02.24.2011 Mutianyu Great Wall in Beijing, China

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Asia » China » Beijing » Mutianyu
March 30th 2011
Published: March 30th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

Today is the last full day in China and I really wanted to go out with a bang. One of the largest attractions and one of the largest structures in the world is the Great Wall of China. I planned on visiting a section called Mutianyu which is located in Huairou County 70km northeast of Beijing. The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is connected with Jiankou in the west and Lianhuachi in the east. As one of the best-preserved parts of the Great Wall, the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall used to serve as the northern barrier defending the capital and the imperial tombs. Built mainly from granite, the pass at Mutianyu is an appropriately unique section of the Great Wall. 7 to 8 meters high, and 4 to 5 meters high with crenellations on both sides of the Wall, the section of the Wall at Mutianyu stretches for over 2 kilometers. Matching its military importance, the Mutianyu Great Wall has 22 watchtowers built at almost 100 meter intervals. This number of towers is much more than would be expected along the Wall, and is also highlighted by the particular form and structure unique to this section. First built in the mid-6th century during the Northern Qi, Mutianyu Great Wall is older than the Badaling section of the Great Wall. In the Ming dynasty, under the supervision of General Xu Da, construction of the present wall began on the foundation of the wall of Northern Qi. In 1404, a pass was built in the wall. In 1569, the Mutianyu Great Wall was rebuilt and till today most parts of it are well preserved. The Mutianyu Great Wall has the largest construction scale and best quality among all sections of Great Wall.

My journey begins at the bus station in Beijing. I spent 3 days planning this specific day out and made sure on every level to cover every base and make sure I can get to the Great Wall. I checked with the hotel concierge service and even asked them to write “which bus” and Mutiayu great wall” in Chinese characters for translation. I arrived at the station 30 minutes early to find bus 936 which would take me to the wall. I needed to get to the right station since the bus only came at hour intervals, so if I was late I needed to wait an hour for another ride. I began to ask around which station this bus was and was pointed to several place. After circling the bus station twice I finally asked an official driver where I needed to go. There was only one problem, the bus I needed did not run this month. I just about flipped out; I didn’t think I would be able to go on the one thing I had hoped to do this entire trip to China. This led me to ask around and try anything to find help. I showed the book and writing to people and asked “which bus?” over and over. I was pointed in the wrong direction three times. I just about lost hope but finally after an hour later I found someone who knew where I wanted to go. His name was Lu Shue; he was a bus driver and also a personal taxi service to the Mutianyu Great Wall. He did not speak any English so it was basically I point in a direction or at something and he would do the same for me. I am very relieved that numbers and math are universal; otherwise I would had no idea how much I would need for the ride to the wall. So I needed to grab money before the bus ride since I was misinformed again about costs and bus prices. Lu was extremely kind to take me to the closest bank and help with the exchange. I made a startling observation while with Lu during the walk to and from the bank. Whenever I took anything out of my backpack to look at or check out conversion rates with my calculator Lu would immediately look to make sure my pack was closed, items inside, and make sure the bag is in front of me. I was very surprised that even local Chinese people understood the danger and possibility of theft in the area. I come from a country where people have chains hanging out their pants and you can see wallets bulging from individual’s pockets; but nothing of that sort is in China.

Lu and I made it to bus 916 which promised to take us to a town named Queluo just outside the Great Wall. I felt much more comfortable with Lu around and I knew that he was a registered bus driver since everyone at the station seemed to know him and he wore the same suit as the other drivers. The ride lasted about an hour or so but finally I ended up in Queluo. Originally I thought I would need to find a cab to the Great Wall but Lu ended up taking me the whole way. I didn’t know what to think of the small Chevy Chery car but who would complain about getting a personal tour to the Great Wall. On the drive up, Lu pointed to a mammoth glacier called Piyowle. Also, Lu pointed out what seemed to be a statue of fish built for the 2008 Olympics called Congyaw Meilee. Other sights included a horse statue, and a rock memorial dedicated to the community. Nestled up against the Great Wall are the villages of Mutianyu, Beigou, Xinying and Tianxianyu. Founded by the original builders of the Wall, these villages have retained their wonderful unique character and are a microcosm of Chinese rural life. These family friendly towns offer a relaxing escape from the hustle-bustle of tourism, and the pollution of the city. I wanted to see if I had a chance to stop by on the way down so I passed through them for the time.

