Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Day 4 - This Tour Goes to ELEVEN! Part III - The Great Wall

        After the Clear Reminder at the Jade Factory that Communist China is still with us, we headed to the Great Wall.  This served as a Clear Reminder that as varied and complicated as China can get when you enter into the details of things, it has the ability to be a monolithic power as well.
We were heading for a mountainous part of the Great Wall, so we began driving between foothills backed by mountains.  As we were driving through these hills I could see evidence of yet another great work of the Chinese Empire.  These hills were covered with ROWS of trees.  Sure mountains covered with trees is one thing, ROWS of trees is another.  These miles and miles and miles of foothills had been hand-planted with trees.  The time, effort and resources involved in this endeavor was staggering in itself.  These hillsides were steep, and all sorts of odd little crevices had been included.  There was no way any of the planting had been in any way machine aided.  This had all been done by hand.
This planting had to have been part of the "greening-up" of Beijing in preparation for the Olympics, for these hillsides had long been bare after some of the different excesses of Mao's "Great Leap Forward," including back yard metal smelting - which denuded areas of all wood, of any sort, as it was used to stoke furnaces in schools, farm yards and anywhere else.

All these hillsides (and many many many.... more) hand planted with trees

There was no way for me to get a good picture of this, as it was not on the tour, and it was unimaginable that it might be of interest to me.  Eleven gave me some odd looks as I asked about this.  I almost felt like she must be thinking something along the lines of, "Why does this crazy American care about trees?  We were going to the Great Wall!"

And we did get to the Great Wall.  And being in our little mini-van instead of a great lumbering bus, yet having the political umph of a tour bus, they drove us right up to the gate.  As we headed up, we stopped to have our picture taken by the officially sanctioned photographer (Brrrrrr COLD job - standing around outside - and she also had an officially numbered parka - just like the photographers at Tiananmen).  This spot was clearly set up for group shots, a mini set of bleachers, a sign and everything.  We went ahead and bought our souvenir booklet too.  Why not - even if I ever end up back at the Great Wall, I'll only be there the 1st time once.

And then we commenced climbing.  Unlike some of the wide, flat stretches of the Great Wall, we were on a bit that looks like the mythical dragon back, undulating up and down, curving across hill tops.  

OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health etc...) would die just looking at it.  And forget the ADA - not at all accessible unless both legs (and in some places arms) are working well.  The steps were steep, of differing width and depth. 

 In places it would be 5 people wide, and in others, 2 people wide, if they were undernourished, good friends, or were used to a limited personal space.  The close quarters at times made me glad we were there at a low tourist season.  If it had been at all crowded, an elbow in the face would have been a real possibility.  All the same, the number of languages in which I overhead people complaining about the cold or the climb was still impressive. 

The guard towers were interesting as well, and not just for the international nature of the graffiti.  The stairs up to the roof platforms were more like ladders, and again, (as they say at Disney parks these days) certain body shapes cannot be accommodated.  

The two different sides of the wall in places made it very clear that some refurbishing has been done over time - and some of it over and over.

The really old part of the wall
Old Part - left, New Part - right.
Check out the wacky stair heights -
and the different bricks in the treads - vs. the bricks under them.
The top brick in all the stair cases was a different clay than the bricks in the refurbished walls and the bricks underneath, showing that these had been replaced at least once since that portion had been rebuilt, and I suspect these "tread" bricks are replaced pretty often.  
I was tipped off to their, mmm, general crumminess as I started to notice all sorts of odd stuff stuck in the clay.  Broken tiles, sticks, strange fibers, and an animal tooth. 

I wish I'd put down a coin for scale, but this tooth was about the size of a dime, or a bit larger.
 At a guess, it's definitely the tooth of a carnivore, and not one I'd want to be near.  But a big dog?  Any feline with a tooth that size can't have been too common in China for quite awhile.  Bear? I really was left wondering about the source of these bricks.

But we kept going, and made it to the top of the hill we could see.  Only to discover that the hills just keep going on and on, up and up.  Maybe, some day, when the Chinese government gets less tetchy about tourists wandering around unaccompanied, and in rural areas, trekking the Great Wall could definitely become a tourist attraction.  Sort of the Appalachian Trail of China.  But that's a problem/idea for the future.  And we were on a tour, and it was cold (still) and also windy. 

 It was time to head down.
On the way down we were included in a couple of pictures with Chinese tourists (Look here's my picture at the Great Wall, and here's my picture with the strangely dressed Americans).  Tavin's bright red dragon hat made him easy to find, 

but it also got him plenty of attention from the locals.  Part of the fun is he REALLY does look about 1/2 Asian.  It had come up when he was a baby and a toddler, but not in a while, and I had wondered if it was just the view of Americans.  Nope.  In both China and Japan I ended up in conversations wondering if his father was Asian (since I am obviously not).  No one wondered if he was adopted.  There seemed to be no question that he was my son.
We arrived at the bottom.  our souvenir picture was ready (no problem figuring out which photo was ours), and we got back in the warm van, and headed for lunch at yet another state run store.

Details on our lunch... next time.

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