Day 2: The Great Wall

              This morning was filled with excitement and anticipation – at more than just the pork buns at breakfast. We were going to see the Great Wall! On the bus ride over, I learned about the ring road structure of Beijing, which I found very different than the gridded structure of the cities I’m familiar with back home. Looking out the windows, I also saw many people wearing masks walking on the street, to protect from pollution. It’s interesting to see this, coupled with the masks for sale in the vending machines, in comparison to the stigma we have against wearing any type of scarf or mask in the States. From hearing Joe talk, I also realized that the Chinese have a very positive outlook on the pollution and think that it’s getting a lot better, which makes sense based on the number of bikes on every street corner. After about an hour and a half bus ride – because Beijing is the size of New Jersey! – we arrived at lunch. At lunch I tried scallion pancakes and these delicious fried green beans, and watched Alec eat the first green bean of his life. Overall, it was extremely cool to watch everyone on our trip beginning to open up to the new foods and becoming much more daring to try dishes they can’t identify than at Sichuan Gourmet back home.

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Perhaps the most challenging part of the day was using the squatty potties at the base of the Great Wall. Despite reading about it beforehand, I really wasn’t sure what to do. Overall, it was an odd experience and something I can’t even imagine existing in America, but it does seem more sanitary than western style toilets. After that, we hiked up the great wall. The way up was definitely not for the faint of heart, and I hadn’t realized how high the wall was! At the top there were very pretty mountains, which I wasn’t expecting – for some reason I had pictured China as being fairly flat. There was also a lot of smog, and it was much more noticeable from on top of the wall. Previously, many of my classmates had mentioned the smog, but I didn’t realize how intense it was over Beijing until I was standing on the wall. You could look in one direction and see hazy grey over the city, but in the other direction you just saw mountains for miles and even a hint of a blue sky. There were also vendors on the sides of the wall shouting “Cold Water Cold Beer.” Overall, the wall was much less crowded than I had expected, which was nice because we were really able to explore it. In one of the lookouts, Sarah and I wrote our names on a paper poster inside with a pen a German tourist lent us. After looking around for about an hour, we took a toboggan down the wall, and then headed back to the hotel.

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Tonight dinner was on our own, and we found that coordinating dinner in big groups is much harder than I initially thought. We attempted to go out with 13 people, but no one could accommodate us, so we split into small groups. My group ended up going to hot pot, and it was difficult to communicate with the staff as they spoke little to no English. However, the staff was incredibly helpful and even though I’m pretty certain we didn’t do it completely right, it was a good dinner to end a good day.

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