CHINA JOURNAL---SUNDAY, MARCH 10, 2002
Another hao jileı (terrific!) day!
Zhang Jie and I left the house at a little before 6:00 in the morning, going by bus to the train station where we met Zhang Yu (the better speaking English teacher) and Ding Bai for the 7:15 trip to Beijing. After buying lunch and breakfast to go (for me, two half sandwiches at the Subway for a total of $1.50), we walked up the street to join a tour bus of Chinese and Japanese going to the Great Wall. It is an hour away and a man on the square convinced the girls that it was better to go by the tour bus than the infrequent (I guess) public transportation that far. By the end of the day I was sure he was correct. So we climbed into a packed van. It held 24 people including the driver and guide with no aisle by the time all the jump seats were occupied, which they were. Since I didnıt understand the guide, I could focus on the sights, which was just fine. Sometimes I can be so busy dutifully listening to a guide that I donıt observe on my own.
Beijing is a big city. While the World Trade Towers in New York were twin towers, most large business buildings in the United States are unique. In Beijing, the skyline is filled with twin and triplet towers. These are the tall buildings whose distinctive characteristics stand out because of their height, so the twin and triplet aspect is very noticeable. I had thought that we might see some of the areas that have villas (individual homes), but we saw none. We got on the Badaling Freeway which runs along side the first railroad built in China. I realized that the Chinese artists who paint typically vertical but rounded rocks in a yellowish tone arenıt painting from imagination. The rocks do look like that in the most picturesque areas...a very non-western look. The area we were going to is the most tourist-visited section of the Great Wall, and it well deserves to be. It is called Badaling. As the bus approaches you get many glimpses of the Great Wall, always following the ridge of a hill, often silhouetted against the sky. At Badaling, after you look past all the souvenir stands, you see the wall go up, up, up and then turn left to go up some more. It looks just like the pictures. I had taken along the backpack because it is so much easier to carry than lots of lunch bags and packages. Beside, Fu Ling warned me to take a hat and muffler, etc. because it could be very cold on the wall. It was a gorgeous day but I could see how way up there it could be quite cold. The girls asked if I wanted to leave the bag in the bus. I asked how long we would be gone. Zhang Yu said two hours. Iım not sure what question she thought she was answering but I figured if we were gone that long I might want the warm clothes and we all might want the water, so I put on the pack.
Up we went. First you climb an inclined hill past more souvenir stands to where the girls bought tickets for something. Then we climbed metal steps and found ourselves at the cog railway.ı The ticket was for a ride up and down part of the hilland what a ride it is. A metal trough, rather like a luge run, curves its way up the hill and back down. The cars look like a small one-man luge or a simple snow basin that you climb onto and sit on upright. It has a joy stick protruding from the middle that is for the downhill run only. Going up, your car catches on a cog track and up you go, protected from the sun by a green arched awning with flags that snakes with you up the hill. I took one look and thought Iıd be better off walking on my own two feet, but the young men helping grabbed hold, put me down on it and away I went. At the end (where more young men hoisted me off) you climb up more metal steps to get onto the wall itself. While the cog run may have taken you up quite a ways, there is plenty more left to climb. Photographs of the Great Wall donıt convey the steepness of it. It literally follows the ridges up and down, and only in the steepest spots did they bother with steps. As a result, there are spots (very few) where the walking is fairly normal. There are some inclines that get so steep that the government has added horizontal cross boards to give you a footing. (Rather like the occasional cross steps going up Half Dome in Yosemite where you can get a footing and rest.) Then it finally becomes so steep that the original builders put in steps. These vary greatly. There might be a series of four or more where the rise was almost as high as my knee. Then they become a little less steep. (And me with my back pack.) Fortunately they have added a handrail. Eventually you get to the high platform or fortification, which provides a welcome opportunity to walk around on flat ground. The view is indeed amazing. In every direction you can see the Wall following the ridges through beautiful unspoiled scenery (as long as you donıt look down at the souvenir scene below.) In the fortification there were two types of openings for looking out and shooting weapons: in one kind the hole through the stone wall was horizontal, in the other it angled down to the scene below. You look at that mass of rock and the terrifically difficult building conditions and realize why it is considered one of the marvels of the world. The man power and man deaths must both have been staggering. I was struck by the difference in building philosophy between the Chinese and the Incas. The Inca trail was built so you never have a very deep step and there are always steps, no steep inclines, even though the Inca trail tends to follow the ridges toobut then the Incas werenıt building a huge wall fortification. Maybe they should have.
I was ready to continue on up the next leg on our ³two hour² walk, but we needed to head back for the busI definitely neednıt have carried the pack. I was disappointed at the thought of heading back to Tianjin with only spending that short time on the Wallbut there was lots more ahead that I only learned about as it unfolded. We walked back down to where we got our luge ride back. As the little seats reach the top on the cog and the riders dismount, the cog ends but the trough continues and starts aiming down. The seats are pushed forward into this section, and you see that each one has four wheels which ride the trough. Now the joystick becomes an actual brake and you control the forward speed of the car. Again I was mulling over how to explain that Iıd rather walk down, when one of the workers climbed into a seat in front of me, others got me down on my seat, and the worker in front reached around and controlled both his joystick and mineso I had an escort down the hill. Even at that it rode up a bit on the sides of the trough once in awhile, but it was lots of fun and I could look around and enjoy it.
