Posts Tagged With: bus travel

The Great Wall Of China: The Best And The Cheapest Way

The Great Wall of China at Jinshanling in Heibei Province

The Great Wall of China at Jinshanling in Heibei Province

I met a 35-year-old man from Beijing, China, who has never been to the Great Wall of China. He said just like him there are millions of other people in China who have never seen the Great Wall. What’s more, they have no interest. I, an American, have made three trips to the Great Wall, two in the last few months, with more planned.

The bottom line is many Chinese have no interest in their centuries-old structures and antiquities. Those may be lingering feelings from the days when Chairman Mao Zedong in 1949 declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China and in subsequent years the communists declared many of those ancient structures unwelcome in the new society. GWMikeSystematically they began to destroy ancient temples and structures under the guise of a “cultural revolution”. In the name of modernity and progress, China also destroyed and removed structures and other relics thousands of years old.

Many Chinese people I meet simply don’t value what foreigners hold historically important. One of my Chinese friends, for instance, managed to go his entire life without visiting the Forbidden City, even though he lived within minutes of it. It was only a few days ago that he was dragged pretty much kicking and screaming by a group of his foreign friends to the expansive Forbidden City, the place from which emperors ruled China. He held little passion for the place, explaining there were better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon. Similarly, on a recent trip to the Museum of the War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, located on the outskirts of Beijing, it was a bunch of insistent foreigners who finally convinced their Chinese handlers to add a few minutes to the itinerary to visit the Marco Polo Bridge steps from the museum.

“It’s just a bridge” one Chinese handler said, dismissing the historic significance of the bridge known to the Chinese for centuries as the Lugou Bridge – the stone bridge Marco Polo detailed  in his travelogue – the bridge where World War II began in the Pacific theater.

I suppose it’s the same in other countries. People take things for granted. There was a time when modern-day Italians allowed the Roman ruins to be picked apart and vandalized. And there are people in New York City who have never been to the Statue of Liberty, even though it’s a short ferry ride. So it goes. You’re not going to convince people why some things are worth seeing, even preserving.

Watchtower ruins

Watchtower ruins

For those with genuine interest in visiting the Great Wall of China, it’s also not as difficult as some – tour operators – would have you believe. Save your money. No need for tours or tour guides if you plan to come to Beijing and want to see the Great Wall of China. For a roundtrip grand total of less than $12, you can be on the Great Wall within 2 hours. And this stretch of the Great Wall, known as Jinshanling in Heibei Province, is largely unrestored – what the Chinese would refer to as “wild wall” – unlike Badaling or even Mutianyu sections.

Here’s what you need to do to get to the Great Wall of China without a pricey tour, meaning on your own: There is a direct bus to Jinshanling Great Wall that leaves every morning at 8 a.m. There are several other buses that leave daily but you do not want to be on any of those, as they make stops along the way that can add up to two hours to the trip. Aim for the 8 a.m. direct bus and no other, please. To get to the bus, you will need to take the subway (you can also take a taxi there, but that is of course adds to your transportation costs. You want to take subway lines 13 or 15 to Wangjing West station. Once there, use Exit C. It’s a nice lengthy walk underground to the point you emerge on the street. Once you are outside, turn right and go across the street where you will see a large red sign that says Tickets to Jinshanling Great Wall. Your bus is there, clearly marked 8 a.m. You will likely see some other foreigners waiting in that line. That’s it.

The bus will drop you off at the visitor center where you can purchase tickets to enter the Great Wall area. You will have approximately five hours to explore the wall before the bus departs to return to Beijing. Do not miss your bus! The driver will tell you – in Chinese, sorry, you will have to ask someone on the bus what the driver is saying – when to meet and where for the return bus. Enjoy. I’m off to convince a couple of Chinese friends a visit to the Great Wall is not only easy, it’s totally worth it.


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Something To Think About

Randy Brameier lived 13,904 days. He died 14 years ago at age 38. Diabetes gradually overtook him.

He was a friend and colleague. We would leave the office at least twice a day to go on “jaunts” to buy coffee and snacks or lunch, but the underlying purpose of our walks was to talk about and clear our minds of the insane things we had been working on that particular day as news reporters in New Jersey shore (United States) towns with ample crazy news. Randy had his serious side, but also a great sense of humor and he could make light of a bad situation like no other. We would laugh when we really should have been shaking our fists and cursing the planets.

“What we have is a failure to communicate,” was his favorite saying around the office. It seemed our bosses were always failing to communicate. Randy used the “failure to communicate” line in the face of challenge and adversity brought on indeed by a failure to communicate. After so many failures by the head office, what else was there to do but make light of the repeated missteps.

As I’ve stated here before, hours and hours spent traveling on a bus leads to hours upon hours thinking about the mundane, but sometimes about life. What should I do? Where should I go? Should I return home to find another job in journalism? Should I settle down? Should I just plain settle? Am I doing the right thing? Should that guy really be wearing yellow? Questions, questions.

When I recently saw the above poster on the Internet as I sat on a bus at work picking up a weak wi-fi signal, Randy came rushing back into my brain. As if it were yesterday I could hear him saying his classic failure to communicate line. Made me smile. But then I paused to examine the content of the poster, oddly placed on some Malaysian website written entirely in Malay except for the words on the poster: “Your Failures Do Not Define You.”

I’m not sure Randy would have run with this particular mantra. He was too much of a wisecrack to go around reciting such hefty prose. But then the whole notion of failures in life hurled my cluttered brain toward a conversation-turned-debate I had earlier in the week with a friend.

We were chatting via Skype. When we began to discuss turning points in our lives, I didn’t think it would be such a big deal when I told her “I love my life.” Her expression quickly changed and she responded that it was alright to love my life, but to voice that sentiment was not okay. She argued that it amounted to crass bragging and was insensitive to others whose lives aren’t going so well. Ohhh-kaaay!

I don’t claim to be Mr. Sensitivity, but I’m far from insensitive when it comes to the downtrodden. Been there myself, after all. I know a thing or two about being down and out. But how is expressing one’s happiness wrong?

After a volley of exchanges on the subject we agreed to disagree and moved on. (Hmmm…maybe I should have said I hate my life and gone for the sympathy).

In life we are pleased when we are doing what makes us happy. One of the things that makes me extremely happy is travel. My love of travel came at a very young age. I was always drawn to maps and could study them for hours. Geography was my favorite subject. It still is.

So now that I am fulfilling one of my life’s dreams – to travel around the world – I can truly say I love my life. Not that I didn’t love it before. I’ve been blessed with experiences few can claim: Visits to all but one of the U.S. states – Alaska get ready for the celebration of my arrival – travel to all but two continents – Australia and MAYBE Antarctica here I come. Meeting some incredible people worldwide, with more ahead.

Now I realize that there are countless others who would love to do what I’m doing, at least so they tell me, but because of circumstance and happenstance they can’t – or won’t.

Randy’s life was short. Jon Chamber’s life was short. Gayle Westry’s life was much too short. The list of peers who have died young is too long. Their brief time on Earth serve as a reminder that life is too short and there’s much to be seen and to be done. Follow your heart. If you like to cook, cook. If you like to climb, climb. Fulfill your dreams! A don’t fail at communicating to yourself and to others what makes you angry, sad, but above all, happy. And recognize that indeed your failures do not define you. Dust yourself off and next time around do for you that which makes you stand up and say I LOVE MY LIFE!  There is no greater feeling.

For me, it’s the love of travel. Or a simple matter of remembering an old friend.


Categories: posts, Rants and Raves | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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