Musings - Day 15
Day 15 – 10th January 2020
Thanks again for the messages, they are wonderful support. Good on you all!
This hotel is great. When you pull up outside your instinct is to tell the driver to carry on so that you can find another one. The alleyway that affords access to its front entrance is very small, (only about a cars width) lined with trees whose boughs are often only seven feet off the ground. I walked into reception to be greeted by two of the best English speakers that I have met during the trip so far. They were bubbly, informative, giving me everything I needed for my three night stay. (Change in plan because of train schedules) I needed my laundry sorted – Done! I needed a tour booked – Done! I needed train and Metro maps – Done! They were bang on. Reception was very small and quite untidy but clean, so at this point I had a little concern for the room. At £23 per night it kind of made a pre-impression on me. I was shocked to find it in a different building about three doors up on the opposite side of the alley. Electronic code to get in the outer door. Four digit code, the dementia can just about cope with that. Up the stairway to the second floor and low and behold another code. This time a six digit plus hashtag. (hmmnh not sure…?) Totally electronic, no keys. Also no phone, no light switches just movement sensors. USB points in all sockets and a big king-size bed with four fluffy pillows. Swam the channel at the price!
So that was last night, today is “The Great Wall of China.” Six AM early knock on the door, (remember no phone) knowing that I have to make breakfast for 6:30, because the tour starts at 7:00. Still wondering how the bus is going to pick me/us up outside the hotel, in the very small alley. Soon resolved it wasn’t! Finishing breakfast and assembling as ordered in reception, One of the receptionists got her coat on asking if everyone was ready? As it panned out there were twelve passengers from our hotel.
“Come on, keep up! We had to walk the length of the alley in pitch morning darkness. No illumination in the alleyway other than the light at the end of it about two hundred yards away. So twelve traipse to the street at the end, no bus. The receptionist suggests we walk round the corner. One of the passengers suggested something else. We did, ten minutes later, meet up with Tony. (not his given name from his obviously Chinese parents) He indicated we should board an 'off mushroom' coloured, knocked about Hyundai van with fourteen seats. We thought that it may be a shuttle to take us to the real luxury bus, because we knew that we had at least an hour and a half to drive. Got that one wrong. This was to be our small charabanc for the day. A little bit cramped and a dodgy heating or window demisting system. Immediately Tony and the driver are going at the “Ping nong ding dongs,” with the driver seemingly, standing his ground. (probably to do with possible lateness) A policeman knocked on the passenger window indicating his displeasure at seeing the pair of them gesturing at each other. I think after the window went down that he cautioned them, because the driver muttered something like “Narh whey, fangme.” (Well that's what it sounded like!) Off we popped, being ushered by our cooled down, quite informative, reasonably good English speaking (please let me be your friend) Tony. I have to say, that I absorbed quite a lot of info about Beijing. Formally Peking, there are twenty two million people that live here, the outskirts of which we were still in after forty five minutes driving. There are six million privately owned cars in the city, without adding commercial vehicles, or public transport. Is it any wonder that half the population wear surgeons masks?
This is the International Trade Centre - One of dozens and dozens of skyscrapers here.
In Beijing you need to know about your Qins, Mings, and Chings because they are all dynasties that have shaped China for thousands of years. But in the main it was the Mings that did the most between1340 and 1622. They were responsible for completing the Great Wall, after it had been started some thirteen hundred years earlier by the Qin dynasty. Now the wall was originally a border between China who was losing its lands to Mongolia. (Namely Genghis Khan) Since that time, China has reclaimed its lands back, as well as capturing more from its neighbours, rendering the wall militarily insignificant. For more than a century now it has just been a tourist phenomenon. Tony gave us loads of snippets before telling us to enjoy the rest of the ride as we had about another hour to go.
