Friday, November 28, 2008

Up the truly great, Great Wall

Day 2 (Thurs, 20 Nov 2008)

Today, I'm going up the wall, literally. Of course I'm talking about the Great Wall (forgive bad pun). During my last visit, I went to Badaling which is the most visited portion of the Great Wall. One of Kenneth's friends who works in Beijing suggested we go to Mutianyu instead as it's less crowded and commercial.

My cousin helped procure a car and driver for the day and off we went. It took about an hour's drive to the Huairou town and another half hour drive up the mountains to Mutianyu. Not bad at all, considering it takes about the same amount of time to drive to Badaling. The drive was scenic although the trees were all bare. But there is a very stark and rugged sort of beauty that we city folk don't get to see very often.

At the foot of Mutianyu is a row of shops selling a multitude of souvenirs (Mao figurines next to panda t-shirts behind rows of woolly mufflers and hats, for the unprepared). There were a few of your usual touts but nothing like the rabble you'll find at Badaling.

Following Kenneth's friend's recommendation, we bought tickets for a cable car ride up and toboggan down. Or so we thought (we always seem to encounter problems at the ticket counters). The ticket said "Ropeway up, toboggan down". Ropeway should mean cable car, right? Apparently not. The cable car was run by another operator and the ticket booth was God knows where. Ropeway actually meant this chair lift (left). I went with Andre and it was terrifying because there was only a rail in front and I was so aware that he could easily slide under it. Call me paranoid but that ride took forever and it was a long way down.

But once we were up there, the view that greeted us was just mind-blowingly spectacular. The best part was that Mutianyu is not indundated by tourists, at many sections, we were the only people on the Wall. When you look at the expanse of the Wall, you just have to marvel at how it could possibly be built thousands of years ago before the advent of modern machinery (I know, I know, at the expense of thousands of lives buried beneath the stone).

Here are some shots.

We went up one of the watch towers where we had a gorgeous panoramic view of the Wall. On the left is a pic of the kids, showing how you climb up and down the watch tower. Imagine the soldiers used to stand here in the freezing cold guarding against the barbarians. I bet Emperor Qin Shi Huang is turning in his grave to know that the barbarians are trampling all over his precious Wall.

Some parts were very, very steep and only Kenneth dared to venture down for a photo (right). But for the most part, it was a pleasant walk. I think we walked about three sections before retracing our steps (as that's where the toboggan station is).

You know, of all the historical sights in Beijing, the Great Wall is one where I think I'll never get tired of visiting - it truly is a world wonder.

After we've taken in our fill of the Great Wall, it was time for Andre's favourite part of the visit - the toboggan ride. Ride up the Wall, slide down the Wall. The toboggan ride is like a luge - you sit on a sled-like apparatus and maneouver down a track. There's a lever where you can control your speed (if you're a real chicken, you just keep braking in which case you'll inch down the chute, although the people behind you probably won't be very pleased).

Andre LOVED it. He was too young to go alone so I had to sit with him. When we're approaching bends, I'd screech "Slow down!" but he'd feign deafness just to experience the whoosh! It's quite a long way down, more than five minutes and I have to admit, it's great fun. It's a clever way of introducing a little modern day thrill at an otherwise historical site.

After that wonderful experience, we stopped at Huairou for lunch. Huairou is basically a fishing town, trout being their specialty. Many restaurants line the main road, all serving trout and country fare. We stopped at one recommended by our driver.

We decided to try trout which was fished on the spot from the catchment area and whacked to death *shudder*. We could have our trout done in several ways so we chose barbecued and sashimi. Ever tried trout sashimi? It's superly sweet and oh so good. I don't want to think of the possible parasites in fresh water sashimi though... ah well, you only live once.

We also ordered a braised tofu, stir-fried veg and braised pork. The pork dish was called 紅燒肉 - it tastes like gong bao sauce without the chili, it's delicious. Everything was delicious. And cheap! I think the entire meal set us back less than S$30.

Satiated, we went back to my cousin's place to rest. We decided to call it a day. I think you know that in a cold climate, once you're nice and toasty indoors, it's such a chore to wrap up like mummies and wander out in the cold again. Furthermore, dinner was already prepared for us. You see, my cousin has an 阿姨 who comes in to clean, cook and look after her two cats when she's away (more about the cats later). A housekeeper of sorts, quite a common practice in Beijing.

Originally from Sichuan, the 阿姨 had quite taken to Andre and took it upon herself to cook up a storm for him. When she found out that he loves fried rice and fried chicken, she prepared these practically EVERYDAY. She heard him cough (he tends to have a persistent allergic cough) and the very next day, she prepared a pear tonic soup specially for him. (My cousin was a little miffed at this as she had been nursing a cough for three weeks and there never was any pear soup waiting for her!)

I noticed that when he was watching tv, the 阿姨 would often sit next to him and just watch him in fascination even though she couldn't understand his English. Aiyah, I don't know what is it about this boy, he just attracts all these aunties and grandmas like a magnet. But since we're all beneficiaries of his charm, I'm not complaining.


Lilian said...

ahaha...Andre is so adorable, auntie-killer! Oh what a fantastic holiday, this is the kind of holiday I love; have a comfortable place to come back to and relax, and food is prepared! What more can one ask for?

Do you know how much it costs to hire the driver and get to that section of Great Wall? Looks pretty amazing, and the boys would love the Toboggan ride; we did that in Sentosa but it was just too short! Oh, I don't like chairlifts either, very very scary.

Food looks mighty good too, and so cheap!

monlim said...

Driver and car for one day to go to Great Wall is about RMB 500 (prices have gone up since Olympics) or about S$110. If you want to get your money's worth, you can include some other stops along the way. We only did half a day, so the next day, he gave us a discount when we went to Summer Palace.

monlim said...

After we came back and told my cousin we had sashimi, we had a scolding from her :P She doesn't trust uncooked food in China. But it was delicious while we were eating it, haha!

Alcovelet said...

What a great outing! Mutianyu is amazing, wow! Wish we could go again, come to think of it. on our trip, we met some women who had walked for 3 hours from the neighbouring province to sell guidebooks there to make their daily living. One wasn't even older than me, and she looked so dried up, sigh. So moisturizer works, ladies!

The food as usual. Yums. And uh, Mon, even in Japan, they don't like to serve river fish for sashimi cos of the worms... But hey, that was your dare and you guys made it!

And yup! Can't believe Andre! Bet your cousin wants Andre to stay with her so she can get better food everyday, haha!

monlim said...

Ad: the weather was so drying, after the first day, the kids started to itch. Lesley-Anne alone finished a giant tube of body moisturiser during the trip!