Posts Tagged With: Great Wall of China

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.

GW3

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First Mission In Europe: The United Kingdom, Stonehenge

Lots of time spent in Miami hanging out with CouchSurfers. That’s me on the right, front row, in the New York Yankees baseball cap. Respect!

Nobody likes a nag. So why is my backpack acting like one?

“Time to pack, Michael!”

“Get cracking, Michael!”

“Don’t wait until the last minute, Michael”

“You need to do this, Michael!

“I need your attention, Michael!”

Blah blah blah blah blah bluh bluh bluh….SHUT UP ALREADY!

Sorry, didn’t mean to lose my cool. I  don’t usually lose my cool. I have to be *really* pushed to lose it. I definitely shouldn’t let a dumb backpack get to me.

But Kelty– that’s my backpack’s name – is right to nag. I do need to get on with packing. Otherwise, I’m going to find myself up against a wall I don’t really need  to climb.

And misleading them! 🙂 I kid. Here, leading a CouchSurf bike tour of South Beach. Photo swiped from Rob Greeley, whose camera needs a time check 🙂

This is my last full week in Miami, and I really should start packing this week. Next week I leave for London to restart my world trip. First big mission, a trip to Stonehenge and an attempt to topple it. Okay, Scotland Yard, that’s a joke. I will not attempt to knock down your piled on flat stones. Who do you think I am, Monty Python?

I just want to see this mysterious centuries-old structure. It’s just one of those ancient ruins (is that what it is?) I’ve wanted to see for as long as I can remember. For me, it’s a must-see wonder on par with others I’ve already seen:  the Eiffel Tower; the Leaning Tower of Pisa; the Statue of Liberty; Machu Picchu; the Great Wall of China; and others I’ve yet to see: the Egyptian Pyramids and so many others. And yet, it’s one of those that get an “awesome!” that you plan to visit, to a “why?” would you want to see that? And I must say, most of the negative feedback about visiting Stonehenge has been coming from people who are British and largely live in London. It’s a total bore, is what I’m getting. Really?  Maybe they need to stand on their heads and have another look 🙂

No matter, I’m still determined to go. If once I get there, have a look and yawn, so be it. I would have at least fulfilled a wish, even if I have to look at it from every angle, including on my head, to see something of significance in it. I am of the school that things aren’t boring, people are.

So since I expect to encounter all sorts of weather in Europe, even in full on summer, I need to start sorting out now what I will need to pack, and yet keep the stuff I intend to lug around to a minimum. Packing for all kinds of climates is a huge challenge. You need cool clothing for summer; warm for the cold and snow, and waterproof  for rainy days and London.  I plan to do some camping, so must make room for my tent. My hammock would be nice to have along, but that may be a luxury – and extra weight – my shoulders and back can’t afford. Hammock stays home. I think 🙂

And having a good time! Here, with the co-owners of the The Abbey Brewing Company in Miami Beach, celebrating the bar’s 17th anniversary. Co-owner Carlos is on the left in green shirt, and co-owner Ray in tie-dye shirt is next to me. The people in the middle, well, I have no idea who they are! 🙂 I joke. They are the contractors who built The Abbey 17 years ago and expanded it last year.

A rant about these past three months in Miami. I am really glad I came back and spent them in Miami and Miami Beach and places in between. Meeting old friends and making new ones showed me how much my year away in South America changed me. You can’t go away on a journey for that length of time and experience different cultures and not be changed, hopefully for the better. Miami allowed me to clearly see the good and the bad in people I thought I knew. When you’ve spent a year in the Third World, the negativity of too many people in the First World bursts forth with a bang. In these three months, I often sat listening to a friend or acquaintance go on and on about his or her woes and thinking in the midst of their baffling discourse: “You think you have problems, try living like most in rural Villavieja, Colombia, or urban Quito, Ecuador. I am, of course, not minimizing the problems people face day in and day out, but some of y’all need to get some real problems. In his song, “You Will Know”, Stevie Wonders rightly recites “Problems have solutions”, and indeed they do for most of us in the First World, with our First World educations and First World resources. But again, some just live for drama. They’re miserable without it. Travel makes you see that your “problems” pale and a positive outcome of that is that it makes you get off your behind, quit feeling sorry for yourself, and address the problems head-on with solutions.

In short, more than learning about friends, I learned something about myself: that I am a different person, more analytical and less critical, and far less judgmental. I returned to Miami, I think, improved as a human being, with greater compassion and caring for the planet and the people who live in it. At times I was tested. But I think I emerged on top and right. So now, as I continue this journey – this time across largely First World countries in Europe – I believe my year in South America will serve me well. My plan is to spend the rest of the year in Europe, and perhaps even the beginning of 2013. Brrrrrrrr…European winter, yes, I know.

As I make my way across the United Kingdom, up to Scotland and Ireland, I will have time to decide whether or not to return to London for the 2012 Olympics. London during the Olympics could be a lot of fun – or a huge mistake. One part of me screams that an international event of this magnitude is a big target for would-be terrorists, at worst, and at best, an overcrowded city overrun by chaos. But the Summer Olympics happens only every four years, so what a wonderful opportunity to experience it, no?  We’ll see. Plenty of time to decide.

So, I bid you adieu, ciao, goodbye, adios Miami. And I say hello Europe at the end of the month. I look… I mean I really, really look forward to seeing my friends scattered across Europe, who have been patiently awaiting my arrival. I know that because they keep asking me when will I get there! I can’t wait.

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