I was really excited to get going today because we were going to the Great Wall of China! The weather was nice and cool, and it was very cloudy so we wouldn’t be too hot climbing the Wall. It took an hour and a half to get to our destination, so along the way Jacky told us some facts about the wall. Although there were many walls built since 400BC that could be referred to as the Great Wall, construction of the original part of the Wall as we know it today began around 220BC by Emperor Qin Shi Huang. Considered the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang brought together the different tribes of China to make one big kingdom and in order to protect his kingdom from the northern nomadic tribes; Qin began construction of the wall. However, little remains of Qin’s original wall and the rest of it was built in the Ming dynasty. The Great Wall is the world’s longest manmade structure but because it was manmade countless people died during its construction so some refer to it as the longest cemetery too. Some say that the Wall could be visible from space by the naked eye; however this has been proved a myth and can only be seen through a high-resolution camera or other aid.
Jacky also told us that Mao Zedong claimed that if one has not been on the Great Wall yet, then he or she is only half a person. I guess that makes me two people, because I have been on the wall three times already, and today would be my fourth. Yet I have never been to the place in the Great Wall where we went today – it was higher up and I could see more of the Wall from the parking lot. When we got out of the bus, there was a long row of about maybe 15 stands where vendors were shouting to us, selling us their Great Wall souvenirs: t-shirts, fans, statuettes, umbrellas, paintings, hats, books, and other such trinkets. We promised them that we would come back after we went on the Wall, and proceeded to walk towards the entrance. Then the group split into two groups – the fast and the slow – while there were two different path options on the wall that we could take – the steep, crowded one and the straighter, less crowded one. Most of the students, including myself, went into the fast group and decided to climb the steep, crowded part of the wall that went higher up, while the slower group took it easy and chose the other path.
From the base of the wall, the steeper path looked like there were hordes of ants crawling up and down it. As we climbed up the wall, we felt like ants, too, being pushed among so many people, and tirelessly marching up the stairs with everybody else. By the time we got to the first watch tower, we had to squeeze our way through and continue on because it was just too crowded. There were five watch towers we passed in all that served as our resting place. Sometimes we weren’t that tired when we reached them but sometimes, we were panting heavily (the high altitude and thin air didn’t help) and sweating buckets. We climbed hundreds (thousands?) of steep stairs and unfortunately they were all different heights. Along the way, some teachers and kids in the group stopped for breaks and went no further.
At the second watch tower my legs were definitely cramping up so you can imagine by the third watch tower my leg muscles were shaking uncontrollably. We stopped to take a longer break at the third watch tower because there was a resting place and a little store that sold paintings, water, ice cream, and other little souvenirs. After a ten-minute rest we kept going. We wanted to go all the way to the top-most watch tower in that area (I am awful with measuring distances and height, so I’m not really sure how tall it was but I would say that it was almost as tall as 70-80 stories high). Along the way, we passed bathrooms and vendors but by the time we reached the top, Crystal, Chris, Liz, Luke, Nick, and I were the only ones in the group left. There it was breezy and we could see the surrounding green mountains and the rest of the wall winding northwest and northeast. The base of the wall was a tiny little settlement tucked in a small valley between the mountains with a road leading south towards the city. However, we couldn’t see the city because it was too smoggy there. There weren’t as many people at that watch tower and so after being there for 10 minutes, we trudged back down. Going down was scarier for me than going up.
As we passed the vendors going down, one of them yelled to Chris that she would sell him something for about 300RMB. Chris was power walking past her and didn’t even get a chance to see what she was selling but he yelled back, “150!” The vendor said, “OKAY!” but Chris was gone by then. It was funny.
Before we arrived at the base of the Wall, we passed by about two or three yards of a line of locks. Couples put locks on a chain on the Great Wall to symbolize their strong love for each other .Then they would throw away the key somewhere into the mountains so that nobody could break the bonds of their relationship. It was really cute.
Finally we were at the bottom of the mountain and off the Great Wall. I was so hot and tired, but I was glad that I had gone so far. I’d say that the experience was actually fun! Anyway, we looked at the vendors’ stands at the base, but I didn’t buy anything. When both groups were back, we all got on the bus to our next destination.
It was a ten-minute bus ride to the Cloisonné factory. Cloisonné, or enamelware, are the beautiful Chinese porcelain vases that you see going as far back as ancient China. We went on a tour to see how the Cloisonné was made. First, the vase itself was made (usually copper), then a design was carved into the vase followed by someone putting copper wire over the design. Then, the vase was painted and put into the fire where the paint melted. This process was repeated about 5 times. Then it was polished to make a final product. After this quick tour, we went to the second floor of the factory where there was a restaurant and where we ate dinner. After dinner, we went back downstairs to shop in the gift shop. They sold paintings, vases, and jewelry there but once again I didn’t get anything (because it was expensive!).
I slept on the long drive back to Beijing and when I woke up we were in front of the Bird’s Nest, home of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. I had never realized how big the Bird’s Nest actually was until we were standing in front of it – yes, it was huge. We also passed the Water Cube, which we did not go inside of, but it was still cool to look at. After two security checks we were actually inside the Bird’s Nest. Unfortunately we couldn’t go into the middle of it because there was a soccer field laid out in the middle. Apparently, there was a soccer game last night against Argentina (China lost 3-0) which was continuing tonight. Messi, regarded as one of the best soccer players in the world, played yesterday but when asked if he could kick the ball around for some poor orphans (their parents fell victim to the Sichuan earthquake two years ago), he refused. According to Jacky this was “shameful to the Chinese.”
Anyway, the Bird’s Nest holds 80,000 people and I just took pictures on the first level. Although I was in China during the Olympics, I wish that I had the chance to see the opening ceremony in the Bird’s Nest; it must have been spectacular! However, not only were the tickets expensive, but there was also a lottery so that only some people were chosen. Jacky also applied to be a volunteer during the Games since he could speak English, but many others also applied so he was not selected. He did say that he made a lot of money during that time as a tour guide to the athletes’ families (though he said that he wished he was Michael Phelps’ guide).
by Emily Yang, NYU '14