China 2005

China 2005

 

MING TOMBS

We visit the Ming Tombs, 50 km North West of the city, where 13 of the 16 Ming emperors are buried. Beijing itself was founded nearby only after this suitably auspicious burial location had been decided upon. Away from the city, we are also away from the crowds, so our walk up the peaceful Spirit Way is pleasantly peaceful.

Spirit Way, Ming Tombs

Spirit Way, Ming Tombs

 

 

BADALING

Later we travel to the Great Wall (Badaling section). Again this is busy with Chinese tourists, although the festive atmosphere is certainly charming, the visitors taking real pleasure in photographing each other on the wall, riding camels, sitting in litters and such like tourist behaviour. After about an hour’s walk the crowds have thinned out, leaving an attractive stretch of deserted wall snaking into a densely wooded distance.

Great Wall, Badaling

Great Wall, Badaling

 

Great Wall, Badaling

Great Wall, Badaling

 

JUYONGGUAN

Next day we go to another section of wall, the Juyongguan. This section is very steep and is quite a challenge for some of the visitors. The wall here is over-restored – a kind of ‘Great Wall experience’ for tourists on a flying visit, although the views into the cloudy hills are atmospheric.

Great Wall, Juyongguan

Great Wall, Juyongguan

 

 

SCHOOL PARTY

On the way down I come across the world’s largest school party. A line of teenagers extends for hundreds of meters along the wall, over a terrace, down some stairs, across a courtyard and outside through a gate. The students are remarkably well-behaved as they wait patiently in line. At one point, when I get between the youngsters and a wall, the whole line snakes out of my way as I walk along. As I wait for Anne in the courtyard below, some smile and wave.

School Party, Great Wall, Juyongguan

School Party, Great Wall, Juyongguan

 

LEARNING ENGLISH

Although the number of Western visitors is increasing, we are regularly the subject of friendly curiosity and attention. I seem to fit the bill as an archetypal westerner (tall, pale, long nose, big feet) and so people often come up to ask if I will be photographed with them. A number of young people practise their language skills on us. A typical conversation, sounding like an extract from ‘First Steps in English’, runs thus:

 Child: Hello.

 Me: Hello.

 Child: What is your name?

 Me: My name is Julian. What is your name?

 (Child replies with name).

 Child: Where do you come from?

 Me: I come from England. Were you born in Pingyao?

 Child: Yes, I was born in Pingyao. Please will you write your name in my book?

 etc.

Learning English is a widespread and serious undertaking. At one point we hear children chanting ‘we like to play’ solemnly from their courtyard. It seems you have to work hard to make it in the new China.

Great Wall, Badaling

Great Wall, Badaling

 

GUIDES

All our guides speak good English, and are friendly and thoughtful. Our holiday is a happy compromise between an organised tour and independent travel. Transport and accommodation are pre-arranged and we have a local guide and driver in each destination, but are not part of a group and have plenty of time to ourselves.

We particularly like Pan, our Beijing guide, as she is funny and relaxed, and shares our relish for good food. She takes us to great restaurants, and eats with us, making a real effort to help us choose food we will enjoy.

We discuss films at some length (bizarrely Pan had to watch such films as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pretty Woman and The Graduate as part of her English studies). She says she can’t understand why Gong Li is so popular in the West, which surprises us, although we hear this view expressed again later in the holiday. (It is said she is too Western-looking to be considered attractive in China.)

Each guide would study our itinerary and, with fierce loyalty to their own region, have something to say about our other destinations:

Pan (Beijing guide): In Shanghai, all they talk about is money. Hey, why would you want to go to Xiamen?

Tommic (Xi’an guide): Beijing is much too busy.

Penny (Shanghai guide): Xi’an is far too quiet. Nothing ever happens.

 

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