Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Great Wall of China

It is 7 o'clock Sunday morning and I would like to take my little red ticket for breakfast from the front desk staff, but she is sleeping on a pillow on the counter. I don't want to wake her, but I do it anyway. She chatters for a while and then she goes back to sleep. I enter the empty restaurant, and then the kitchen where I greet the cook. She was shaping the doughnuts. She motions me to follow her and checks over her shoulder several times to be sure that I am coming. She wakes up the lady and leaves. Now the lady is really cross, and she taps furiously on the keys of a calculator, throws it on the counter, shouts "Breakfast: 8 o'clock!" and goes back to sleep. 
I go out and the city is very much alive at that hour, with street vendors of hamburgers or fried bread, and the stores open.
We have time to eat before John, our driver, arrives. He will take us to Jiankou and wait for us at Mutianyu. Two hours in the car, we talk about the 6-ring highways, each with 3  one-way lanes, that go around Beijing; he tells us about the different buildings that we see, about flat buildings. I ask him about schools (they start at 7, have a break for lunch, go back to school in the afternoon until 5pm, six days a week. They wear uniforms, except in poor areas). When we get outside the city it looks like the rural area in Romania—factories, villages, central store, poplars on the side of the road, their base painted in white (his explanation was to see better in the night time), seeds of corn on the bicycle lane to be dried, watched from improvised tents.

He asked us if we would like to see a factory for cloisonné and we agreed. The visit was a quick succession of entering for a few seconds and exiting the rooms: the one for forming the vase from copper, where they add the wire, where they fill the spaces with color, where they fire it, where they polish it, and in five minutes we were in the presentation room where we were allowed to stay as long as we liked. There were very nice things, classic vases, modern artwork, jewelry and so on, all very colorful. The boys found a vase that cost $290,706. We continued on our way.

In a village we bought the tickets for the wall. The lady that was before Mihai had to return to the cashier because she had one less ticket. When Mihai got in the car he noticed that he had one ticket less, but this was the only place were they wouldn't check our tickets so we really didn't need the tickets anymore (the people who live in a communist society try to raise their earnings like this).

We established a meeting place with John and started on our trail. At a crossroad we took a wrong turn, but we realized this and corrected our mistake. After two hours of climbing, with numerous stops (because of me), we arrived at the base of the wall. We climbed on a ladder made of tree trunks, but to get in the tower, there was another ladder, and also a man in blue uniform who was asking 5 yuan for each of us. Ioan climbed the first ladder down to check for another way, and returned with a negative answer. Quickly, the man moved it so we could not leave, now that he had us. It was making me laugh—I was a goose ready for plucking.

The Wall... is big. You see it on the hill in front of you, going down and then climbing toward you. Turn around and you'll see it continuing toward the next hill, and on the crests on the other hills, until it disappears into thin air. There were two groups of Chinese, one was eating, the others I think were measuring something, talking on walkie-talkies with someone from the next tower.

We start walking. In the beginning is just a trail over rocks, between bushes. The sides are crumbling from place to place. In other parts it is better preserved. Generally, we're going downhill, we just have to watch our step. We get close to the shortcut, a place were you get out of the wall, go through the woods and climb again on it, instead of climbing up and down the hill. There is a conflict in my mind: the trip should take us at least two hours plus the time to take the pictures, we don't know how difficult it's going to be, we shouldn't waste almost an hour to climb the hill to see the same thing from a different perspective, but I WANT it (same for Mihai and Ioan, the girls will take their time talking through the woods and they will wait for us just 15 min). We start climbing a very, VERY steep incline (80º), trying not to lose our footing on the smooth stones. Panting, we stop to catch our breath, admire the view, start again, going up, to the tower, and when we look down, all the wall is at our feet, flowing down the hill.

Oooh-ooh, now how do we get down? In front of us there is a slide. We hug the walls and putting our feet on the side we climb down to a place where there is a trail between bushes, but is dusty, we could fell on it.

We stop to talk with an American woman about how long it is until Mutianyu. Further down are some Germans. We meet Brazilians, Japanese and... Chinese (these ones had music on loudspeakers), but mostly on the renovated part of the wall. Here we are alone and we're happy about it.
The best gift was the sun coming out. Slowly, but surely, the wall started to clean up: no more bushes, the sides of the wall were there with their little windows for shooting arrows, the towers had a ceiling and they were not in ruins anymore. We were stopping and looking in front of us, behind us, and we still couldn't get enough. Maybe from here we can see better, we were thinking. At some point we found a wooden railing, and next to it, another vendor. We were entering the reconstructed part of the wall. The difference was visible to the naked eye. The construction material was the same, but the wall had no age. There are more and more tourists. We continued to go down hill on the steep incline, but now it transformed into stairs. This prompted Ioan to say it should be named "The Great Steps of China". Our knees are trembling, our feet are wobbly from so much going downhill and we feel sorry for those who have to climb up. After 20 minutes we found a sign saying that tourists are not allowed beyond this point (and we were coming from the forbidden part). From place to place we let ourselves to run downhill so we could climb easier and we attracted much attention (why are five people running happily?)

At 4:30 pm, we get to our terminal point of our trip: the toboggan that snakes down the side of the hill. You get on a cart with a stick that is supposed to brake. Before curbs there are signs, and flags, and people all telling you to slow down. And it is super-duper! You want to speed up, but also to watch the sunset.

Sweaty, hungry, tired, we arrive at closing hour in the commercial world of Mutianyu where we are offered T-shirts, talismans, fruits and other things. We find John who hurries toward Beijing, only to crawl in the Sunday night traffic. We stop in the twilight to take a picture of the mountain that looks like a face, we talk about restaurants and Peking duck, about Forbidden City and different parks, and he recommends other places.

It was a wonderful day!

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