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.

Maybe I was wrong about e-books

August 15, 2010 in Blogging, Technology

Admittedly, I have not been the biggest e-book supporter out there.  I like the look, feel and smell of a real book, made out of paper, in my hands.  I’m not crazy about the idea of purchasing “intangible books” from the Internet because I feel like I should get getting stuff like that for free!

Having said that, I am starting to see a lot more people out there with Kindles and in particular i-Pads on the streets, reading e-books.  I tried it out a couple of times myself at some electronic stores.  And no, it’s not the same — but maybe someday I could get used to it.

A friend of mine recently alerted me to a couple of articles which indicate that e-books are on the rise.  First, this depressing article from Crikey about how two of Australia’s biggest book retailers, Borders and Angus & Robertson, are struggling to stay afloat.  Book orderings are now made very cautiously, and in very small quantities.  If you thought it was hard to get on shelves before, it’s now harder than ever.

Secondly, this article by Michael Wolf entitled “How e-Books Won the War”.  I wouldn’t exactly go that far myself (there’s still some life in the old hardcopy I reckon), but things are starting to look up for e-books and down for traditional books.  Stieg Larsson has become the first million e-book author, and Kindle prices are set to drop below $100, possibly as early as Christmas.  Barnes & Noble, the massive US book retailer, is in strife as well.

Have I been wrong about e-books?  Are they really going to take over the world, and at a quicker pace than any of us could have anticipated?

The Last Lunch: Yung Kee Restaurant

July 28, 2010 in Food, Hong Kong, Travel

And so we’ve come to our last meal in Hong Kong, a quick lunch near Central before we had to take the Airport Express to head back to Australia.  It was our intention to leave the best for last, and Yung Kee‘s glowing reputation as one of the top places to eat in Hong Kong (and it’s one Michelin Star) made it a prime candidate.  It’s roasted goose, in particular, is apparently world famous.

We arrived at the well fitted restaurant on Wellington Street (near the popular Lan Kwai Fong district in Central) at just after 2pm, and were starving for a meal.  The place was not quite as crowded as we had imagined (it was a week day) and it appeared most of the lunch patrons had headed back to work.  Nevertheless, the hostess led us into an elevator (and there was another hostess in there) who took us up to the second floor.

We took a seat and began flicking through the menu.  We decided to go with the roasted goose of course, the specialty, but didn’t want to be too full for the flight so we didn’t get one of the set meals.  We asked the waitress if the roast goose plus rice along was sufficient because we weren’t very hungry and she said no.  We then asked what she recommended and she said the fried prawns.  We agreed before realising that the dish was insanely expensive!

Following a short wait, the waitress arrived with the two dishes we ordered, the roast goose and the fried prawns.

Yung Kee's famous roast goose

The very expensive fried prawns

The verdict?  Both very disappointing.  I think it might be because it was after lunch and we looked like obvious tourists, so they didn’t exactly give us their best stuff.

The roast goose was surprisingly tough to chew and as evident from the photo, way too oily.  I think we could have asked for better parts of the goose perhaps?

As for the fried prawns, they were cold and the batter was soggy.  Again, I think if we came during peak hour and got the fresh stuff it would have been hot and crispy.  Alas, it was not to be, but I was not happy about the recommendation from the waitress because: 1. it wasn’t very good; 2. it was very expensive; and 3. we didn’t need the dish.  The goose alone was more than enough for two.

Yung Kee wasn’t horrible, but given its reputation and for the price (I think it was more than 600 HKD), totally not worth it.

5 out of 10

Is it worth paying extra for 3D?

April 5, 2010 in Movie Reviews, Technology

One thing that’s really been annoying me lately is the extra price movie-goers have to pay to enjoy a film in 3D.  Where I’m from, there’s the “normal” price of the ticket, and on top of that there is the arbitrary price for the 3D, and then there’s the additional cost of the 3D glasses.  Some theatres allow 3D glasses to be reused, but others require you to purchase a new pair each time.  When you add it all up, the movies are getting ridiculously expensive these days.

Now if it is a genuine 3D film, like say Avatar (or even The Final Destination), where the experience is truly enhanced because of the 3D effects, I don’t have a huge problem with that.  You pay for it with extra cash and discomfort from wearing the glasses for the entire duration of the film, but it’s ultimately worth the trouble.

But the last two “3D” films I watched, Alice in Wonderland and Clash of the Titans, both felt like they were riding the 3D tidal wave for a bit of extra box office income.  I was appalled by how little the so-called 3D effects added to the films.  Arguably, I would have enjoyed them more had I watched in ordinary 2D, without the irritating glasses frames, the darker tint of the lenses, and me taking taking them off constantly wondering whether I had accidentally walked into the 2D version.

So from now on, I’m going to be a 3D sceptic.  No more watching films in 3D if those effects have been added in post-production in order to ride the 3D bandwagon — unless, of course, someone tells me I’d be missing out on something amazing.

Yuan Shao BBQ Restaurant

January 28, 2010 in Food, Taiwan, Travel

Restaurant: Yuan Shao
Cuisine: BBQ set meals
Price: TWD 598 per head (+ 10% service charge)
Location: See below

If you are into DYI BBQs, then you can’t go past Yuan Shao BBQ Restaurant in Taiwan.

For just TWD 598 per person (with 10% service charge), you can enjoy an assortment of delicious courses sandwiched around a platter of meat you cook yourself on a grill built in to your table.

The quality of the food and service is truly exquisite.  Quite simply put, it is one of the best places you could ever go to for an enjoyable night out.

Each Course offers a variety of options to choose from (you only get to pick one).  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

(To see the pics, click on ‘More…’)

Read the rest of this entry →