The Great Wall experience II
Beijing, 1st of September
When we woke the next morning after our journey to Shan Hai Guan, we were pleasantly surprised by our new surroundings. Our hotel room was right next to what appeared to be an ancient palace similar to the Forbidden City (gu3 gong1) in Beijing. Our room had a perfect view of its ancient courtyard! On exiting the hotel we also discovered that the hotel itself was pretty old and from the outside looked like the home of ancient nobility. 200Y was looking pretty cheap (pian2 yi) at this point.
Our first stop was the reason we had made the journey at all, to see the easternmost point of the Great Wall, 'where it magically ascended from the depths of the sea'. We asked the hotel receptionist for directions and were told the best way was by bus and to get off at a stop (zhan4) called Lao3 Long2 Tou2 (The Dragon's Head). The receptionist spoke as much English as we spoke Chinese - basic phrases - yet we were able to communicate at a functional level. The bus (gong1 gong4 qi1 che1) was pretty packed (ji3 le) and the 15-minute ride cost us 2Y each.
Finally, we were there in Lao3 Long2 Tou2. The Great Wall is said to be a dragon whose body stretches across China and we had arrived at its head! Unfortunately, the 'Dragon's Head' was not quite what I'd expected. It was more like a beachside holiday resort than anything else and although it was a truly scenic place I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed. The part of the Wall that went into the sea looked like it had only been built a few years ago and had no feel of mystery about it. The beach however was really nice and there was a temple dedicated to a sea God running parallel to the Dragon's head which was pretty impressive.
We took a taxi ride back and asked the driver if he could recommend some other places. He advised us to check out the mountains (shan1) behind our hotel and he offered to take us there the next morning for a 40Y round trip. We agreed - only to discover later we could've done the trip for 15Y! The mountains behind our hotel were spectacular. At the foot of the mountains was a huge lake (hu2) and the water was a mysterious hazy green. We stayed by this lake for an hour or so and it was such a peaceful spot (an1 jing4 de di4 fang) that I could've happily stayed there all day.
After the lake we took a thirty-minute cable car ride to the top of the mountain. Before I came to China I was not particularly keen on heights, but China is blessed with such an array of stunning mountain ranges all over the country that I am slowly starting to be cured of my fear of heights. On the mountain top we visited an ancient Buddhist temple and also walked along ancient remnants of the Great Wall. The scenery was fantastic.
We descended the mountain via a renovated section of the Great Wall which was still surprisingly dangerous in some places. At times the angle of descent was so steep, I clung to the railings for dear life! This was certainly not a journey for the feint of heart although the other Chinese tourists seemed to have few problems. In fact there was a school trip in progress and the kids happily skipped passed me - putting me to shame!
Before we caught the train (huo3 che1) back to Beijing, we checked out the Ancient Palace near our hotel. It was also connected to the Great Wall and had a royal garden with a pool full of the strangest fish I've seen. We bought some fish food from a nearby vendor and the fish literally jumped out of the water to get to the food. It was a remarkable sight, though I secretly wondered how they themselves would taste in a nice bag of chips.
Later, in the courtyard, I got to try on a replica costume of one of Qin Shi Huang's warriors. Qin Shi Huang is the famous emperor who started construction of the Great Wall and also built the famous Terracotta Warriors. He was most recently portrayed in the film 'Hero', so it was an honour to garb myself in the colourful attire of antiquity waving a toy sword around my head. Passers-by were certainly amused.
Editor's note: Chris is writing Chinese words in 'Pinyin', Latin script, using numbers that indicate the tone of the word. Find out more with our course Real Chinese.
Sent by: Chris