I arrived at the wall and the excitement was overflowing. I debated with the driver about wages and how much I should pay for the ride which ended up around 60 Yuan. (I checked online later that night and found it was a somewhat reasonable price) I thanked him for his hospitality and but he offered to stay and wait for me to finish. I was puzzled why but I figured it was so that he could get paid to take me back so I figured “sure it works out perfect”. Eventually after the debt of him staying and waiting I headed off to trek up the Great Wall. There is an opportunity for visitors to either take a cable car ride up to the wall or walk for 30 minutes up the hill to the wall. I mentioned to the front desk while buying my ticket I would walk up and the women scowled at me since I wouldn’t choose the normal lazy way to go. The walk up to the wall was very rewarding and some treasured photo opportunities presented themselves on the trail. The excitement boiled over with every step closer and closer to the wall. Never in my wildest dream did I think I would be “here” walking up to the great wall while studying abroad in Japan. At the top of the hill I walked the final 16 stairs and paused; a smile stretched across my face like a rubber band and I knew I made it. I actually pinched myself twice, but once people started looking at me after I said “OW!”; then I figure it was real enough.

I ran to the first person I could find and asked if they would take a photo of me, I might have been a little excited but I could tell the women taking the picture shared the same feelings I did at the time. I will never ever be able to put the emotions and feelings I have into words, for you the reader, how spectacular the walk is. I must have spent at least 10 minutes just standing and walking from one side to another in the same section of the wall. The view is completely different from the city and is simply breathtaking. I didn’t really understand the significant of each tower but if you look closely you can see significant difference in the way its build, the structure, and the position of each tower to one another. While walking up one section of staps, a combination of stairs and steps, I heard a random “HEE-HAW”. Sure enough to my surprise a donkey was standing right in the corner of a tower exit. Apparently this is still a tradition among villagers in China to bring their transportation, via animal, to the wall and keep them around for traveling purposes. The temperature didn’t take affect till the three layers of cloths felt like a furnace next to my body. My joints ached and my face dripped with sweat but I persevered from one section to another ant then again. It is a constant uphill battle because fro ever step you take one way you must take two to come back. Knowing I only had till sun down I picked up the pace and plowed through the next few section. There were indeed many foreigners at the wall trying to battle the same feat as me. It is amazing how strained and tired a person can be, yet there is nothing more satisfying than smiling in the face of defeat and pushing till the end. I knew the Great wall was famous, but I did not know that people came here to take their wedding photos. I walked by one bride and groom who were surrounded by tourist trying to capture the beauty of the women who was to be married. The striking pearl white dress glistened in the sunlight and broke the great background of the wall. There are of course many times to rest and recover but the pure thrill and excitement drove me to continue with walking. However, I did need to have a quick pit stop to have a bite to eat. I sat down and pull out lunch from my backpack and had a funny realization, I bet this is how the workers that built the great wall had lunch. There is no sound except for the absence of anything remotely human in the vicinity. The birds chirping, trees rocking back and forth, and whisking sound of the wind behind your back are all you need for a soundtrack. I met many people on the tireless journey across the wall but none were as memorable as Max and Matt. Both were students in Australia and both were staying with a group of friends in China. Surprisingly they were at the exact same hotel as Kaori and I. I tagged alone for the rest of the trek and had some intriguing cultural conversation on the way. Since Max could speak very good English and Chinese we took advantage of his skills to buy some water and juice for discount price.

Memories of burning thighs and blistering aside I never dreamed I would make it to the wall, let alone climb and sweat all the way to the very end. Even though the walk was over I was still excited to walk back. The experience and the sights are unforgettable; it was by far the highlight of the China visit. I eventually made my way back and took the slide down the mountain for a change. The cart was very sketchy and I wasn’t sure if I could even control it. Never the less this was a once in a lifetime event so I hopped on and took a ride down. The stainless steel slide creaked around every corner and the signage on the way down only said “slow down”. I was pleased with the intense ride down and with the crazy fast turns and swoops down the tracks. After a moment to collect myself from the wild slide down I went back to meet up with Lu and headed back home. On the way back I tried to think of all the things I have done and all the places I have gone, it was one of those moments you feel like you’re watching someone else’s life on T.V. but you soon realize that you were the one playing the main role.

By the time I got back it was already dark and Kaori was hanging out at the hotel room. It was our last night in China and I knew we had to at least have one more meal out together. We ended up going back to the underground food court again and purchasing a so called official Chinese cuisine but it was better than Leeann Chin. I ordered some kind of beef and veggie dish with rice while Kaori had some small meat balls. My dish was very delicious and I was happy with the American size portion. After the meal Kaori and I walked around Wanfujing one last time and spotted some bronze Chinese statues. Every set of statues depicted a human like figure during the olden times in China. Kaori was especially fond of the statue with a man working as a cart driver. I enjoyed our last night of fun and mischief and was looking forward to telling people about our adventures in China. We spent the night packing and reflecting on our journey abroad compared to Korea and Japan. I think this trip was amazing but in more of a learning perspective. As we chatted about the trip we both knew that this was a difficult yet rewarding chance to visit China for the week. Even with all the things that went wrong and with all the difficulties abroad I still feel this was an extremely memorable and worthwhile journey to China.

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