I’m trying to come up with an introduction to this blog, but I think my pictures are pretty self-explanatory. Yesterday, to live up Mom’s last day in China, we climbed the Great Wall at Mutianyu.
The drive to the Great Wall is about an hour outside of Beijing. No, we did not drive there ourselves. Do you think we’re nuts? Luckily, Mev lent us her driver Lu, to take us to the Great Wall. Lu picked us up at my apartment around 9:30 am. We made a coffee run at Starbucks before hitting the road. Traffic wasn’t as bad as I anticipated and once we were on the highway we mobbed. For readers unfamiliar with this terminology, “mobbed” or “mobbing” means “to go somewhere” or “to move quickly.” (UrbanDictionary.com) Lu is an excellent driver, he speeds and passes. Like I said, excellent driver.
I hoped once we were outside of Beijing the air would clear up. Well the smog cleared up, but the sky was still gray. Not bad, but not a gorgeous clear day. Pictures turned out alright, so I’m not complaining.
The Great Wall has so much history it would be impossible for me to write about it all. The building of the Great Wall took hundreds of years and thousands of men. During the Warring States Period, the states of Qi, Yan and Zhao built walls for protection from small arms such as swords and spears. Many dynasties built, rebuilt and extended the Great Wall. The final construction came during the Ming Dynasty. The Ming Dynasty revived the concept of a Great Wall to protect against Manchurian and Mongolian invaders. The Great Wall is over 6,400 kilometers (4,000 miles). However, if you connect all the walls built in different dynasties, the Great Wall’s length exceeds 50,000 kilometers. As for the rumor you can see the Great Wall from space, you can. Sort of. The Wall is visible from low earth orbit (100 miles). NASA claims it is barely visible and only under near perfect conditions. Aaaaaannnndddd, now I sound like a textbook. If you’re dying to know more about The Great Wall, there is plenty of information on Google.
In Beijing, there are three different locations to visit the Great Wall: Badaling, Mutianyu and Simatai. Badaling is closest to Beijing and is popular among tourists. When presidents, royalty or anyone of importance comes to Beijing, they usually see the Great Wall at Badaling. Obama visited the Great Wall at Badaling, one more reason we decided to go to Mutianyu. Joking to all those liberal readers! We chose to see Mutianyu because it is farther away from Beijing. There are less tourists. Simatai is the farthest Great Wall site from Beijing. It also includes unrestored sections of the Wall. The Great Wall at Simatai is said to be a challenging hike. After climbing Mutianyu I was exhausted. I can’t imagine climbing Simatai.
If you’re a tourist it would be easy to say you’re “going to see the Great Wall.” True, you are going to see the Wall. However, many Chinese say they “climb or hike the Great Wall.” Trust me, you do not just look at the Great Wall. It is a climb. There is a steep incline. Stairs are uneven so climbers must watch their footing. Like Mom kept saying, “What goes down, must come up.” The walk down the Wall wasn’t bad, it was the walk back that killed our calves. What did we expect? The Wall is built along mountains. This isn’t a walk in the park, or better yet, a walk in the mall.
Although the Great Wall is a tough climb, I can see myself spending a week or two climbing it. I would love to come in the spring or summer and backpack along the Wall. Naturally I would have my camera in tow. A few people have hiked the entire wall. Knowing me, when I set my mind to something, I want to do it and do it best. Besides, if I climbed the entire wall my legs and butt would be banging (in extremely good shape). That’s like doing a Stairmaster across America! Hmmm…
All our climbing worked up an appetite. Mev suggested a good restaurant at Mutianyu called The School House. It’s an old school purchased by American’s. They serve delicious American food. Aside from food, The School House also has a glass art museum and a terrace for nice weather. My favorite part of The School House was the placemats and oil crayons. The School House is decorated with drawings done by guests. People from the US, Brazil, Italy, Egypt, Korea and numerous other countries drew pictures hanging on the wall. I drew a picture of the Space Needle and a cow. Yeah, I don’t know. I’m a horrible artist. I also wrote 华洲美国 (Washington State, America) so everyone knew we were American’s. Like always, I included my website address. You never know who is going to see that. Mom drew a lovely portrait of me wearing my WSU hoodie.
