Bruce’s Report #14
Well it’s been a bit of a while since I wrote the last report, and it may be even longer before I manage to send this out ! We’re now back in the Tientian Sports Hotel after a very interesting outing out of Beijing. By the way, there won’t be much mention of ARDF in this one, except for that one just then.
Very early tommorow morning we catch the train to Ulaan Baator, the capital of (Outer) Mongolia. It’s a 29 hour train journey, but we hope we are prepared ! Thank God I’m nearly over cold #2.
The title of this report would more suitably be called:
In Search of the Real Great Wall of China
Leika had suggested we visit the Tai mountains. After some investigation Adam and I discovered they were in the ChangDong province, halfway between Shanghai and Beijing. As it would be a 5 to 6 hour train journey to get there and we only had 2 spare days once Bryan arrived from Melbourne, we decided instead to attempt a more modest excursion to the Great Wall of China.
It was imperative, though, that we were to go to the real original wall (or as original as can be found), rather than the reconstructed effort I visited last year after the World Championships (throngs of thousands of tourists and a wall that didn’t go from anywhere to anywhere but just in a loop). After much poring over guide books we decided that the HuangHua section of wall was suitably original and also off the beaten tourist track. Of course, being off the beaten track means it’s actually much harder to get there, but we had two days so it seemed feasible.
|Lake in Beijing Park||Tientian Sports Hotel||Dinner at Local Resturant|
On Friday, after an amble through some Beijing Parks (as an aside here, I should mention I’ve discovered running shoes make very poor walking shoes; even the old trusty comfy Street-O runners gave me blisters after a deal of walking; still, I had limited luggage space), we took the bus back out to the airport to meet Bryan. That night we returned to the resturant of the 1st night, this time managing to indicate we wanted one of the BBQ pot tables where you cook your own selection. This was fun, some things working out a bit different than expected, but we ate well.
On the way back from the airport we had bought some train tickets to Huairou, a largish town not too far from the small Huanghua village. I didn’t know if we were going to use them as they were for a 6:58am departure from Beijing Central, but at Y4.50 each (about A$1), I bought them just in case so I wouldn’t have to stand in the ticket queue again. As it turns out we didn’t use them as on later reading found there is a regular bus service to Huairou so the early rise wasn’t necessary.
|Tienmen Square||Bus to Hairou||Department Store|
So on Saturday we left most of our luggage checked in at this Hotel and departed for Huairou, armed with our huge Chinese vocabulary of “Hello”, “Thankyou” and “Steamed Rice” and a Chinese guide book with some helpful phrases. First off we walked to local market, but left there soon as we realised we weren’t going to be a ble to carry anything much anyway. Then onto Teinmen Square (well you just have to visit if you’re in Beijing don’t you). The day was very humid, so much so that walking was a big improvement on standing still as you got some airflow.
The next step was to negotiate the Beijing subway system to get to where the long distances buses leave. The subway in Beijing is quite straightforward and this turned out to be quite easy. Again only about Y4.50. We decided the long distance bus station must be the congregation of buses around the corner. Well it was, but we weren’t prepared for the extent. Buses stop at seemingly random (to us) spots all along a fairly long road. After some hand waving we eventually found our bus stop (bus 916), but as it wasn’t there we decided to splash out on a mini-bus which was apparently quicker and a whole Y1 more expensive, taking the trip cost to Y5 (about A$1.50) for the approx 1 hour trip.
I’m not sure if it was quicker because we kept stopping every now and then to cram more passengers in, but we did arrive eventually. Now what ?? The mini-bus operators wanted to know what stop we wanted to be dropped off at (well at least we assume this is what they wanted to know). Somehow we managed to convey we were after a Hotel, and they dropped us at a street a bit out the Northen end of town and a helpful Chinese girl getting out at the same stop waved us vaguely up a side street.
Well, we did find a Hotel up there eventually, quite a nice one in fact. In fact too nice, and a bit too expensive. We said confidently we were going to look elsewhere, without having really a clue what where to head. Walked back into town. The small backpacks we had with us were starting to feel kinda heavy and no Hotels in sight. Still, plenty of time, and at worst we could always go back to the expensive place (actually not too expensive in Australian terms, but much more than this Hotel here in Beijing). At last I spotted a Hotel on the opposite side of the street. After some hand waving, phrase book pointing and finger holding we were booked into a not too bad but a bit rundown Chinese Hotel pretty much in the middle of Huairou.
At a nearby brand new super department store/ supermarket (and I hate to say McDonalds) there seemed to be some sort of music/dance Eisteddford performance on out the front. The first rock band were quite good. Later dancers were ok. Can’t say I can really get into Chinese Opera though. We bought some supplies from the supermarket and settled down to pre-dinner nibblies on the Hotel balcony overlooking (at some distance) the performances. They were also shown on a big screen on the front of the store. During the interminable opera it started to rain, and then rain a bit more. This wasn’t the occasional droplet that managed to find it’s way through the fug over Beijing we’d experienced before, but real proper rain. What’s more it didn’t stop raining for about another 20 hours !
