Day 1: Wall, Great

My first day in a foreign country began at 7 a.m. With my brain fogged by the effects of jet lag, I got ready for the day and walked down to breakfast in the hotel loby. The foods I had to choose from were a mix of typical western breakfast foods, like bacon, scrambled eggs, and potato wedges, as well as foods typically eaten in China as a morning meal, such as rice porage, dumplings, and noodles. After a program orientation/overview in a hotel meeting room, all 24 eager Pitt students, program advisors, and a tour guide loaded on a bus headed towards the Great Wall.

The buildings in Beijing are a mix of modern and traditional architecture. Some are similar to tall buildings you’d see in a city in the US a rectangular structure and lots of glass while a few are made of stone with traditional arching Chinese rooftops.

Similar to the US cars, buses, bikes, motorcycles, and pedestrians all share the road. However, the driving is very hectic in China and there are few if any stoplights and no road signs indicating where vehicles should stop or where pedestrians should cross. Driving lanes? Mostly disregarded and sometimes non existent. Despite the lack of strict regulations involved with driving in the U.S., I was surprised with how well traffic flowed; citizens seemed to be aware and courteous on the roads.

The freeway is lined with well kept trees, bushes, and flowers. Furthermore, the actions by the government to improve the air quality in China are evident in the many orchards along the open space surrounding the roads.

Besides all the greenery, there are also signs with phrases in English like  “join contribution” and “shared benefits.” I thought these signs were interesting because it seemed these values are meant to be imbued in Chinese citizens, yet are written in both Chinese in English.  The fact that English is used makes me think the Chinese government seeks to impress its goals on western visitors as well.

About 5 minutes out from the Great Wall we stopped to eat a traditional Chinese meal. Waitresses brought plate after plate of food, including a variety of chicken dishes each with different sauce, fish, and vegetables like broccoli, green beans, and eggplant.

Finally after a little over an hour of driving we reached our intended destination. Little did we know the great obstacle we were about to face. The Great Wall is at the top of a mountain and to get to it you have to climb several stories of very steep stone steps in hot and humid weather. Let’s just say it became very clear how out of shape I am. When we finally reached the top after much trial and tribulation, we were rewarded with a spectacular view overlooking the mountain range and the small surrounding villages.

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