Refreshed from ten hours of sleep that broke through the jet lag and motion sickness, I ate my first breakfast in China. Our hotel – the Pentahotel in Beijing – served foods from rice to muffins to dragonfruit. After struggling to eat the slice of slippery, soft dragonfruit with chopsticks, I finally used a fork to try my first bite of this fruit. It reminded me of a kiwi with the seeds, and it was good. Forks, on the other hand, are not typically included in everyday table settings here, but they were available at the hotel restaurant.
An hour of free time followed the program orientation. Some of my group ventured to Starbucks, but since I wasn’t in the mood to explore coffee abroad (I’m not a coffee drinker), I meandered around the block with Brian, Evan, Jake, Justin, Chandler, and Kieran. We stopped by a convenience store up the block, which boasted some products that were oddities to me – milk soda, Russian ice cream (pure milk flavor), and cucumber-flavored and grilled squid-flavored Lays potato chips – as well as the foreign equivalents of American products, including green tea Dove chocolate, nacho “cheesier” Doritos, and American regular flavor Lays potato chips.
At 10:30 AM local time, we began our journey to the iconic Great Wall of China. On the way, we stopped for a Chinese-style lunch featuring a variety of dishes, mint tea, and sodas spun to and fro on a lazy Susan. I sampled all sorts of chicken and fish dishes, in addition to some vegetable dishes. One dish had chicken and chestnuts, one resembled orange chicken, and one featured a sort of stewed eggplant. The restaurant served us dish after dish of delicious food!
In the bathroom of the restaurant, I had my first encounter with a squatty potty. I opted not to use it. I’ll save that for another day.
After another short bus ride, we arrived at the entrance to the Great Wall complex. This wasn’t the entrance to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall itself – only to the area at the base of the mountain, which contained eager vendors, several restaurants, and a Burger King. We had to board a shuttle to take us partially up the mountain, and from there, we either had to walk or take a cable car up the steepest incline of the mountain. Most of us opted to walk… up an endless set of stairs that almost looked to take you all the way to the sky. There were many trees and butterflies, and a small pagoda just shy of the top.
Finally mounting the staircase, we arrived at the Great Wall, lining the top of the mountain. The view of the surrounding tree-covered mountains, some outfitted with more of the Wall, was incredible. We walked atop thousands of years of history still intact. Throughout our trek from watchtower 10 to watchtower 6, I thought about what it might have been like to have been stationed at the Great Wall, one means of protecting China in several ancient dynasties and an enduring symbol of the Middle Kingdom.
At the end of our time at the Great Wall, twisting down the height of the mountain and framed by trees on either side, the toboggan slide closed our visit in a grand, fun conclusion.
As a side note, I had my first hotpot for dinner today! It’s similar to a fondue in the United States, but instead of using fondue forks to cook individual pieces of food, entire small dishes of meats, vegetables, and noodles are added to the boiling broths and pulled out with spoons and chopsticks. At dinner, we briefly discussed what we believed to be the more social, lengthy nature of Chinese dinners. In America, meals are served with more definitive categories at a set time of the meal – soup or salad, appetizer, entree, then dessert. In China, you order your plates, and the dishes are brought out as they are finished. Also, a lot of the meals that we’ve had at restaurants so far are more conducive to sharing with multiple people; instead of ordering a meal for each individual, several dishes are ordered and served, and then everyone takes the portions that they want from those dishes.