Thursday, June 28, 2012

Beijing 2012 - Day 10 (Great Wall, Summer Palace, Peking Opera)

It's a rainy morning on a hot, stuffy bus, and we're waiting to depart for the Great Wall. Students are buzzing with plans to take trains to Hong Kong and Shanghai over the next two weekends. I am naturally stressed at the prospect of those folks throwing themselves even further afield. At least we're together now, preparing to join a water-logged traffic jam. Blue sky visions of hiking those ancient stony steps have given way to the gradual acceptance that today's excursion, while not dismal, will certainly be damp.

Passing through the city's central business district, we spot signs that pronounce Beijing values: "Patriotism Innovation Inclusiveness Virtue." Since our arrival I've seen this phrase hanging from overpasses, clambering from metro stations, and shouting from construction sites: a nearly ubiquitous cheerleader for the joys of central planning. And signs of Beijing planning are everywhere. Towers of rebar poke through low-hanging clouds while older Cold War era apartment complexes are pulverized. These will be the new skyscrapers, the new parking lots, and the new malls of the new city. And alongside them all, hastily built workers' hotels summon up images of all those millions of lean and ruddy immigrants who've left their provincial homes to find their own futures in China's new capital of confidence.

We pass a fake Disneyland on our way to the Great Wall. Rain drips through rusty girders, grass grows from the foundations, and misty metal shapes evoke lost German castles. The traffic has begun to loosen up at least. The skies are still dreadful but we eventually start to spot green hills in the haze. Finally we arrive at Juyongguan Pass and promptly begin buying everything in sight: scrolls, sweatshirts, miniatures, and ponchos. Clouds obscure the ridgeline so that each guard tower looks like something out of Brigadoon. We've got about two hours for this excursion, so we begin our own little "long march." The steps are steep and slippery, and only a few hardy souls climb higher than the tenth guard tower. Still we are happy, chatting with other tourists and gazing into the pea soup valley. 

Following lunch at a "Friendship Store," we head back into town to visit the Summer Palace. The drizzle has subsided at this point, allowing for a more relaxed stroll through ornate gardens and stunning monuments [Well, as relaxed as a stroll can be while trying to move 14 students, each determined to shoot as many Facebook-friendly photos as possible, from place to place]. We walk slowly down the crowded Long Corridor, peering upward at detailed paintings of beloved Chinese stories. Behind us, visiting school children belt out cheerful songs. Later we board a dragon boat to carry us across the lake. 

Another tasty meal (topped off by some American dessert from a McDonald's across the street) prepares us for our evening adventure: The Peking Opera. Actually there is little that can prepare American ears for that particular musical style. Suffice to say that we end an eventful day with lots of laughter and shared experience, sampling enough culture to inspire conversations long after our return to the States.

Day 9 | Day 11

No comments: