Beijing

We’re in Beijing, at a Hot Pot restaurant. The place is amazingly elaborate and, among other things, has computers in the waiting room to keep the young people occupied. The whole place is very snazzy and modern, and the sparkling-new Lenovo computers are no exception. I can’t access my website, which means that either it went down or it’s blocked by the Great Firewall of China.

Speaking of which, today we saw the Great Wall. If I had to use one adjective to describe it (other than “Great”) it would definitely be “crowded”. We went on an awful Chinese tour bus, which took us to a huge tourist trap with a genuine Alpine Slide to get tourists to and from the Wall, which runs along the high ridgeline. The wall is thousands of miles long, but all the tour bus operators deliver their load to the same spot, probably in return for a kickback on the admission. We only had an hour on the Wall, and we spent at least ten minutes of it trapped in an endless, high-pressure sea of tourists trying to wedge themselves through one of the doorways (the doorways are all extremely narrow for defensive reasons). The Wall is enormously, incomprehensibly long, particularly when seen in a mist that explains in one glance why classic Chinese watercolor always seems to fade into shadows. You’d think they could spread us out a little more.

We were the only white people on the Wall. That’s not entirely true; there was perhaps one other couple. Everyone else was Chinese, or at least genetically East Asian. More than one group of Chinese tourists asked us to stop and take pictures with them, all in pantomime of course. They seemed more excited to see white people than to be on the Biggest Thing Ever Made.

We had to wake up at 5 AM to catch the bus, and were not deposited home until after 5 PM. Given only an hour or so on the wall, I figured this was because it was a very long drive away. I was wrong; it was not much more than 2 hours. We also visited the Ming Tombs, a sort of Chinese Taj Mahal, but we spent only half an hour there, and it was along the route. The remainder of the time was spent at a handful of different tourist-trap gift shops, each presumably paying the tour bus operators per load. We spent more time at shops selling mass-produced scale models of the historical locations than at the locations themselves. It was a worthwhile introduction to the nature of business in China, but it was not a great way to spend a day. My Chinese friends were embarrassed at the impression I must be getting of their country, and we cancelled our tickets with this company to visit the Forbidden City tomorrow. We’ll do it on our own.

It’s a little bit out of order, but I should say what we did yesterday. We took an overnight train from Yangzhou to Beijing, arriving at 6:30 AM. The train was really very nice and very comfortable, even with 6 beds to a compartment, though I would have preferred fewer mosquitoes. We visited the Summer Palace and wandered around Beijing…. I have to go. We’re leaving.

Bye.

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