Back on the bus, I was mentally heading back to Beijing when we pulled into a jade and gemstone factory. That didnıt surprise me because that is a typical tourist gimmick, although this was a legitimate factory and does beautiful work. Back on the bus, I was once again mentally heading back to Beijing when we pulled into the Ming Tombs. There we toured Chang Ling, the first of the Ming Tombs built in the 1400s. More lovely gardens and beautiful buildings. The item that interested me most was a long bolt of cloth for a fancy Chinese royal garment with stunning woven designs in many colors so that it almost looks embroidered rather than wovenseeming too complex for weaving. I had always pictured these clothes being made like our garmentspieces of the pattern are cut out of the fancy woven cloth and what remains as wasteı are beautiful small odd shapes of material. Not so for the Chinese royals. The bolt is basically one long golden cloth. It was as if the pattern pieces had been traced on the bolt and only the space within the patterns was woven in the fancy colors, but those pattern pieces had to evolve as the bolt was woven. Once the pieces were cut out to sew together, the scraps were nothing but the plain goldno wasted woven colors. Pretty impressive.
We ate lunch at a small restaurant across from the tomb entrance. Here I would have rinsed out my dishes, but there wasnıt any tea offered to make that possible. It happened that I had bought my lunch sandwich (the rest ate theirs for breakfast) so I ate that rather than the restaurant meal. Outside we looked at the orchard of pear and apple trees which are allowed to grow tall and peach trees which are pruned to be very low, flat spreading trees. There were three large dogs, the first Iıve seen, each on a short chain to a peach tree. They are peach dogs.ı Apparently at night they are unchained and protect the orchard from people who might throw things at or take the peaches.
Back in the bus I stopped conjecturing on what was to be next. It was a stop at the Nine Dragon Amusement Park. There we took in two adventures. One was a cinematic moviewith the huge screen and a show that makes you feel as if you are in the middle of the action. But there was a difference. Your seats in the theater were in pairs with each pair mounted on a platform. The seats were padded, semi-reclining, and had seat belts and hand grips. When the lights go out and the movie begins the motion of your seat is synchronized with the movie, The Glacier Ride. It tilted and bumped and vibrated and gave a very realistic ride.ı I was glad to have the seat belt on! Next was the Seabed Ride. It was done like a Disney ride with some of the characters animated in a fairly simple way and without the illusions and 360 degree actionuntil we got to the middle room. There was a huge happy seated man figure and smaller figures of women in pairs doing Chinese hand motions. These we saw in our first circling of the room in our track driven car. The car circled upward and all the characters changedthe huge man to a huge monster, some of the ladies to disfigured features, etcand then they changed back again. It is fun to see how the same general ideas of entertainment throughout the world can be so wonderfully changed to reflect the visions and imagery of each culture. This was a feast for the eyeseven non-Chinese ones.
Our last stop on the bus was at a ³very well-known hospital.² This one I couldnıt figure out. It turns out it is the training hospital for the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Imperial Family Expert Clinic, and Tong Ren Tan Pharmacy. It is a modern looking place, well set up for the visiting tours. After seating us in a nice room at tables and giving us tea, they spoke to us about health. They separated out the Japanese, and sent in a doctor to our room who could shift over to English once in awhile for me. After their preliminary talk about the basic philosophy of Chinese herbal medicine, doctors come in along with nurses or doctors in training who can interpret if needed. They will talk with any and all individuals. Feeling both pulses at the same time with three fingers, each finger tells the doctor a different functionheart, liver, kidney, lungs. He then has you stick out your tongue and, in my case, asked my age. They hand out a paper in whatever language you need with twenty-three basic herb combinations, showing the functions of and indications for each. All three of the women needed to ³invigorate the vital energy and nourish the blood.² For me he also prescribed something that promotes the immune function and something else that helps with the cough. Since the western medical approach hasnıt done a lot for my cough, Iıve often thought Iıd like to go see a Chinese herbalist to see what they would come up with, so this was my chance. The herbs werenıt cheap, but no more expensive than the herbs we self-prescribe in the states. Both Zhang Jie and Zhang Yu bought also. Now, I expect to be an invigorated womanin spite of the smoke and pollution.
That was our last stop. Back to the train station for the 7:30 train home. My charming Sunday conversation happened on the train. We were talking about almond milk and almonds. Ding Bai in his soft, slow English looked at me seriously and said, ³I want to ask a question. Is God the same as almond?² It took me a second to register that he pronounces almond without the L or the D, and if you changed the accent he would be saying ³Amen.² He had heard the word amenı in some sort of connection with God (for which he was first saying a dyslexic dogı) and wondered if they were the same.