The sun had come up giving us a clue that it would be a great day for photographs. The windows of the bus were still pretty steamy but the frozen rivers were a clue to how cold it still was. I was sitting in a single seat, right of the aisle when I heard, “Qvik - Peeter,” from somewhere behind me. A lady had made a dash from a seat to my left disturbingly shouting, “Patsma puka.” She reached in dramatic fashion for the waste paper bucket in front of me. (around 18 inches tall by around a foot wide) Then we all heard, thankfully it was somewhere over my left shoulder, “Yooourutshk!” Now I strongly suspected that this was not a Danish word for “would you mind pulling over driver I have to use the bathroom.” It was the sound of a projectile hitting the bin liner. In his best attempt the father (presumably Peter) asked the driver to stop at the next possible time because his daughter had been car sick. We were on a motorway, and realising the position the driver waved in assent. Suddenly the stench hit the Hyundai roof lining, making another woman join the party with a reflex gag. The smell became unbearable, with more gagging, even the driver and the ever so concerned Tony eventually getting the Danish waft. We pulled over onto the emergency lane that was protected by a metal crash barrier, bordering an embankment below. Tony (bless him) took the bin liner (clear plastic) out of the bin to take out of the vehicle. Well what came out of this teenagers stomach had no connection to the food chain. It was accompanied by some two litres of of what a Dulux colour chart would describe as Autumn Wheat bile. So Tony is pulling the bag from the bin, at the same time trying to tie a knot in the top to stem the stench. He carries it four feet to the barrier, not noticing that the bag had a pin hole leak that was urinating over the back of his boots. He threw the bag over the barrier to turn around to see six of the eleven innocent passengers dry chuckawoogering over the same barrier. The recovery was at least fifteen minutes, with one poor woman producing involuntary gas from both ends. All the nearside doors were opened as we all got out for some fresh air. The driver meanwhile has a spray air freshener that was used unsparingly on the upholstery. The teenage girl that had launched the campaign, was thankfully okay. Especially since a mixture of the bracing cold air from the open doors and the lavender spray had bought some more pleasant odours to the mini bus. Eventually the gaggle of gaggers (made up collective noun) got back aboard, leaving the rest of the journey comparatively less eventful.
The Great Wall Tour bus.
We arrived at the Mutianyu section of the great wall to await our further instructions from Tony. He gave us the options for ascent: Walk up to station six. (He looked at me and gently shook his head) – Button lift to station nine with a metal toboggan ride down from the same place. (Similar response) – Or the all twelve people preferred option, cable car to station fourteen. Now the highest point, with what on such a clear day, would be the best views, were to be had at station twenty. He allowed three hours for the walk and then we were to all meet up for lunch at twelve thirty in the restaurant. The cable car was spectacular, lasting around eight minutes at a return separate cost of about £11 (so worth it!) I shared mine with a mother and daughter from Brazil doing an Asia tour. Maria the non-English speaking mother and Adrienne, the reasonably good speaking daughter, that preferred her phone to dialogue.
Our party were the first tourists of the day which meant that we had the absolute freedom of the wall. On the return the crowds had gotten larger, resulting in that we had to wait sometimes to negotiate the stations. I imagine that in peak summer seasons when the temperature often tops forty in Beijing, that crowds would spoil the experience. Maria (aged 60) bless her was not made of active stuff, and I made the assumption that she was doing the climb for her daughters sake. It wasn’t that I was overly chivalrous, but Adrienne was off some forty yards ahead like a paddy’s whippet. She was tender on her feet, so I helped her all the way to the18th station where she finally declared in Portuguese Bobby talk “No more!” She was so grateful, offering her ‘Obrigados’ every five minutes. She seemed happy enough but she was completely knackered.
Adrienne was waving from the nineteenth station and I was determined not to let my thirty four year seniority let me down. I did make it but, by the top, I was damper than a dolphins bra strap. The sweat pouring from me!
The last forty steps or so were probably around an 6% incline. Take a look the views - they were stupendous!
After a couple of beers to replace the lost liquid (well come on, it's the law isn't it!) we all met up again at the restaurant. Included in the tour package was a splendid Chinese meal served for our entire party of twelve on a round lazy Susan table. I sat next to the father of the girl who’d had the problem on the bus, asking him if she was okay. He told me about her problem that he thought she’d grown out of, but answered that she was fine. We got chatting (a little bit of Danish Bobby talk) and he proudly informed me that by coincidence, for all four members of his family, their names began with the letter ‘P.’ (Not really a coincidence because they chose two of them) He started to laugh, expressing that the coincidence had caused much hilarity over the years. It was lost on me, but not wanting to rain on his parade, I suggest that they could have a poodle called Pinky. He stopped smiling, reflecting for a second and then said, “How would that be funny?”
Position: 39°55¢54” N 116°24¢47”E – Miles completed: 07103
Location: Beijing, China. 22:34 - 10th January 2020 - Journey 15 days 22 hours