Great Wall Marathon and other May happenings

Trip Start Jul 20, 2004
Trip End Jul 20, 2020

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Friday, May 29, 2009

May is coming to an end already and I find myself having to update my blog again. The weather is gorgeous which means lots of outdoors activities are taking place in my life.

The second week of May saw the "Beijing Explorer" group head out to the Great Wall, one of my favorite places in BJ. We went to Huanghuashang Great Wall where we hiked up the Wall and otherwise indulged in a lavish lunch at Mr. Li's guesthouse. This is one of my favorite places to spend a day since the Great Wall is not overrun and during the week the guesthouses along the road and river are not overcrowded by Beijingers escaping the city.

The highlight of the month was the Great Wall Marathon at Huangyaguan, Tianjin. I had been training for this event since the end of February and was looking forward to this challenging race. The day of the race, we had to leave BJ at 3:30am to get us to the wall by about 6ish. The race started at 7.30am so we had time to doodle around, drop of our bags and check out the intimidating steps of the wall, which would have to clamber up and down twice. The Great Wall Marathon is marketed as " a tough, beautiful and definitely extraordinary experience. The 5164 steps of the Great Wall will put your physique to the test, and the breathtaking surroundings of Tianjin Province will compete with your tired muscles for attention. The Great Wall Marathon is the ideal way to combine an unusual running event with exploring one of the world's most astonishing sights."

Physically, The Great Wall Marathon course could be divided into two sections. The first section covered approximately 9 kilometers and took us runners up to, across and down the Great Wall of China. This part of the course was marked by steep ascents and descents of up to 10% and consisted of thousands of steps. We full marathoners had to complete this section of the course twice. The second section of the course, took us through picturesque villages and grain fields, running mostly on flat asphalt and gravel roads. Throughout the course, villagers were cheering for us with the familiar "Jia you" which we could hear during the Olympic Games. I rather enjoyed the run, stopping for a few minutes at the halfway point to take in some GU and a bottle of Gatorade. I figured this should take me through the finish line. The second time around on the Great Wall was tough compared to the first time around. But once on the downhill towards the finish line, my legs just kept going as I was shooting for a 5-hour time slot. And oh how wonderful it was to see the finish line - my time was 5 h and 4 min. I felt great throughout the race and felt even better after the race. I was starving though and after gulping down a subway sandwich, courtesy of the organizers, I treated myself to cold but overpriced beer. Life was good. The sore legs didn't rear their ugly heads until the next days. For two days I felt like walking on eggs. All in all, I highly recommend this race; well organized, though expensive. But you can't beat the scenery and the challenge. Everyone can run the NY or Chicago or London marathon, its mostly flat and fast. But the Great Wall is a whole different story.

With regard to the art scene, I went to the Beijing World Art Museum to see a photography exhibition of John Thomson (14 June 1837 - 7 October 1921) who was a pioneering Scottish photographer, geographer and traveller. He was one of the first photographers to travel to the Far East, documenting the people, landscapes and artifacts of eastern cultures. Thomson travelled extensively throughout China, from the southern trading ports of Hong Kong and Canton to the cities of Peking and Shanghai, to the Great Wall in the north, and deep into central China. From 1870 to 1871 he visited the Foochow region, travelling up the Min River by boat with the American Protestant missionary Reverend Justus Doolittle, and then visited Amoy and Swatow.
He went on to visit the island of Formosa with the missionary Dr. James Laidlaw Maxwell, landing first in Takao in early April 1871. The pair visited the capital, Taiwanfu, before travelling on to the aboriginal villages on the west plains of the island. After leaving Formosa, Thomson spent the next three months travelling 3,000 miles up the Yangtze River, reaching Hupeh and Szechuan. Thomson's travels in China were often perilous, as he visited remote, almost unpopulated regions far inland. Most of the people he encountered had never seen a Westerner or camera before. His expeditions were also especially challenging because he had to transport his bulky wooden camera, many large, fragile glass plates, and potentially explosive chemicals. He photographed in a wide variety of conditions and often had to improvise because chemicals were difficult to acquire. His subject matter varied enormously: from humble beggars and street people to Mandarins, Princes and senior government officials; from remote monasteries to Imperial Palaces; from simple rural villages to magnificent landscapes. I am fascinated with the old dynasties, especially the Qing dynasty, and their culture, dress code, customs and traditions and intrigues.

I also went to the Capital Museum where I spent considerable time on the 5th floor which has an extensive exhibition area featuring Stories of the Capital City - Old Beijing Folk-customs.

On the culinary side, my friends and I are getting together again for our twice-a-month exploration into the food capital of China. We savored sumptuous food at the Gansu government restaurant. The ambiance of the restaurant and toilets alone were worth the trip. This place has probably the best restroom in BJ. Our next food adventure was Hainan cuisine. The restaurant was nothing to write home about; the food was good but not overwhelming. Last but not least, during our last outing, we feasted on Yunnan food at the Middle 8th restaurant in Sanlitun. Excellent food presentation and taste, especially the Yunnan rice wine served in bamboo trunks.

On May 28th, we got a day off as China celebrated The Dragon Boat Festival or Duanwu Festival. This is the time to see dragon boat racing, if you are in the south of China, and it lots of zongzi, sticky rice dumpling with a variety of fillings from pork, to shrimp to dates and bean past. Yummy!!!
The best-known traditional story holds that the festival commemorates the death of poet Qu Yuan (c. 340 BC - 278 BC) of the ancient state of Chu, in the Warring States Period of the Zhou Dynasty. A descendant of the Chu royal house, Qu served in high offices. However, when the king decided to ally with the increasingly powerful state of Qin, Qu was banished for opposing the alliance. Qu Yuan was accused of treason. During his exile, Qu Yuan wrote a great deal of poetry, for which he is now remembered. Twenty-eight years later, Qin conquered the Chu capital. In despair, Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth month.
It is said that the local people, who admired him, threw food into the river to feed the fish so that they would not eat Qu Yuan's body. This is said to be the origin of zongzi. The local people were also said to have paddled out on boats, either to scare the fish away or to retrieve his body. This is said to be the origin of dragon boat racing.

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