Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Great Wall and Hutong

Monday was the Chinese traditional holiday of the Mid-Autumn Festival. It falls on the day of the full moon and is a celebration of family and friends. A special dessert called a moon cake is prepared for this celebration and it is offered everywhere from restaurants to private homes. It is expected that you bring moon cakes when you visit anyone during the weekend. One can easily end up with bags of moon cakes which may last years if you have lots of friends. It has a filling of lotus seed or a sweet bean paste (very dense). Some have a small yolk in the center while others have various nuts and seeds mixed in the paste. This morning (Tuesday - they must still be trying to get rid of moon cakes) I had a fruity tasting cake.

Fancy entrance in hutong
We decided to spend Monday doing some sightseeing. We went to the Great Wall and to a hutong, a neighborhood section of Beijing that still has the traditional homes and alleyways. Many of these hutongs were demolished to make way for more modern buildings in preparation for the Olympics. The people were paid a hefty sum to move. Our translator and guide, Hope, thought it was funny that the hutongs in Beijing have become a tourist destination. These neighborhoods are all she knew growing up outside of Beijing.

The trip to the section of the Great Wall we were to visit took almost two hours. Unfortunately it was a very smoggy day so the pictures did not turn out as good as I hoped. I borrowed some pictures from Dana, a new friend from Escondido, CA who was here teaching at the Crown University, which is also connected to Global Partners. He went to the same section of the Wall earlier in the week but they enjoyed clear blue skies.

We took a lift chair up to the top, walked a small portion of the wall and then returned down the mountain on a tobaggan slide (this was fun!). On one hand you get your exercise walking any part of the Wall but on the other hand, you feel like you've just smoked a pack of cigarettes because of the smog.

The Wall is almost 4000 miles long and can be seen from space. Started as early as the 5th century BCE, sections of it were still being built in the 1400's CE. We went to the Mutianyu section which is the only location that has a tobaggan ride down. There were guys stationed along the route to watch out for everyone's safety. I think several yelled at me to slow down. ^_^

How would you like to be hanging out at
that corner when an earthquake hits?
We had hired a driver with a Mercedes van to take our team to the Great Wall.  He was an excellent driver - which means he drove fast, passed 5 cars on a two-lane highway with no shoulder, created a fourth lane on a three lane freeway going in one direction, and drove up the opposing lane to the front of the line of 10 cars trying to get into the parking lot of the Great Wall area. And they let him in! Peggy, Jon and I discussed the driving habits of the Chinese. We observed some honking but not excessive, no angry yelling or obscene gestures, no turning signals, minimal driving distances between cars (on all four sides) and crazy merging patterns that looked like a well orchestrated dance of cars at rush hour. We decided to call it "polite chaos."

This city is amazing. Most of the time it is quite smoggy - they call it "foggy" but it sure smells funny for fog. After a rain, the skies clear up to reveal even more of the skyline from our hotel window. On our excursions away from the hotel, I have seen some incredible architecture. They really love to be creative in their designs!

I haven't even begun to tell you about the food which is yummy and cheap. Suffice it to say - I'm not losing any weight and I'm afraid to get on the scale in my hotel room to see if I've gained any pounds. So much for trying to look good for my high school reunion next month in Florida!

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