Part 5 - Visiting the Great Wall
Thanks to a report I read a few months ago on The Points Guy, I away aware of a private tour guide named Jenny who provided tours of the Great Wall and other sights in and around Beijing. The article I read had some very strong praise of his time with her, so I decided to give it a try for my one day of playing tourist.
Jenny and I set up our meeting time and planned itinerary via email. Promptly at 7am, Jenny was there to meet me in the Peninsula lobby.
Regrettably, my "tourist for a day" plans were foiled ever-so-slightly. I had planned to take an evening flight home on Saturday, connecting in LA, to arrive Sunday morning in New York. On Thursday night in Beijing, I got a call on my mobile form my other who advised that she was one day away from our house. My mom migrates annually between South Florida and Prince Edward Island. Our New York area house provides a nice break for her on the long drive. I thought she was arriving the following weekend. Ooops.
Quick, call wife, say mother-in-law is inbound. Wife, of course, says that she assumes i will be coming home early. I needed to stay for dinner on Friday night by this point, so I moved my flight to the non-stop to JFK on Saturday, which departs at 1pm and arrives at around 2pm, and was my shortest way home. The schedule change significantly curtailed my day of touring...but I was keen to move ahead with the reduced time that I had.
We set out in Jenny's Honda through fairly light traffic (it was Saturday morning) and made it to one of the closer points of the Great Wall in less than ninety minutes.
We were able to park in the "top lot," closest to the entrance. This was due to our 7am start. By the time we left, arrivers had significant uphill walks just to make it to the gates.
This section of the Great Wall is reached via a well seasoned double ski lift. (I suspect there was a hiking option as well, but due to the limited time, we did not discuss that.) I am a regular alpine skier, but I have never boarded a chairlift not on skis. It is a different experience .... both getting on and off a lift ... in street shoes. At the top, we walked some length in each direction. We probably spent half an hour at the top. While there may have been more scenic areas of the Great Wall to see, I was content with the area that we visited.
Though quite hazy, and our time at the top quite limited, it was amazing to see the size and scale of the Great Wall in person. The Great Wall was generally about 12 feet high, and 12 feet wide. Jenny said that each of the turrets along the wall could see the adjacent turret in either direction. Through visual communication, it was possible to transmit messages over long distances In very short periods of time though visual signals.
Building such a structure today would be a feat, let alone doing it 2,000+ years ago. Jenny suggested some 20% of the population died in the construction of the Great Wall. While I'd never heard such a statistic before, it seems not unreasonable to me in light of the task faced.
Coming back down was via a fairly speedy wheeled toboggan. This was a fun ride, and took a couple of minutes.
There was some conflicting signage near the top of the ride down.
At the bottom, there were plenty of opportunities to buy fruit, spices and trinkets.
A fair bit of our time was spent in the car driving to and from the Great Wall. We talked a lot about different cultures and customs in our countries. Chinese brides where red, Americans wear white. Each other's color would be downright offensive in the circumstance. We saw a number of processions of cars traveling in a pack with their hazards on. I asked if these were for a funeral, and she said they were wedding parties. While some weddings do involve such a procession, to me, I associate them much more with funerals in the States. We also talked about healthcare, adoption and the challenges faced in each country.
From the end of our conversation, the big takeaway for me was something I hadn't fully appreciated the signifigance of - freedom of assembly. To many Americans, and many western Europeans, this is a right we take for granted. Whereas Jenny was free to consider her own religions and even disagree with the government (to a certain degree), assembling a group was not an assured right for her. In fact, such an act, she said, would be probably the most likely to get someone in trouble. Think about that for a bit. Spending several hours with a native who has never left the country - but knowledgeable of the outside world - was an enlightening experience for me.
Jenny brought me directly to the International Airport after our tour. Though brief, our time made for a wonderful and memorable morning. I contacted Jenny via email on [email protected] and found her to be very responsive and the prices reasonable. Her English skills were excellent. I would whole-heartedly recommend working with her if you were considering a tour.