We hired a driver and car to take us up to the Great Wall. We left at 7:30 and were the first ones on the wall at about 9:00.
I'm getting used to the drivers now. I understand the technique. They simply weave through any available pocket of space regardless of lines. They beep simply to let people know they are coming since the other drivers can never rely on the lines to tell them where a driver might be. I tried to sleep on the way up to the Great Wall but with the weaving and incessant beeping, it's impossible.
It was an overcast day on the Wall and no one else was there except for the vendors. I use the term loosely because these were folks with a beat up cooler and a few drinks. Ni xiang bijiu ma? (You want a beer?) Huh? At 9:30 in the morning? It was about 55 degrees up there.
We had the choice of hiking up to the Great Wall or taking a ski lift to it. We took the latter. Why walk when you can ride? Besides, I was tired and had little sleep last night. We shot a few pictures of looking up the steep stairs and then down the steep stairs and looking out from the steep stairs. Then Lynn took out her travel Scrabble board and she and Ruth started a game. Crazy Waiguorens! (foreigners) On the other hand, once you take a few steps and snap some pictures, what else is there to do? Besides Bill was busy on his cell phone. There is great reception on the Great Wall.
I wandered off and peeked into a few windows of the constructed buildings on the wall. These housed the men guarding the Wall. I discovered brick beds used by the soldiers. These were heated from underneath by wood or coal.
The weather warmed just a bit and we could hear the birds in the trees. The low misty clouds swept over the ridges of the wall and broke and cleared just enough to warm us. In the distance, we heard echoed voices of teenagers on their way up. But for now we enjoyed the quiet, contemplative atmosphere on the Great Wall.
Eventually small groups came up and passed us. Every single one stared at the Scrabble game Lynn and Ruth were playing. One Chinese man asked what kind of game this was but it's kind of hard to explain to someone who uses one or two characters to represent an entire word. He was very friendly and asked all about our Chinese learning. We're getting faster in our explanations.
Our driver suggested we take the sleds coming down. That was a blast. They've installed sleds that run in steel channels all the way down the mountain. They are equipped with a brake so if the guy in front of you is going too slow you can stop before hitting him. I won't mention any names.
Zhang, our driver, spoke fairly good English and told us he was married but had several girlfriends. He asked Bill if he had any girlfriends. That caused a small riot since Lynn reminded him that she was sitting in the back seat.
Our driver works for the Chinese government. He drives a black manual stick Audi. He says a new Audi in China costs 350,000 yuan. That's about $44k U.S. You see very few of these. He explained that he'd rather work with the hotels as a driver (not called a taxi) for special tours. "My job with government is the same every day. I just go and sit and read paper, drink tea, and look at my watch." He gestured with a frowny face and a glance at his wrist. "Oh very boring," we intone. "Dui, dui," (correct) he agrees.
We also asked Zhang about the street beggars. We saw many beggars in the Beijing streets. Some with children that would follow me like flies. Once, while Ruth was in the grocery store I stepped out to look for a good picture. Next thing I know there is some girl standing right next to me. (Personal space doesn't exist in China.) Ruth peeked out and saw the young girl standing next to me and said: "Ah, I see you found a pengyou (friend)." "She's not my pengyou, she's glued to me like a bee to honey! Every time I move a few inches or a few feet she's right there by my side. She's looking for a hand out." I told her. Our driver said that many of these people drive very expensive cars and are very wealthy. We don't believe this. It looks like they've been exposed to the weather quite a bit. But he insists it's a scam.
Zhang suggested we stop at a small factory on the way back. In Hawaii I did some programming for Maui Divers, a jewelry factory that bussed tourists in to see the process as well as the showcase and store at the end. The idea is to generate a desire to have something truly unique and then provide the means to buy it at the end of the tour. The Tour companies got a cut from the proceeds of the purchases. It may have been the same here because everyone knew Zhang and waved as he drove up. He called out to the store in front and a woman with excellent English came out to give us a tour of this cloisonné factory.
It was interesting just the same. In the last scene of Shaghai Noon I remembered Jackie Chan trying to steady large vases to prevent them from falling. So I was shocked to discover that these vases have a copper interior. There are eight steps to the process, seven we saw and the eighth is kept secret. These are copper based items are painstakingly patterned, filled with colored stone, baked, sanded, buffed, and gold plated.
On the way back from the great wall we asked if the driver knew of any good cheap restaurants. "Of course I do. They know me as the Dragon there," he said. The table had a huge glass turntable that we used for the food. At one point I placed the tea pot on it and passed it around to him. He explained that having the tea spout facing someone is very bad luck and is considered rude by any Chinese. That's why the server placed it directly on the table pointing away from everyone. Other table manners he taught us were just as interesting. For example, if a host refills your glass of liquor, beer, or wine that means they want you to stay. If you didn't get a refill, it's time to go. If a good friend refills your glass, instead of saying thank you, you simply tap on the table with two fingers. That's the sign of thanks. He said: "This country is 5,000 years old, there are many customs observed but the meaning has been lost for centuries. Yet, they are followed just the same." I kind of equate it to the American habit of saying "Bless you" after a sneeze. Most don't know that it was originally used as a protection against wicked spirits from inhabiting your soul. Everyone uses the term today but the meaning is unknown to most.
It cost us 600 yuan ($75) to rent a car and driver 3 hours roundtrip. He took us to a restaurant afterwards with excellent food at a cost of 120 yuan ($15). That's $3 per person! Food is plentiful and cheap in China, at least for the tourists.
After Zhang dropped us off at the hotel. I crashed, exhausted from the walk and huge meal. I was out within a few minutes. When I woke up, Ruth wanted to go shopping again. I really wanted to veg but that's the store where my little "pengyou" hangs out. So I agreed to go. I'm looking forward to seeing her again.
If I keep a green bough in my heart the singing bird will come. - Chinese proverb