Hello from… The Great Wall to the Summer Palace

Welcome to another edition of Hello, from. In this post Rob Deason and his family explore the Great Wall of China, Ding Tombs and the Summer Palace.

1| You climbed the Great Wall of China… What was it like seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the World up close? The Great Wall is spectacular. It seemingly goes on forever, and is so long it can be seen from space. Our tour took us to a less-traveled segment, but there were plenty of people, nevertheless. The incline begins the moment you begin walking. It levels off in places but it’s generally like climbing a mountain of stairs. Reaching the final parapet at the top of the mountain required ascending a near vertical set of stone stairs. My legs were killing me, but experiencing one of the Seven Wonders up close was worth the arduous climb. Of all of the sights in and around Beijing, I liked the Great Wall the most.

2| What was it like seeing the ancient Ding tomb from the Ming Dynasty?  There’s not much to see in the Ding Tomb but that is interesting in and of itself. During the 1960’s Cultural Revolution, China tried to eradicate the past in favor of looking to the future. All of the skeletal remains and items in the tomb at that time were removed, emptied or destroyed. All that remains today are reproductions for show. That didn’t stop some people from venerating an empty box instead of the emperor. I also found it fascinating how when the tomb was built, the stonemasons were required to etch their name in each brick they produced. That way, if there was a problem, they knew who to blame and kill. Still visible today, the etchings on the bricks outlasted the emperor.

3| You visited the Summer Palace and walked the grounds. What was your favorite part of this experience? The Summer Palace is a vast complex (as everything seems to be in China) which required a lot of stair-climbing. After ascending the Great Wall the day before, my legs protested during much of this tour. I especially enjoyed reaching the pinnacle and taking in the scenery of a beautiful lake glistening in the sun below us. The lake, and as far as the eye could see, were also part of the Summer Palace grounds. I also got a kick out of watching two couples practicing their ballroom dancing in a small pavilion. If we weren’t so tired my wife and I would have joined them. People in China seem less inhibited about things like that. Besides these couples, we witnessed two ladies playing badminton (without a net) on a busy sidewalk in front of shops, and encountered a dancing flash mob near our hotel. Our daughter says this is common.

4| Where did you stay while in Beijing and would you recommend it? Let me say, you can’t trust everything you see on the internet. We stayed at the 161 Wangfujing Hotel, which from the pictures appeared to be a modern large hotel. It was more like stepping back into the hotel in the movie, Casablanca. I never would have chosen it if I’d known, but we loved it. The hotel is small and located in a tiny side street called a hutong, or what we would call an alley. We had a basement room with one barred window which opened up to the floor of an even smaller alley. It brought in the sounds of daily life…carts rolling by, people talking, etc. The bathroom was just that; a single room with no enclosure or curtain for the shower. You had to take your bath towel afterwards and dry the toilet and floor so the next person wouldn’t break their neck when they entered. Yet, the 161 had great old-world charm and the concierge was extremely helpful. Most of the big tourist attractions are about an hour’s drive from downtown, but the 161 is in the heart of great shopping and eating. Oh, and it’s cheap; something like $60 USD a night. I’d definitely recommend it.

Stay tuned for the next post from China where Rob and family take the bullet train to Xi’an.


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