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.

View of Canberra from Mount Ainslie Lookout

September 5, 2011 in Canberra, Travel

The Parliamentary Triangle - Parliament House in the centre, the Defense Headquarters on the left and City Hill on the right (near the water fountain). The Australian War Memorial is down the bottom.

Don’t have much time today so here’s a Canberra quickie.

The friendly volunteer lady at the Information Office told us that if we wanted to get a great view of Canberra from afar, in particular the uniquely famous ‘Parliamentary Triangle’ (comprising Parliament House, Defence Headquarters and City Hill — I believe it is isosceles), we had two options: the revolving restaurant Alto at Telstra Tower at Black Mountain to the West, or Mount Ainslie Lookout to the East.

Option one most likely involved a massive and pricey meal, something we weren’t interested in after stuffing ourselves at Brodburger and with an exquisite meal lined up that evening at Aubergine (to be reviewed), so we went with option two — the free and unfilling one.

Mount Ainslie was a short drive from our previous destination, the Australian War Memorial.  Mostly mountainous terrain but it was a leisurely cruise with little traffic.

When we arrived, the lookout point was not particularly busy, with plenty of parking spaces available.  There were a group of noisy kids and a couple of adults doing nothing to stop them from running amok, but just about everyone else was there to take in the beautiful scenery.  There was even an old couple working on their paintings.

Anyway, here are two more photos.

The zoomed out view from Mount Ainslie Lookout. There really isn't much in Canberra, is there?

Most of these buildings to the right of the triangle belong to ANU, Australia's top university, and the building with the little loopy thing at the peak of the strip of land is the Australian National Museum

Misty Trees by Nine Streams

June 11, 2011 in Best Of, China, Travel, Uncategorized

‘What the heck?’ I hear you say.

That’s what I said at first too.  Jiu Xi Yan Shu (direct translation: Misty Trees by Nine Streams) is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Hangzhou, but apparently not a lot of tourists know about it — or so we were told by our taxi driver.

To be honest, there’s not a lot there to do, but the sight of the thick trees surrounding a misty lake is a marvellous sight.  Reminded me of Crouching Tiger and the various Chinese martial arts films that followed it.  Definitely worth dropping by and taking a few snaps if you have a few minutes to spare.

I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.


 
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