like a pre-emptive strike.

Who knows what really happened?  All I know is that the bunker was pretty cool.

Indian Journey Part XII: The Taj Mahal

July 6, 2010 in Best Of, India, Travel

The Taj Mahal, one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World“, deserves a whole post to itself.  For once, I actually agree with the guide books that say that pictures do not do the Taj Mahal justice.  It’s just one of those things that you simply have to see in person to fully appreciate what a remarkable piece of architecture it truly is.

(click on ‘more’ to read the excellent adventure!)

Read the rest of this entry →

Movie Review: Robin Hood (2010)

May 16, 2010 in Movie Reviews

I went into the latest Russell Crowe-Ridley Scott film, Robin Hood, knowing relatively little about what kind of movie it was going to be, considering it is, after all, a “blockbuster”.

What I can say is that while Robin Hood is pretty good, it’s certainly no Gladiator.

I had heard that this new depiction of the iconic hero was panned for “pretending” to be historically accurate when it wasn’t, and the film had eschewed all the merriness that made Robin and his men were famous for.  Accordingly, compared to previous renditions of Robin Hood, this one was dull and lacking in fun.

I don’t agree with that.  Frankly, I couldn’t care less how historically accurate this new Robin Hood is, as long as it is compelling and entertaining to watch.  And why must all Robin Hood films be confined to merry men in tights who sing and dance all day?  Ridley Scott decided to deliver a more serious, gritty and “realistic” vision of the folktale hero, and I don’t have a problem with that.  He can do whatever he wants as long as the result is a good movie.

However, that’s not to say Scott and Crowe hit the bulls-eye with Robin Hood.  Don’t get me wrong, the film does have its positives, namely, the performances and the action.

Russell Crowe brings his Maximus charm and brooding presence to Robin Longstride (aka Hood), making him a sound hero; Cate Blanchett was fantastic was Lady Marion, as was Max Von Sydow as her father-in-law, Walter Loxley; Mark Strong shows once again that he can be a superb villain, and Oscar Isaac does a fine job as the surprising King John.

The action sequences are also done very well, with the best moments coming during the initial siege scene and the final climatic battle.  It’s not quite Lord of the Rings, but Scott manages to capture that epic scale battle feeling (for the most part) by thrusting you into the middle of the action.

Having said that, it still felt like something was missing.  The film is I suppose a prequel to the Robin Hood legend, in the same way that Batman Begins was for Bruce Wayne.  But with this Robin Hood, it didn’t feel like there was any character transformation — at the start he was a good archer and an honest man who believed in justice.  By the end, he was essentially still the same guy, just with different surrounding circumstances.

Furthermore, while the film didn’t feel particularly long at 140 minutes, I felt as though not a whole lot happened during the running time.  I suppose that means I wanted more.

3.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: I don’t get all the hoopla about Russell’s accent.  Is it really that big of a deal?  Come one, at least he tried, unlike some other Robin Hoods of the past, cough cough Mr Costner…I’d much rather everyone talk about the feral kids in the movie — what the heck was the deal with that?]

 
%d bloggers like this: