The Great Wall in the Snow

Trip Start Nov 09, 2009
Trip End Nov 19, 2009

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Flag of China  , Beijing,
Thursday, November 12, 2009

The first night ended quickly as we passed out on the bed. We awoke at 3 in the morning, ready for the day to begin.  Turns out that's 2pm back home, and we couldn’t quite convince our bodies that it was still time to sleep.  We persevered and fell back asleep sometime before the 6:30am wake up call.

We got ready and headed down to breakfast. Most of our hotels offer a western style breakfast, so we can get cereal, toast, bread, sausage and the like.  The typical Chinese breakfast consists of noodles, bean milk, and pickles.  It’s just a bit too early in the day for crazy food for me (Aaron), and it’s always too early in the day for Denise!

The temps were in the low 30s, and it was snowing pretty hard when we headed out.  We were both pretty bummed out; because this was the day we were going to go to the Great Wall.  However, we convinced ourselves that it was going to be great anyway.  Snow on the Wall would be cool.

Our first stop of the day was the Jade Factory.  Jade is very important in China. It’s often called the Jade Kingdom.  The factory turned out to be a large store, but we learned a number of cool things.  Jade isn’t just green. It can be white, yellow, black, brown, or a number of other colors. It has a common grade and a high grade.  It can be soft, which is used for carving statues, some of which are amazingly intricate.  And it can be hard, which is used for bracelets and other jewelry.  Jade is about 80% as hard as diamonds, and is very strong.  It’s also a precious commodity, and anyone that was thinking we were going to get a deal quickly found out otherwise.  A button sized piece of jade cost as much as $100.  We saw a lot of great stuff, but passed on buying any jade (sorry Aaron’s Mom!).

Next we went to the site of the Ming Tombs.  It’s sort of like going to the Pyramids in Egypt, except here all of the tombs were built underground, without a lot of large structures on the surface.

There was a great museum there where we were able to see artifacts that came out of one of the tombs. We then walked around the grounds and took some pictures.  It was a peaceful place, especially with the snow falling softly.

The entire complex is over 30 square miles, so we certainly didn’t see everything, and we didn’t have a lot of time to explore. It was off to lunch next.

Lunch was tasty. Denise enjoyed rice, French Fries, peanuts, sesame cookies, and tangerines.  For me, it was more of the same.  At this point, I’m not complaining. It has all been delicious.  Well, not all. Each lunch comes with ten or more dishes. Half of them are great, and half of them I’m happy to not ever try again.  But it is a good variety and the quality has been excellent.

As it turns out, the restaurant is between the Ming Tombs and the Great Wall. It’s a busy spot and the restaurant can accommodate 2500 people at a time.  On the first floor, is a Cloisonne factory (you may want to Google Cloisonne).  It’s a way of creating vases and other art from copper plates. It’s beautiful and intricate work. We took a brief tour and watched workers making vases before lunch, and after lunch we went shopping in the very large store.  There was almost too much to choose from, but a bunch of lucky friends and family members have some cool Christmas presents coming now. 

I’m sure most of you have gone shopping at Best Buy before. Perhaps, like me, you find their sales people pushy and bothersome. Take that feeling, and multiply it by twenty-two and you may have an idea of what’s it is like in the stores here.  As we left lunch and went downstairs to go shopping, a dozen or more sales staff congregated at the bottom of the stairs like so many jackals.  A personal salesperson was discreetly assigned to each person or couple as they came into the store.  No matter what we tried, we were unable to shake our shadow.  To be fair, she was very helpful and not too pushy.  Even after we had made our purchase, she followed us around until we had left the store, explaining the different goods that we saw.

Finally, it was time for the highlight of the entire trip. We were off to see the Great Wall, the big draw that made the trip a must do for Denise and I. The bad news; it was very overcast.  The good news; the snow was no longer falling and we were in China!  So we couldn’t get the large, blue sky panoramic picture that we wanted.  We were determined to make the best of it.

In Beijing, they’ve done a lot of work to repair the wall.  The first part of the wall was laid down sometime in the BCs.  The large complex north of Beijing was fully utilized during the 14th century.  And in 1989, a lot of work was done to fix up the area that we were in.  It’s actually a 4000 meter loop.  It allowed the defenders to guard the outer wall, and fall back to the inner wall if it was necessary. If the inner wall fell, it was a straight shot to Beijing for the barbarians.

We had two choices when we go to the wall. Take the "easy" way to the East, or the “difficult” way to the West.  We went West, of course. And it was difficult. Not only was it almost straight up, but the snow was packed on the stairs and it made it very slippery.  Ginseng (our tour guide) told us that it was 1700 steps to the top of the hill.  

Visiting any historical spot is interesting.  Thinking of all of the lives and events that passed that place before you provides a stick with which to measure yourself against.  We had never been to anything as old as the wall. It was an amazing experience, even with the clouds and lack of vistas.

We didn’t make it up as far as we would have liked.  The stairs were treacherous and our allotted time was short.  We turned back thinking it would take longer than it did to get back to the bus.  We made it back with time to spare, so it’s too bad we didn’t keep going to the top of the hill. However, there weren’t any pictures to be had up there. We were walking in the clouds by the time we did stop.

After dinner, we paid $30 each for a full body massage.  It lasted one and a half hours.  I even had my ears massaged.  The back massage was intense and the foot massage was 45 minutes on its own.  It was a steal and well worth it after a trip across the world and a plethora of stairs at the Great Wall.

What a cool day.  Check out the pictures and let us know what you think. Oh, and if you have a specific question about something, let us know.  Our heads are being packed with useful and useless information by Ginseng, so we might just have an answer for you.

Enjoy your Thursday! Ours was great.

Aaron and Denise
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Theresa Owens on

Aaron & Denise - how utterly fantastic- who would have believed any of us would ever be in china? How truly small this world is. Did you have to go around the world to find snow? we're going to be getting our own soon you know!!!! thanks so much for sharing those pictures - love, Aunt Theresa

Ginger on

Thanks for sharing, keep it coming! very kool! :)

Tim on

Very cool, looks tiring! Hiking the Great Wall would sure get a person in shape! I know blue skies are nice, but I think the snow looks beautiful.

Aunt Patty on

When do you have time to write so extensively? That being said, I'm glad you are and can't wait for the next entry. Some how I'm not surprised Denise had no problem with the food- white rice being the staple of the diet over there. So sorry we didn't get to connect on your layover but am very happy to know you made it!

Mom on

I had a great birthday and am glad that you told me my day would be wonderful. I am enjoying all that you are doing. This is so cool to be able to follow you each day. Thanks for sharing and have a great tomorrow.

Jennifer Sample/Woody's on

Hi Aaron: I couldn't resist when I saw the word snow. I always wondered about the food. Doesn't sound too bad.

Becky on

Wow that is amazing..the great wall! How cool to be around something that old. It's hard to even comprehend!!

Paul on


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