Day 3 - Great Wall, Ming Tombs, and Friendship store
We started early Saturday morning and rode up into the mountains to visit the Great Wall. It was a really nice day, and there were a hundred buses at the wall. The Great Wall is very impressive and looks just like all the pictures we have seen of it. There are no modern buildings in the area. All of the little vendor booths have been built into existing ancient structures. The bus parking lot was inside a courtyard that was surrounded by several wide towers. We walked up the stairs to the top of the Great Wall, but were detoured around the back side by several soldiers. A very picturesque section of the wall was roped off, and tables and umbrellas had been set up. The St. Regis Hotel in Beijing was catering a linen tablecloth and champagne lunch for a fairly large group of Europeans in that area. Our guide said it was a government lunch, and the large number of PLA soldiers seemed to back that up.
Now, when we watch "Big Bird in China", we see Big Bird strolling along the top of a wall about ten feet wide and stretching for miles on a gradual incline. At our section of the Great Wall, the wall climbs up the mountain at up to a 45% grade. Cheyenne started screaming "The Great Wall China! The Great Wall China!" and insisted that she was climbing it by herself. We started off with Lisa, myself and the grandparents walking up the stairs and Cheyenne climbing on her hands and knees. The stairs themselves were way out of code. Most were narrow and tall (up to 18") and were worn down near the railing from millions of footsteps. After about 20 minutes, Cheyenne couldn't climb anymore and even bribes of ice cream couldn't get her to go any higher. Lisa, Grandma and myself took turns carrying Cheyenne up the stairs. After about 45 minutes, we were worn out and had gained quite a bit of altitude. We rested, took pictures and headed back down the stone stairs, with a three-year-old on my hip. At the bottom we all complained about our knees and ankles while Cheyenne ate ice cream.
We had lunch at a Friendship Store near the Ming Tombs. During the 70's in China, foreigners were not allowed to carry Chinese money, and could only spend their 'foreigner scrip' in specific places. There was a Friendship Store in every town and that is where foreigners could shop. Well, since Deng Xiaopeng's capitalist reforms in the late 80's, foreigners can shop anywhere. But the Friendship Stores are still run by the government, and sell a selection of tourist gifts from across China. No real deals here however, and most everything sold in the Friendship Store has a definite sheen of 'tackiness'. We ate in a large restaurant in the back along with several dozen busloads of other Westerners. We were told walking in that we would get the Peking Duck Dinner that we missed the previous night. But as they started serving our family-style meal, it was apparent that we were not getting Peking Duck. After everything was served, our guide rushed back to our table and said the Peking Duck was taking a long time to prepare, and would be served shortly. And sure enough, about 15 minutes later, we got Peking Duck --- along with more side dishes, more rice and another course of soup. It seemed like instead of replacing our lunch with a Peking Duck dinner, we got lunch AND a Peking Duck dinner. So we gorged ourselves and started trying to figure out how to get more to drink. At every one of the tourist meals, we got our choice of beer, cola, or water in a single juice glass. It was never refilled. At this meal, Jim (one of the other new fathers) talked to the waitress and got her to bring us another 1 liter bottle of beer. He said the beer was on him for the rest of the meal. The beer is good and a little stronger in China, and we ended up having a couple more bottles by the end of the meal. We found out later that a 1 liter bottle of beer was 10 yuan at the restaurant, or about $1.25. A group Chinese men were cleaning the tables next to us. The odd thing was that all of the busboys were wearing camouflage, and the head busboy was wearing an Army uniform. By this time, we knew our guide wouldn't answer any questions about that.
After lunch, we rode up into the hills a bit to the Ming Tombs area. The Ming Dynasty went from the 14th Century to the 17th Century, and the emperors were all buried in this area that was very similar to Egypt's Valley of the Kings. Huge shrines and burial mounds were placed throughout the valley. We went to the first and largest tomb, and toured the museum pieces and different buildings that made up the shrine. At one point our guide apologized that she was unable to make the subject of the Ming Tombs very interesting. I got the sense that she was bored with the Tombs as well. We didn't see the 'Spirit Way' of the Ming Tombs, which had a long walkway lined with lifesized stone animals. Cheyenne really wanted to see the stone camel.
Our final Beijing tour stop was at a theater to see a Peking Acrobat performance. It was a good show with a definite Cirque du Soleil feel to it. It was heavily choreographed to a mostly Western soundtrack, and it was over in about 45 minutes. The highlight for me was when a group cam on stage in gold outfits with red trim, and Cheyenne starts screaming, "It's the Monkey King, the Monkey King!". Although they weren't supposed to be dressed as duplicates of the Monkey King, they were close enough that Cheyenne left convinced that she had seen the Monkey King.