The hotel breakfast was different to say the least. There was an interesting combination of American fare (eggs, bacon, potatoes, sausage) and Chinese food (noodles, fried rice, steamed buns). Best of all were the fruits; there was dragonfruit (it just tastes fresh, kind of like kiwi texture but with not as strong of a flavor), the best grapefruit juice I’ve ever had, and Asian pears (my favorite pear- they’re crispy and juicy, not at all like normal pears which I find to be too mushy). It took a little bit of time for everyone to trickle down to the lobby, so in the meantime people took turns playing pool, since there was a table right in the lobby. Once everyone showed up, we went into the conference room of a different hotel for a sort of orientation. Our guides, Liliana and Jane, basically went through what the Asia Institute does and how the safety measures would work.
We headed back to get on the bus where we met our tour guide for the Great Wall. He introduced himself as Uncle Joe. Throughout the bus ride to the Great Wall he told us about the history of Beijing, while also pointing out important landmarks and the city gates that we passed.
After a lunch stop, we got “to” the Great Wall. Of course, to actually get to the wall, we had to take a shuttle bus and walk down a long street full of small shops (and a few restaurants, including a Subway). Once we finally got to the bottom part of the Wall, we had a few hundred stairs to climb. Not wanting to waste any time, many of us went up as fast as we could, which proved to be an exhausting experience.
The view from the top of the Great Wall was breathtaking. And even better was the view of the rest of the Wall; you couldn’t see either end of it, it just kept going. A small group of us hiked all the way to one end, where the next sections of the wall were blocked off because they hadn’t been restored, so we got to see a contrast with an overgrown and decrepit section of it.
Many pictures later, we started to head down to the meeting place. At one of the guard towers, we met up with more people from the class and took even more pictures, including an Art of Making class human pyramid.
When everyone made their way to the meeting point for a full class group picture, we noticed a small stray dog taking a nap in the shade of a stone dragon statue, and I thought it was some pretty good juxtaposition.
The one part of the Great Wall that I didn’t expect was the way we got down. Instead of climbing down the same stairs we came up, we took toboggans down. There was a metal track that made its way down the mountain, back and forth, and on this you would ride a wheeled toboggan all the way down to the bottom of the stairs. After all the stair climbing to get to the Wall and while climbing on the Wall end to end, it was a nice break.