The mass of people that represents China was no more evident than when we arrived at the gates to the Forbidden City. We encountered many Chinese tourists while in Taiwan, but nothing prepared us for the masses that visit China’s capital city, including the short elderly women who attempt to clothesline you (ask Nichole). The pushing and pressing of the crowds were sometimes too much, giving a whole new meaning to breath-taking.
I can’t even tell you how many ancient and amazing temples we visited in both Taiwan and China. Most of our time in China was spent walking between various ancient structures: Forbidden City (13 miles walked), Temple of Heaven (15.5 miles walked), Summer Palace, Drum and Bell Tower, etc.
From the cold, gray heart of communism we snapped a great selfie with Mao’s portrait, which adorns the southern gates of the Forbidden City looking out at Tiananmen Square.
As soon as you see, let alone step foot, into Tiananmen Square, it feels like capital-“C” Communism (if that is a feeling). Large, imposing, brutalist grey structures with red stars and symbols as their only decoration are on all sides. The square design of everything is very uninviting as is the drab grey that accompanies the smog filled air. Makes me think of “A Dictator’s Guide to Urban Design.”
These oddly ornate streetlights really stand out in Tiananmen Square both for their design and their glut of security cameras. Every light post had a minimum of 7 cameras on it. This one pictured has 9 security cameras. It is unclear how many of them still function.
Little did we know, capitalism has infiltrated the communist capital of the world (more than we realized). This is from our first night after getting to our hotel. We were met by a Times Square style strip that included an Apple Store, Starbucks, Tiffany’s, and Prada to name a few. This was obviously the main tourist strip, so it may also exist to assuage Western fears of China? That is just a hypothesis, but it was an unexpected sight.
Our main goal in China was to see the Great Wall. We are checking off the “Seven Wonders of the World” after visiting Machu Picchu.
We signed up for a guide service that was well reviewed and featured by USA Today, CNN, and many others. A driver and a guide showed up at our hotel with a small car (we expected a small group at least) and we were on our way. It was a long drive outside Beijing (beyond the 6th ring). It was a long drive along some empty roads. We passed what seemed to be many resort towns and hotels that were equally barren of people. Tourism must not be going very well, this wasn’t the season, or the boom from the Olympics is no longer supporting this area outside of Beijing. At any rate we passed numerous road signs that said the Great Wall in this area was closed off to tourists. We kept driving.
We ended up in a small village area where there was a small hotel run by someone’s cousin. We made a pit stop and then began trekking up the mountainside. It was about 2 miles up before we were able to glimpse the Great Wall at all. Our guide kept asking if we needed a break as he wheezed and regularly called for a smoke break. By the time we reached the Great Wall we were pretty sweaty and tired. To access the Great Wall we climbed these lashed wooden ladders and our guide kept looking around as if someone should be there. Eventually a haggard, old man dressed in faded army fatigues walked towards us, exchanged pleasantries with our guide, and left with a handful of cash.
We were started to worry that we had been fooled by being guided to the crumbling Great Wall where you have to pay off an old man to look out at the smog filled valleys. In the end this was an excellent introduction to the Great Wall and the time that it has endured.
In all we covered only about 6 miles of the Great Wall, but it felt like hundreds because of the steep ups and downs of the construction. Some areas were so steep that it made more sense to run down. The smog lifted and we began to traverse some of the more well kept parts of the Great Wall and it was incredible.