|World Trip Home||Post Twelve|
In China, one of the must-sees is the Great Wall. Several people at our hostel said they wanted to see the wall so we all hired a van for the day to take us out to a seldom-visited section. Tina, the exchange student we met, haggled with the driver for us and we were off. When we finally got to the small farming community where we started our hike, we were dumbfounded. Here was a crumbling section of the Great Wall of China, exactly like you'd imagine it, and there was absolutely nobody around - no tourists, no postcard vendors, just the wall. Giddy with excitement we told the driver to wait for us and started our climb.
This is the group from the hostel. We were from three countries and except for Craig I'll probably never see any of them ever again. But for that day we were all good friends sharing an incredible experience.
On the three kilometers of wall that we hiked, we only saw two other people (headed the opposite direction). From the guard stations (pictured) we tried to imagine what it would be like to have tried to defend (or attack) the largest manmade barrier in the world. As it turned out, when Kublai Khan invaded China in 1261, he effectively bypassed the wall by bribing the guards.
|Climbing the Wall|
This section of the wall was rugged and steep. The wall you see in all the photos in magazines has been rebuilt to make it look like it did when it was in use. This section remains in ruins. Climbing the wall that day will remain a highlight of my entire trip, and thus, a highlight of my life.
|The Food Street|
Back in Beijing, we set out to find some real Chinese food. On the recommendation of someone we met, we eventually found the 'food street'. Here there are multiple stalls set up with fresh food ready to cook. You walk along until you find a stall you like, and then pick from the assortment of things laid out by the hot woks. There were noodles and vegetables, tofu, soups, pot stickers, and a wide variety of 'things on a stick'. This included chicken, beef, baby birds, frogs, chicken hearts, liver, squid, prawns, and even bugs - all set up on shish kebabs and ready for the grill. I'm a pretty adventurous eater but there was too much to choose from. I tried the frog and the squid but gave the grubs a pass. The surprise treat: Strawberries, battered and deep fried with sugar sprinkled on top.
|Real Chinese Food|
Like Mexican food, Chinese food rarely appears in the United States in its original form. Chinese restaurants in the US often serve heavily greased and sauced meats and vegetables over rice. The food I had in China was uniformly fresh and fabulous. In Beijing I tried Peking Duck (the crispy skin is the best part), spicy soups (with plenty of entrails), and dumplings of all shapes and sizes. People in China eat some exotic things and the next time I go, I look forward to trying more.
|So clean you can eat off it...|
Before I went to China, I thought it would be a filthy place where I was bound to get sick. Like the US, China has both clean and dirty areas. Beijing, however, was one of the cleanest cities I've ever visited. Take for example, this photo of the food street. This street is full of people eating off of paper plates, with napkins in their hands and hot food on sticks. You would expect the ground to be littered with debris. Quite the contrary, the street was spotless. I would drop a napkin by accident, and then turn a minute later to pick it up and it would be gone. What I eventually noticed were the many people walking around with brooms and dustpans who quickly swept up anything on the ground. Obviously this is 'make work' program but a success in my book. I mean, look at that street!
Beijing quickly blew my previous conceptions of China to shreds. I expected a backward country, floundering with an oppressive government and filled to the brim with an impoverished populous. What I found was a quickly developing country with a healthy economy, a controlling but not totalitarian government, and a people eager and optimistic about the future. Everyone I talked to mentioned entering the World Trade Organization and winning the bid for the 2008 Olympics as signs of China's entry on the world stage. While it still has some problems to solve, I believe China will be a major force this next century. I also think that when people come from all over the world to see the Olympics in 2008, they will be quite surprised in what they find.
Scott & Karen Semyan