Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Great Wall at Badaling

In the morning, at 8:00, the tour to the famous Great Wall started at the convention centre. The tour guide talked about the history of the wall, but then began mentioning some art work and specific processes. I suspected that this would mean we visit another factory. And right, on the way we left the Badaling Expressway and stopped at another of those factories, this time one for vase and cloisonne making. In principle I do not mind, to see such facilities, to get a bit of an impression of various manufacturing techniques. But these visits seemed much of an integral part of these excursions, with the goal to extract some money from us tourist. Probably remnants of the state-run production system, with provisions for the tour guides who bring the customers.

The expressway is quite full - many people want to go to the Great Wall. Traffic moves slowly. Mountains appear in the haze, and the road begins to climb. At a pass, we can already see the wall covering the hill crests. Then we exit to the car park. Despite being in the mountains, the temperature is still hot and humid. Everyone is on their own, since it would he hard to keep everyone together, with their different climbing capabilities.

The wall towards East looks quite empty, but the wall to the West is filled with people. It also looks much more steep, more interesting, and so I decide to go there. The wall an the buildings do not look very old, they must have been renovated not too long ago. Walking slowly upwards, 45 degree uphill on steps. Many people stop constantly, I prefer to walk steadily. But after 200 m height, at an altitude of 487 m, below one of those watch towers, I have to stop. The heat is getting to me, my legs begin to tremble, and I feel how my blood circulation threatens to break down. So I sit for a while, drink another bottle of tea, then head back down again. No need to die for climbing higher! I was already way beyond the "certification" point where the vain people could buy a little certificate that they had climbed the wall. Naturally I bought one too.

Afterwards our group is heading for lunch at a nearby restaurant: shared dishes on large tables, each for a group of 10 people. And again the opportunity to buy mementos and souvenirs, as the restaurant seems to be within the store.

The next stop in the afternoon are the Ming Tombs, with their excavation of underground burial places. Quite interesting, but mostly for those deeply interested and knowledgeable in Chinese culture. Very tranquil garden on top, obeying the principles of "Feng Shui".

At the parking lot a strange scene: an old man and an old woman collect plastic bottles in large plastic sacks - they probably get a fee for collecting these. They seem to argue about the right to collect the bottles, and suddenly they go at each other, hit each other with sticks and bottles. I decide to be impartial and give none of them my empty tea bottles.

As I walk out of the park into the area of souvenir stands, two women obnoxiously bother me (who would have thought that women can be bothersome…?): one wants to sell me post cards, another one T-shirts. I do not really want to buy anything, and with a friendly smile decline, as I usually do. I know, this is their livelihood, and so I try to remain friendly - I might eventually purchase something. But they really try hard, even blocking my way. Finally the one with the cards gives up while the one with the T-shirt still follows me. She offers me a T-shirt for 10 RMB. I continue to walk, then I think that maybe I should just buy one, as a souvenir. Ok, I nod, and get out my wallet to give her 10 RMB. Immediately she waves the other woman - why this? I really will not buy any cards! As I have my T-shirt and am leaving, the woman with the cards has caught up. Suddenly the woman from whom I just bought the T-shirt, screams "you gave me only one - I need ten". And she waves a 1 RMB note in front of me. What a jerk! I definitely know I gave her a 10 note - that was the only note of that kind, and it was blue. The one-note is green, and I am confident that I have not confused them. She keeps screaming, while the other woman comes quite close. Now I see their game: while I would be distracted to clear up the "confusion", the woman with the cards would try to steal something from me - they both are quite close and try to grab me. I shout back to them that I have given a 10, not a one, and that I will not pay anything else. I walk fast towards the bus, and finally they turn away.

What a scam that is! I should go right away to the police, to one of those ubiquitous officers in uniform, but I am too lazy to go through that hazzle.
Tired and exhausted I arrive back at the hotel - and fall asleep.

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