Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Tales from the Wall

First of all, Beijing is simply amazing. It may not be ready for the Olympics, but I am amazed by all that is here, and how much it's changed. I was dreading the food, but it's been amazing. All in all, a pleasant surprise.

Yesterday, I undertook a 10km climb of one of the more challenging (read: unbelievably steep and not well-restored) sections of the Great Wall. We met up with five Wharton guys for this hike, which turned out to be a blast. I have an intense fear of climbing and heights, so this definitely pushed me to my limit. At one point, we had to climb this ridiculously steep staircase with over 100 steps and no wall on the side, just open air and a long drop down. I did this (as did everyone) on my hands and knees. I did a lot of the downward journey on my butt and using my hands. Staircases seldom had all the stairs. Of course, we were all struggling and these middle-aged Chinese women are following us the whole time, serving as guides (uninvited) in the hopes of selling us books at some point during the hike. They also often point over the side of the wall and say, "Mongolia!" which is amusing.

Post-hike, we had Mongolian hot pot with one of Denise's learning team mates. I ate way too much, and am excited to head to the hot pot capital of China in a few days. Also, he arranged for us all to get foot massages afterwards, which was heavenly. If only they could do something for my quads.

Today was the Summer Palace, which was as beautiful as I remembered, and then the Silk Market, where our expert negotiation skills means we were only slightly ripped off instead of completely ripped off.

I've also been spending a lot of time dealing with and setting up internal flights to figure out how we're going to see what we want to see. Heartbreakingly, we have now eliminated Datong from our trip, since we couldn't justify spending $500 and/or cutting two days out of other cities just to go see the caves and the hanging temple. But we have some more time in the Chengu/Valley of the Nine Villages area, and we're going to spend a day in Guangzhou and take the train in to Hong Kong, which should be neat.

Tomorrow we're off to Xi'An to see the Terra Cotta warriors, a supposedly unmissable history museum, and to eat an 18-course meal of dumplings for $7.


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