Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

41. Beijing, China Day 2 - The Great Wall -

Beijing, Day 2, the Great Wall

On day two we were picked up at 8.30 AM by Thomas, a steward for Delta Airlines who, between flights, makes money as a tour guide in Beijing. We met a Chinese couple on the cruise ship who, through a friend, connected us

with Thomas. Our goal for the day was The Great Wall at Jinshanling, about a 2 ½ hours’ drive from Beijing. There are closer spots to visit The Great Wall but this part of The Wall came recommended by people we talked to. Thomas turned out to be a very nice man. In his personal car he drove us (us being Jean & Ross Copas and Carol and me) to see one of the wonders of the world. The feat of building this spectacular wall is mind-boggling. Not that the wall held back the enemies forever, but I am certain it deterred them over and over.
Thomas, Our Guide For the Day

Just imagine how frustrating the Mongols felt at being held back by this wall. They knew of course that immense riches lay behind the wall to the South of Mongolia. They knew that they could gain immeasurable power if they could only get past that wall. The Mongols tried over and over to gain access to China but the wall held them back many times until…… the Great Genghis Khan stepped into the picture in the year 1205 through 1207. He did not conquer China but he raided China's western part of the wall and drove deeper and deeper into the country until in the year 1279, his grandson Kublai Khan took over all of China as the new Chinese Emperor and founded the Yuan Dynasty.
One Small Section of the 5,500 Mile Long
Great Wall

This statement of the founding of the Yuan Empire is a very simplified version because the actual takeover took a lot of planning and destructive warfare by the Mongols. Just to give you a hint, in the battle to take over Xie, one of the kingdoms in China, the Mongols killed 15 million Chinese. They burned or totally destroyed everything in their way. Smashed everything, killed everyone. Once the Mongols came there was nothing left of the town. It was total decimation. Large towns were conquered by sieges. After a 6 month siege for example, the Mongols moved in and totally destroyed everything and everybody within the town. The impact of those battles can still be felt today. All written records were destroyed. All artifacts, statues, buildings and temples were totally eradicated. After a Mongolian invasion the area was flat, burning and heaped with dead bodies.
Builder of This Section of the Great Wall

The Mongols ruled during the Yuan Dynasty in a similar way. The first Emperors of the Yuan Dynasty could not speak Chinese. Nor could they read or write it. Naturally they wrote and read in the Mongolian Script but the two languages and scripts are very, very different from each other. So, the Great Kublai Khan needed Chinese Ministers and/or Advisers to help him rule over China. Brute force alone will not rule people. You can make the people afraid of you but ultimately you need their cooperation. You must make the masses, the people of the land believe in you. But how do you do that? (See day 3 of this report).

Some Steps Are Fairly Shallow...
Climbing The Wall is not easy. Of course they have stairs but those stairways were laid out for totally fit people, not for 68 year olds like me. But a steady pace, a few breaks here and there and I got to the top. Once on the top of the wall you begin to realize that stairs go on endlessly. The Wall, like a long, long snake, meanders along the mountain ridges seemingly forever. Up and up stairs towards
Other Steps Quite High
the zenith of a mountain, then back down again to a lower part, then up again, etc., etc. All of it was “stairs”. A few respites here and there to catch your breath, but the ‘walk’ along the wall is in reality, a constant up and down staircase. You need to be physically very fit. The wall is 5500 miles long, in case you feel up to it.

That's Snow in the Corners - Brrr
I trudged along for some time on top of the wall, being followed by locals who wanted to sell me picture books, t-shirts, wallets or whatnot. I met some ‘guards’ sitting cozily on a bench who were sunning themselves against a southern wall on this winter day. I sat with them a bit and we smiled at each other. We could not talk to each other, the guards and I, but we all had a good time. The Wall
More Stairs
is not that much visited in the winter, especially in this section because it is so far from Beijing. Few visitors greeted us. Thomas, the guide, was helping Ross and Carol at the moment and I just sat and thought the above thoughts about the Mongols breaching this monstrosity of a border. It seemed an impossible feat yet history proves that even this Great Wall was conquered. The pictures in books do not do this monument justice; this is a spot you must see for yourself.
Local Women Who Tried to Convince Hans
to Buy CDs, T-shirts or Picture Books
(He Didn't)

It was by now time for lunch. So, very carefully, we needed to walk back to the car. Again, up and down stairs, until we made it to the parking lot. By now my legs ached. I can only imagine how Ross felt with a bad knee (he will have surgery in May) or how Carol ached with arthritis in her knees and back. So I could not complain, they would have laughed at me.

Off Balance

Thomas suggested asking a local farmer to prepare our lunch. There is a very small village near the wall and those people live off the tourists, of course. Some ‘farmers’ have converted their houses into whatever tourists need. Extra rooms were made into motel rooms and if you want to eat at this farmer’s house one of the empty rooms will be made into a dining room. Chinese are very practical people. They can improvise easily. So we ate our lunch at a local farmer’s place. A fold-up table was set up at the foot of several beds, 5 stools were found and voila, a dining room. The food was delicious! No, we did not have the best looking dining room and the furnishings were only basic but we came for the food. The food was great and plentiful. The meal for 5 adults, including beer for all came to U.S. $20.-, the experience for us? Priceless!
Entrance to Tiananmen Square at Night

Looking for a Restaurant

We drove back to Beijing, waved goodbye to Thomas and decided to have Beijing Duck (used to be called Peking Duck) for dinner. We got to the most famous restaurant shortly before 8 pm but were not allowed in, the place closes at 8 pm sharp. Bummer, we walked past a McDonalds and had dinner in a common, frequented by many locals, not very well known place. The furnishings were basic. The food however was good. 
Dinner With Our Friends, Jean and Ross

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