Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My Adventure in China Part V

My fifth day in China was my second favorite! As I was climbing the stairs to Lu’s apartment, coming from his aunt’s, I saw some elderly folks doing a fan dance. I stopped and watched them for awhile; they were very good! But I couldn’t get a good video because they were so far away, and through the barred glass. But it was fun to watch! If you ever go to China, be sure to get up sometime in the early morning (8:00 is still OK) because that’s when retired people do their outdoor tai-chi, kong-fu and dance exercises.

Then Lu`s mom made a delicious cake for breakfast; soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside. Around 9:30 we headed out to the Great Wall of China, but the bus didn’t leave ‘til about 11:00 and it was a very long way. The guide told us a bit about the wall`s history as we went (in Chinese; Lu translated). Construction began in the 5th century BC and continued off and on for two thousand years. The current wall stretches 6,259.6 km, or 3,889.5 miles, not including natural walls like rivers, hills and mountains. Its primary purpose was to defend the northern boarder of China from warring clans and Mongolians. It is the only man-made structure that can be seen from space.

We went to one of the most famous sections called Badaling about fifty miles northwest of urban Beijing. There are actually many different sections because of various natural barriers that didn`t require a wall. We got there around 1:00, so we had lunch at a little jiaozi shop. Jiaozi are Chinese dumplings, stuffed with pork or mutton and spices. The Japanese have something similar called gyoza, which is fried instead of boiled. I think I prefer the Japanese version because they`re soft on the inside and crispy/crunchy on the outside, whereas the Chinese version is soft all around. When I told Lu`s mother the difference, she laughed. Turns out the Chinese only fry the leftovers, so fried jiaozi is seen as second rate in China.

Approaching the wall we met a man with a camel. I suppose you could ride the camel around the great wall, but it was really expensive. He even charged for taking a picture! I sneaked one when we were about twenty meters away. Here’s the famous two-humped camel of China’s Gobi desert:

Then we climbed the great wall. That`s right, climbed. Some places were so steep we almost had to crawl on our hands and knees! Here’s a picture near the beginning, of the sign that was erected for the 2008 Olympics:

And this is a shot of an adjacent wall. You can see just how long it is! Also notice the square, low towers. Those were watch towers where fires could be lit if an invader was spotted. The blue thing is a mini-roller coaster that can take you down when you’re finished climbing. There was also a Japanese gondola that I really wanted to take down, but it was closed, probably because it was off season.

It took us about an hour and half to get to the top with only a brief rest. (Sometimes we even ran up the steep hills to make them easier.) At the top we met a Dutch man and his blond-haired, blue-eyed freckled son. Reminded me of my Dutch cousins. He took Lu and my picture at the top. But I already put that picture in my first China blog entry! You can refer back to it if you like.

This is a video from the top:

And here’s another one; notice how windy it is!

Going down, we got to watch a beautiful sunset. Here it is:

We missed our bus, but we were lucky and were able to catch another one in ten minutes, the last one, actually! It was so full we had to stand for part of the ride, but I didn’t mind. We got back around 7:00pm and ate “Muslim food” in Beijing’s Muslim quarter. We had rice with sweet red beans, roubing (flat bread with beef, vegetables, and herbs stuffed inside), pita pockets, kabobs, sugar rolls and honey buns. It was a lot of food, and really good! Here’s a picture:

Lu said it was called Muslim food because there's no pork in it. Actually, it tasted a lot like the Jewish food I had at Temple Israel in Tulsa during Hebrew fest. Don't tell them I said that...

We’d been planning on spending a night out on the town, but we were both pretty tired from climbing the Great Wall, so we decided to turn in early. I hung out with Lu’s family a little bit first. His dad was watching a modern Chinese drama, and I was intrigued by their use of real American actors playing American characters. I was impressed by this, because in American films, we usually have foreign parts played by the wrong nationality (for example, The Jungle Book— who’s brilliant idea was it to get a Hawaiian/Chinese guy to play an Indian, or in Star Trek a Lithuanian to play a Russian; talk about accent mix-up- Russians pronounce their Ws like Vs, not vice-versa!) If you find an intelligent director, the most you usually get is a Chinese-American playing a Chinese native, who may or may not actually speak Chinese (the exception being Bruce Lee).

I went back to Lu’s aunt’s house. We shared some chocolate and watched TV together. She let me choose the channel and assumed I would pick the only English-speaking one, but that was pretty boring and I was much more interested in seeing what other Chinese dramas were like. It amazes me how every culture has their own version of the soap opera. Not that it differs much. The stories are always based on so-and-so getting pregnant with so-and-so’s baby and somebody else wants to beat up the father. The acting is so overdone and the plot so obvious that you really don’t have to speak the language to understand what’s going on. But the thing that interests me about Japanese and Chinese soap operas is that they’re usually based on historical events. I like the costumes and traditional elements mixed in, and trying to guess who the characters are from history.

And that was my fifth day in China!

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