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Day 39 Beijing

July 6, 2011

The Fourth of July, 2011

Thirty-ninth day in China, seventh day in Beijing: 慕田峪长城 Mutianyu Great Wall, 贵州酸汤鱼 Guizhou “sour soup fish”

I bought an egg pancake with lettuce outside Andingmen Station and ate as I rode two stops to Dongzhimen, where I met Haofan and Hanta. I got a sandwich and coffee for a dollar at McDonalds. The three of us took a bus from Dongzhimen in Beijing up the expressway to 怀柔 Huairou. We paid a minivan to drop us off at the foot of the Great Wall at Mutianyu, a Ming-era (~1400) section of the Wall renovated in 1984. We bought lots of water and bland jianbing (egg pancakes) on the tourist alley, then climbed staircases for half an hour, until we emerged from the trees at the Wall.

I touched the wall, stood in a doorway, and checked my bearings. The Wall ran north-south. Beijing was a faint haze over the southern range. The mountains dipped in the west to form to form Mutian valley. I climbed the stone steps, onto the Great Wall.

As a kid I imagined China as the other side of the world, and the Great Wall a stone road leading to Tibet, the furthest land on Earth. I had no idea what, or where, was China, but believed that if you traveled as far as possible across the earth, you’d wind up there.

The wall had been cleared of bushes, repaired, paved, and outfitted with new guard towers in the 80’s & 90’s. Huairou was visible in the west, and another town could be seen in a valley to the east. The wall snaked peak to peak along the mountains, and made for a serious climb. We started at the tenth tower, and walked all the way to tower twenty-three, at the end of the renovation. One straight and steep staircase proved particularly tiring, but we were rewarded by ever better views. The path flattened along a ridge, and the renovation ended. We continued. The wall beyond was crumbling and crowded with bushes, but after some twenty minutes we reached a ruined watchtower, from which we could see steep crags, the ruined wall running south, the new wall, Huairou, other towns before yellow peaks, and beyond. In the distance I heard voices. A cool wind blew. I stood on the tower, then climbed down, and we three started back down the wall. We had climbed for some three hours. In about half this time we descended, in blazing sun, singing a song from “Journey to the West”, and got a ride back to Huairou, where we caught the bus.

Hanta said goodbye at Dongzhimen. Sunburned and weary Haofan and I caught a second wind as we walked 簋街 Ghost Street, full of restaurants, and turned south to 北新桥 Beixinqiao, where we passed many shops under many red lanterns. I ate bread stuffed with green peppers and donkey meat. According to the shop, one of the 八仙 Eight Immortals supposedly said, 天上龍肉, 地下驢肉 “Dragon meat in Heaven, donkey meat on Earth.” It was pretty good. In a restaurant we ate Guizhou-style 酸鱼汤 “sour soup fish”, ours a catfish they showed us live, then presented chopped fresh for the boil in sour soup. While the soup boiled we drank sweet rice wine and ate flat sticky cakes that tasted like zongzi. We ate the fish, added vegetables, and had a round of Chinese beer. Energized, we hit the street and wandered through hutongs, passed a statue of a drinking ghost, and shared all the Chinese and Japanese ghost stories we could remember. We bought rabbit legs and heads and ate by Beixinqiao Station. On the sidewalk, kids with big brushes wrote hanzi with water. Haofan gave me a book of maps of all China, and we parted at the station.

In North Carolina, my family prepared to march in the Montreat parade.


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