Needless to say, the opera experienced a precipitate termination (no pun intended, really !!). In what seemed a bit of a lull we dashed out to get some late dinner. It decided to do a decent job of raining on us on the way, but it wasn’t cold so it didn’t matter too much. Dinner was in another roadside resturant, this time mainly cold stuff (it was fairly late). We were also treated to a Jackie Chan movie (without SBS sub-titles, but that isn’t too critical for a Jackie Chan movie anyway). The staff & locals seemed amused we were watching.
We mananged to dry off a bit at the side of the big department store which had some ground level heat exhaust fans that were just great for the the job. Not sure what the security guard (there were many of these) thought of us gently rotiserarying ourselves in front of the fans, but we didn’t much care.
My Hotel room bathroom was a bit average. It had an odd smelling moat around the toilet I did my best to avoid. That night though, I was treated to a water wall inside the bedroom. Obviously this was a bit more rain than they normally get. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t much and it wasn’t my carpet that was getting wet :-).
The next day we attempted to find the minibus that passes through Huanghua. We did eventually find roughly the correct bus stop, but an English speaking chinese gentleman was able to inform us that the bus wasn’t running today due to the rain. We caught a bread-box taxi (a very small bread shaped mini-van) driven by a Chinese woman. It was a bit of a slow day for the bread-boxes, so we were able to negatiate the trip down to Y40 from Y60 we’d been offered earlier. For a 70 minute or so drive, A$10 between 3 of us sounded a pretty good deal.
By the way, there are a number of different “Hellos” in China I’ve discovered. It’s hard to tell them apart:
Hello: Probably means “hello”, but could also mean, can I speak English to you ?
Hullo, Hullo, Hullo, Hullo: Most likely means I have something ghastly I want to sell you.
Helllllooooooo: I wish to give you a pedicab/taxi/breadbox ride to Huanghua.
It continued to pour on the way there, dashing our earlier hopes it was starting to clear. The van wipers after a while started to run into each other and so she had to make do without. The scenery was now very impressive. We were up in the mountains, and with only the occasional cultivated area about as wild as you might get in this part of China. In one village we had to drive though a ford. Due to the rain this was more a raging torrent, but we made it through with little drama, the driver giggling madly.
We made it to Huanghua, and there was the Great Wall. we piled ut of the van and into the shelter of a small kiosk. There were quite a few other sheltering there, including a foreign backpacker (european?) who spoke English. He gave us a bit of a description of where we could walk, and warned us a downhill section might be a bit dicey today in the rain. After drinks and an ice cream from the Kiosk, we managed to borrow 3 umbrellas and off we went.
|Climbing Up||Nice Shot Adam||Overgrown in places|
Down a dirt track, across stones in a rapidly flowing creek and eventually to a lady charging Y2 for the use of her specially constructed bit of track and steel ladder. We could have bypassed her had we known, but it wasn’t was if it was expensive. Finally we made it to the Great Wall…. the Real Great Wall.
|It was in original crumbling condition, and we had an interesting (and fairly active) few hours exploring that section. The only other person we saw was a backpacker making a cup of tea (he was obviously a backpacker since he had a “Let’s Go China” under his arm). Also a tent was pitched at one of the higher guard posts (all the standard two arrow shots apart). Hopefully sometime I can get some photos up of this. Certainly a much more fulfilling visit than my last Great Wall visit I think at Badaling. It even stopped raining for us about halfway through. It’s hard to imagine a project such as the Great Wall taking so many resources of a country just to fuel rampant paranoia these days…., well, maybe, until you start to think about the Bush Administration and Star Wars MKII…..|
|Overgrown in places|
|View from the top|
We returned to the road to find our original bread-box driver waiting for us, so after taking the umbrellas back to the Kiosk owner (and buying some beer and drinks as a thankyou), we returned to Huairou. The wipers still weren’t working.
This morning greeted us with an almost blue sky. (I wonder if the young kids in Beijing know what stars are ?). It looked amazingly blue until you realised the Hotel windows were deliberately tainted blue, but it was certainly much clearer than we’d experienced up till now. We decided to take the train back to Beijing from Huiarou for a bit of variety. Also we’d end up at Beijing Central so we didn’t need to do the subway bit. The hardest part of this turned out to be just finding the railway station (hidden at the end of a side road about 2km from the Hotel), but the guide book phrases came to the rescue again here. The trip took about 1.5 hours, and was a pleasant enough journey.
On our return to the Hotel (we finally found the #39 local bus route, yay!), Mr Han was there waiting for one of his chinese ARDF competitors to come in from elsewhere. Also we found the triple room we had booked (about a month ago) was in fact a double room with an extra piece of solid wood thrown in masquerading as a bed. None of us felt we would be able to sleep on the wood board, so I went back to reception and demanded either a real triple or another extra room. I just stood there refusing to go away, so they finally had to give in and give me another room. We arranged to go out for dinner with Mr Han, and he treated us to a great selection at a local resturant. More than we could possibly eat, but we made a good attempt. (Perhaps he is trying to slow down the Aussie team :-))
Better go now, early start tommorow and it’s already late.