Since I am between major trips, I wanted to take a look back to one of the most memorable destinations from my past: China. The country is massive and can’t possibly be covered in one visit, but my two-week journey still provided a cornucopia of sights, sounds, tastes and textures. It also provided an excellent test in going outside my comfort zone due to language and customs.
I did my best to prepare, wanting to show respect by at least learning the most common words and phrases, very few that I still remember beyond “Ni Hao” (How are you) “Xie Xie” (Thank you) and “Bu” (No). Still, in my inimitable obsessive fashion I had compiled a twenty page document of phrases and pronunciations and at the time I did manage to use a few. Fortunately for me there was also many more signs in English than I expected, as the country was preparing for the 2008 Summer Olympics.
A visa was required which necessitated a trip to the Chinese Consulate in Manhattan, and the experience was relatively painless (as opposed to getting a visa to Russia which will be discussed in a future post).
Nothing, however can prepare one for the transatlantic flight which takes about 13.5 hours, non-stop. Since my trip was a year before E-Readers such as Kindle were released, I packed as many soft covered books as I could without going over the 44 pound luggage limit since at this point in my life I did not sleep on planes (I have trained myself to sleep since then, with a modicum of liquor) . This wasn’t the longest plane ride I had taken (that was a 21 hour trek to Kuala Lampur, Malaysia) and I knew I was arriving a day in advance of my tour starting, so I had time to get the airplane kinks out – and what better place to get a massage?
After getting settled in the hotel we hit the ground running, walking through the Forbidden City, Tian’anmen Square and a few palaces and temples around Beijing. Or course our first dinner included Peking Duck (crispy and delish) among innumerable other courses. More on the food in a later post.
The next day we walked across The Great Wall.
Let me temper this comment. The Great Wall once stretched over 4000 miles across China’s northern terrain from the Bahai Sea to the Gobi Desert. It was created by Qin Shi Huangdi, who named himself the first emperor of unified China in 221 BC. He was a ruthless ruler and built the wall to protect against northern enemies from Mongolia and Manchuria.
Today, much of the wall has deteriorated, but a few sections have been fortified to offer visitors an amazing experience, for walking up and across even a small expanse of The
Great Wall is simultaneously exhilarating, terrifying, humbling and awe-inspiring.
Since my friend was not feeling well she opted to stay at the entrance to the Badaling section of the wall, and I climbed alone. Actually I shouldn’t say alone – as you will see in the following photos:
Although I knew that this particular section of The Great Wall was one of the most popular for climbing, I still did not expect this swarm of people. In addition, some of the hikers were carrying UMBRELLAS!
So not only did I have to manuever up treacherous worn-out extremely steep stone steps (foreshadowing the climbs in Peru) I had to be wary of being accidentally (?) pushed over the wall by multitudes of people who insisted on running up and/or down instead of walking or being poked by the pointy spokes of someone’s parasol. In addition, many of the locals insisting on perching precariously on the edge of the wall for photos. Thank goodness selfie sticks didn’t exist yet.
I did manage to find a relatively non-crowded spot or two and snapped some glorious pictures of the surrounding mountains:
It was very early in the morning and the light was just beginning to burn off the mist when I took this shot:
I so love this photo for its peaceful and tranquil view that I made a 16 X 20 framed print and it now hangs in my bedroom.
After a couple of hours of climbing and jostling, it was time to get back to the hotel, cleanup and head out for a most unusual experience – a performance of the world renowned Peking Opera.
This stylistic artform developed from traveling opera troupes in the18th century. The colorfully costumed performances were mostly outdoors, accompanied by an orchestra that included many percussive instruments. It is said that the musicians played so loudly that the singers, in an effort to be heard, sang in a strident, piercing manner. In addition, elements of acrobatics, ballet, mime and martial arts are included in the performance. Jackie Chan joined Peking Opera school when he was a child and perfected many of his skills during his 10 year stay.
There are recurring characters that sing and dance. Intricate stories of love and romance and battle and intrigue are woven in The Peking Opera. The masks and facial painting are traditional and are used to express specific emotions and particular information about the character. The female parts were originally played only by men (the female roles were called “Dan”) and these men were carefully trained for over 15 years to emphasize “female” characteristics in voice and movement. Here is a snippet with subtitles to give you an idea:
You will note that the subtitles are a bit peculiar – this is fairly common when the translators are not so familiar with English idioms. I think it adds a certain charm.
Even without the subtitles available to me at the theater I thoroughly enjoyed watching – and of course taking a few pics:
More on China next week