As for our meals at The School House… 好吃！For appetizers we ate warm cornbread with an artichoke dip. So good! Seeing all the American food on the menu, I didn’t know what to get. My taste buds were overwhelmed. Everything sounded good. In the end, I ordered a bacon burger with cheese and french fries. I haven’t eaten a hamburger since coming to China. Sure there is McDonald’s, but that’s not a hamburger, that’s fast food. Yuck. Mom ordered a club sandwich and fries. We figured after all our climbing we could splurge on desert. We ordered an apple crisp with extra ice cream. For a split second I felt like I was back in America.
Lu drove us back to Beijing. China doesn’t have daylight savings time, so around 3:30 pm the sun starts to set. When we arrived in Beijing the sun had already set. Christmas lights lit up bars, shopping centers and sidewalks. Lu dropped us off at the tailor so Mom could pick up her new pants. They look good Mom!
We walked to the subway station arm in arm, sad that our last night together is finally here. What happened to the time? It seemed like just yesterday Mom arrived. We’ve had so much fun together. But Mom’s trip wasn’t over yet.
I never go to the clubs or bars in Beijing. I should, but I a) don’t go to bars alone like I’m some alcoholic looking to get kidnapped and b) I don’t want to pay for a cab, drinks and cover. In my two months in China, I’ve been out once and that was on Halloween. In The Beijinger, a magazine for expats, Mom read about a new bar called Chocolate. The magazine voted it as the best new bar/dance club. Mom and I decided to check it out.
When the cab dropped us off, we realized we were in the Russian district of town. No surprise, the owner is a Russian woman. Mom and I walked into the bar and it was completely empty. Turns out Chocolate is also a restaurant during the day. We were in the restaurant, not the club. We went around back and heard dance music blaring. Yep, exactly what I hoped for.
There is no cover at this bar (one more reason to love it) so we walked right in. We took an escalator downstairs and found ourself in a massive dance club. Renaissance art decorated the ceiling. A giant screen behind the DJ illuminated the dance floor. Between cuts a live band played Russian dance music. Other times dancers would come out in costumes and perform routines. Some guests smoked hookah at their tables. The bathrooms had gold toilets! A waiter quickly seated us at our own table. Mom ordered a vodka tonic and I ordered an Absinth and grenadine. Little did I know the waiter would bring a cup of Absinth, light it on fire then mix my drink!
Mom and I really lived up our last night together. We danced until 2 am. I met so many different people at Chocolate. A group of middle eastern guys started a dance circle that I somehow got pulled into. They asked where I was from, I said, “America! You?” They all shouted, “Iran!” Political differences aside, they were a fun bunch. I also met a Russian guy, who works for Sinopec, on business in Beijing. He came over to dance with me and started talking in Russian. I asked him, in Chinese, if he speaks English. He didn’t speak Chinese, but he did English. He said he thought I was Russian! We both had a good laugh. Maybe I’m more exotic looking than “white.”
Around 2 am we caught a cab home. I could’ve danced all night (Chocolate is open until 6 am) but I didn’t want Mom to miss her flight. We got home and crashed.
This morning Mom and I woke up sad, knowing she flies home. We ran a few last minute errands and ordered Chinese food to-go before taking the subway to the airport. At customs we parted ways. We waved to each other until she disappeared behind the customs walls.
It’s weird to be home alone again. My apartment seems so empty. I miss having someone to talk to. I guess it’s time to get back into Chinese mode.
Having my Mom in China was so much fun. She is a great travel partner (Dad she read the maps fine!) and totally went with the flow of things. Before Mom arrived I worried she might be overwhelmed by all the people. Not the case. Mom adapted and in no time was shoving her way onto rush hour subways. Thank you Mom for all the yummy meals, nice clothes and priceless memories. You are the best. I love you!!