I woke on day 2 to glorious weather which was fantastic as I’d booked a small group tour to the Great Wall, 90kms away at Mutianyu. The guide collected me at the hotel at 7:20am and I was surprised to find I was in a party of four. The whole day was to cost around 15 quid including lunch!
We visited the ubiquitous Jade Factory and then drove to the Underground Palace, also called Dingling, one of the 13 Ming Dynasty Tombs. From the Yongle Emperor onwards, 13 Ming Dynasty Emperors were buried in the surrounding area. We visited, the tomb of the Wanli Emperor (4 September 1563 – 18 August 1620), which is the only one of the Ming Tombs to have been excavated. He was the thirteenth emperor of the Ming Dynasty in China. His era name means “Ten thousand calendars”. Born Zhu Yijun, he was the Longqing Emperor‘s third son. His rule of forty-eight years (1572-1620) was the longest in the Ming dynasty and it saw the steady decline of the dynasty. After an hour pottering round the Underground Palace and grounds we headed to the foot of the Great Wall for lunch.
After a hearty Chinese lunch, we continued our visit climbing the steep road and passing through a commercialised but not too unbearable shopping street. In the shadow of Mutianyu Great Wall we picked up our lift passes because as we only had 2.5 hours we wanted to spend as much time hiking along the wall as possible. As well as being quick the cable car affords great views of the toboggan run which you can also use to descend. The location is known for its scenic surroundings – dense woods with rich foliage. According to the local Chinese, “If you haven’t climbed the Great Wall, you are not a real man”, that’s me sorted I got the chairlift!
At the cable car station we were met by a small collection of vendors selling drinks and snacks, all were very friendly and not too pushy. The wall ungulates across the mountain ridges before climbing steeply to a watchtower, beyond here the wall is left in its “real” state, un-repaired and showing the ravages of time. What we see today is largely the work of the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century (with some modern restoration thrown in). The brick and granite work was engorged and refined designs were added. The watch towers were redesigned and up to date canon were mounted in strategic areas. The Portuguese had found a ready market for arsenal in China, one of the few items of trade that China didn’t already have profuse quantities of. The Ming Emperors, having overthrown the Hun dominance and expelled their Mongol rulers of the North, committed large portions of available material and personnel in securing their defences.
My target was to reach the last watchtower (number 20) and pop out Armstrong-like onto the unmade section at Muianyu’s highest point. For the duration of the trek I had to keep reminding myself of the scale of the beast that is the wall and it is an unimaginable engineering feat. There are 20 towers on the Mutianyu section snaking the ridge for about 3000 meters. The watch towers are distributed at short intervals. The towers are numbered from right to left, or from east to west. I did pop out on the 20th but more like Alan Partridge than Armstrong, it was a small step for man, if not a giant one for humanity! I descended using the chairlift as the action alternative meant I’d probably destroy my DSLR.
We headed back to downtown Beijing and pass by the Olympic Green, having a distant view of both the National Stadium (the ” Birds Nest “) and National Aquatics Centre (the Blue Cube). We stopped to unwind yourself by tasting a variety of overly expensive Chinese tea at Dr. Tea. I sampled the infamous Pu-erh (poo being appropriate), Lotus, Jasmine, Oolong, Ginseng Oolong and Black Litchi. They were prepared and presented by a skilled and articulate saleswoman who became my shadow for the 30 minutes we had to go “shopping”. The tea was good but what extortionate pricing! many claims are made for its health benefits and for those readers who are not aficionado’s here’s the lowdown:
– It can dispel the effects of alcohol and nicotine.
– It also acts on colds, coughs and sore throats.
Golden Green Tea/ Slimming Tea (wild puer tea)
– It can regulate blood pressure, lower cholesterol and lose weight.
– Fill tea water with honey and it is good for insomnia.
Oriental Beauty (The king of Oolong Tea)
– It is good for blood circulation and skin.
– It is good for Anemia and enriches blood.
– Add some brown sugar into tea as it can nourishes the stomach.
– It can soften the blood vessels.
– It can drive away summer heat and improve eyesight.
– It can shake off drowsiness and relieve headache.
Litchi Tea (Black Tea)
– It is good for digestion.
Gin-seng Oolong Tea
– It can help to restores your energy.
– Protects liver and kidney.
Instead of returning to our hotels three of us wandered to the Olympic Park were a festival was taking place to celebrate the 5 years passing since the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the stellar performance of Leona Lewis :-). I simply wanted to see the stadium and Water Cube transformed at night but first we took it the extraordinary engineering of its lattice structure before settling down for spicy noodles in a café.
The circular shape of the stadium represents Heaven, while the adjacent square form of the National Aquatics Center (Water Cube), also design-engineered by Arup, is a reflection of the Chinese symbol for Earth. The structural form of the stadium is popularly described as a ‘bird’s nest’, with its pattern inspired by Chinese-style ‘crazed pottery’. Seemingly random, the pattern abides by complex rules for which advanced geometry was defined. The shapes also echo the Chinese symbols for male and female, and are built either side of the north-south axis road which runs in a perfect straight line for three miles through Beijing, centred on the Forbidden City. To ensure a compact and optimum design, the seating bowl was established first, with the outer façade wrapping around it. The design ensures that all spectators are as close as possible to the action and have clear sight lines.
It has a legacy in that it will take a while to pay for, China still is struggling to develop spectator sport as a mass activity. Five years on, what is a major Olympic icons – is struggling to fill its 80,000 seats regularly. Its operators have said it will take three decades to pay off its 3.5bn yuan (£354m) construction costs. In saying that it ranks along the Forbidden City and the Great Wall as one of China’s major tourist attractions. In daylight its stunning if starting to show lack of maintainance but as the sun set and it started to glow it came into its own. The lighting concept design was developed with simplicity in mind, allowing the architecture to speak for itself and ensuring the Stadium glowed from within, reminiscent of a Chinese lantern. The concept was to create an abundance of light glowing from within the Stadium, forming a silhouette effect with the exterior beams and columns. This is the powerful visual effect that allows the building to have two distinct images at day and night. It is claimed at weekend up to 130,000 people visit the site and on the Sunday of my visit this was a fair estimate.
After a long and tiring but fulfilling day I said goodbye to my two fellow travellers, returned to the hotel and with a hearty appetite settled for some famous dumplings at Xianlaoman. I had the pork and garlic chive (zhurou jiucai 猪肉韭菜), fantastic and cheap. I also tried the spicy chicken and rice dish, tremendous.
My second day in Beijing closed with a beer in the hostel where I chatted to two Eastenders, brothers, one working for Tesco (Homeplus) in Shanghai and the other a pest controller in Dubai.