Home > life in pictures, visiting > It’s the Great Wall, Charlie Brown!

It’s the Great Wall, Charlie Brown!

February 17, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Arriving back in Portland late on Friday night from my New York managers class, I took off again the following Monday for a two week business trip to Beijing, China. Here’s a shot of Mount Saint Helens crater (just north of Portland) on the way to my transfer point in Vancouver, Canada.

The flight from Vancouver to Beijing lasted 12 hours, and we chased the sun the whole way. As we land at the Beijing airport, the sun finally gets to set in the smog.

Beijing is rapidly growing, with construction projects everywhere, many for the 2008 Olympics. Much of the energy comes from coal, which contributes to the very bad air quality in the winter. During the two work weeks, it was a 30-50 minute taxi ride (depending on how lost the driver got) from the hotel to the office through Beijing’s absolutely insane traffic.

Some days the air was better than others, and when it was chilly and windy the air wasn’t bad at all. Really, the air and traffic were the only bad parts of the whole trip. Everyone and everything else about the trip was great.

Here is the office I worked at. The funny shaped building next door was our landmark as we tried to help our almost always lost taxi drivers find the office :-). Note that the day I took that picture was a bad air day.

Here is one of the new Olympic stadiums. This one, we’re told, is a velodrome (for bicycle racing).

Work was giving classes and having meetings. We went out for a great lunch every day, sometimes at the choose-your-own-fish seafood style restaurants. It’s amazing I didn’t come back quite a bit heavier :-)

One other US coworker made the trip with me. In the picture below, that’s me in the middle in the green shirt, and Milind my coworker on my left in the red shirt.

It wasn’t all work, though. On both weekend days in the middle of the trip, Milind and I took guided sightseeing tours. Fortunately, the weather (and air) were great.

Saturday we visited some of the main historical sites in the city of Beijing itself. Leaving right after breakfast, our first stop on the guided tour was Tiananmen Square (it’s huuuuuge). That’s Mao’s tomb in the distance.

Our next stop was the Forbidden City, the emperor’s enormous residence and administrative palace complex. It is basically a city within the city, with great walls, guard towers, and even a moat around part of the outer walls. It was a strange feeling to be walking on marble walkways that were over 600 years old.

Our guide told us that there are 9,999 rooms in the Forbidden City. The idea was that the emperor could sleep in a different room every night so that assassins wouldn’t be able to find him.

Many places in the Chinese palaces you’ll find a pair of large guardian lions on either side of a door or portal. One is always male and the other is always female. Our guide told us how to tell them apart: in the pictures below, notice that one lion it is holding an orb in its right paw — that is the male lion. The other lion is holding a lion cub on its back in its left paw — that is the female lion. You’ll sometimes see similar guardian lions at Chinese restaurants in the US. Take a look next time and see if you see the same male / female difference.

Outside the Forbidden City, on weekends people bring their pet songbirds together to socialize.

After the Forbidden City we went to the Temple of Heaven, which is an enormous park and site of various religious temples. Here I am standing in front of the “Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests”.

After a great lunch (and time to rest our feet!), we headed across the city to the Summer Palace, built on a man-made hill by a man-made lake. An emperor had it built as a cool shady place in summer to escape the heat of the mostly paved Forbidden City. The covered walkways that lead from one hall to another have 14,000 unique paintings, according to our guide. The Summer Palace was my favorite place on the tour of Beijing sights.

Sunday’s tour visited locations outside Beijing. The Tombs of the Ming Emperors are located (with proper feng shui) in a valley north of the city.

A jade factory was a quick stop before driving on to the Great Wall. We learned that jade comes in many different colors, and that the artists can take six months to make the incredibly intricate carvings. It was hard to walk away from the jade mah-jongg set, but $7000 was a bit more than I’d budgeted for gifts to bring home. :-)

But of course, the main attraction of the day was the Great Wall. It was a chilly but clear and sunny day, which was perfect for the surprisingly strenous climb up the steep slopes of the section of the Wall we visited. I know if I were a Mongol invader, I would have turned around :-).

It’s brown and dry in the winter in the Beijing area, but the gift book I bought confirms what the locals told me, that the it is green and beautiful in the spring and summer, and they also get great fall colors too.

At the Great Wall, we had 90 minutes to wander around and explore as much as we wanted. I went off exploring on the other side of the mountain pass, and found a beautiful pavilion which was a great place to rest after all the stair-climbing. Just as at the Summer Palace, the pavilion was decorated with many hand-made paintings. Without a guide, I had time to take more pictures :-).



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