Day 04: The Great Wall of China and Olympic Walk

This story has a happy ending. It’s pouring rain in the morning. We board the bus to visit the Great Wall of China. Our leader is a young guide who has just passed China’s competitive tourism exam. She has chosen Cactus as her English name. Cactus tells us all about the traffic jam that we are sitting in. It’s a major problem in Beijing. It’s Monday, she explains, so cars that have license plates that end in a 1 or 6 are not allowed to drive today. Cactus also explains that sometimes tour groups blame the tour guide for the weather. She apologizes for the cloudy, rainy day.

It’s drizzling as we reach Mutianyu, a popular place to climb up to the wall. Cactus buys tickets and some of our students pick up cheap rain jackets from the vendors. We make our way to “the great footpath”, a series of stairs leading up the mountain. The climb is challenging. The steps are slippery though the rain has stopped.

We reach the top. We’re on the Great Wall of China! But we’re in a thick fog.That’s it. You get one shot to visit the wall and you get to see what you see. We’re sitting in a cloud that stifles our view in every direction. Suddenly, the cloud blows over and we can see the green treetops of the forests below and the wall stretch into the horizon, riding the crest of the mountains. The students are rejuvenated. One million smiling selfies. We walk back down to the bus.

We have lunch at the Jade Market. The students learn about the craftsmanship and the teachers suggests the class try bribing them with a $158, 000 Jade tiger. No takers. Then we’re off to Dr. Tea to learn about oolong and pu’er and local jasmine tea. Finally, we are back downtown. The smog replaces the fog. We make a stop along the Olympic walk. It’s a long stretch of concrete amidst the famous Olympic buildings like the Bird’s Nest and Cube. The pollution, steel beams, and concrete provide a three-tone, post-apocalyptic grey palette. But what looks bleak to us is a popular destination for domestic tourism. We are surrounded by Chinese tour groups excited to be in the capital. They’re friendly people and they ask our students to take photos with them. When they get back home, they’ll tell everyone that they won’t believe the strange foreigners they saw in Beijing.

What looked like a rainy day turned out to be a great opportunity. The clouds cleared for us and there were very few visitors on the wall on account of the weather. The class was happy to see so many diverse places. Even the final Olympic walk ended on a high note. A man high fived our entire class after watching how savvy we were crossing the road.

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