Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I Can See for Miles

I was with seven other work colleagues on a Sunday tourist excursion, gazing in awe and exhaustion from the heights of the Great Wall at the miles of forest below and beyond - all wrapped in the pollution gauze of greater Beijing - when one voice broke the spell.

"It smells like bathroom," she said. Well, yes, I guess the particular vantage point we were at did have a faint urine aroma, but though the Wall has been rebuilt repeatedly and the stretch we were on had some home grown tourist stops (including a live camel ride), Ming Dynasity restrmooms weren't part of the deal. Even the under-construction area our two hired drivers had parked in had prominent restroom signs which just proved to be a tease as the facilities themselves - pledged to be done by the Aug 8 Olympics - were still not done and we thought the whole area would be lucky to be done by the London Olympics in 2012.

But it was ultimately a good thing. It was my first time at China's premier tourist attraction and I'd been dubious after hearing tales of sections swarming with sweaty foreigners trudging and puffing in herds. The site we wound up at was virtually empty and still pristine enough despite the heavy machinery, mud, piles of yellowish dirt, trucks, Beijing Olympics signs and security goons to allow one to imagine it as it might have been in its heyday defending against dreaded Outsiders. Now it welcomed five barbarians and three more or less natives. We were like kind of motley UN group - a black guy from England; two white American dudes; four women: Korean-American, Canadian-Chinese, American-Chinese and China-Chinese; and an India Indian fellow.

Wimp and geriatric that I am, I fell back and chilled with three tourist-trap lady vendors in blue and white headscarfs and their camel after three very steep, long flights. The others including one in 4-inch heels (she'd come straight from a job interview) went into the clouds and returned and, like me, pay too much money to be photographed astride the two humped Mongolian camel. We declined the opportunity to pay more to dress as fake Mongols or PLA soldiers, though one of our group donned a faux Mongol helmet that made him look like a Star Wars extra. No picture of that immediately available, but seven of our group can be seen in our glory above.

We'd begun at the Ming Tombs, another historic area but one that has been so restored that it's sterile. Note to self: No more Ming Tombs. It's essentially an large cold, barren industrial gray basement down 87 zillion flights of steps in which rest several enormous red wooden packing crates.

The day ended on full stomachs of "nong jia fan," or farm-style food, for an early dinner. The family home cafe had virtually no running water, but included chickens pecking in the yard as the homegrown source for eggs and meat, and plenty of fresh vegetables from their garden. We tore through 10 dishes and five fried salty pancakes stuffed with green onions and bemoaned the fact that next year at this time Ma and Pa Wang's Diner will probably have been replaced by a McDonald's.

1 comment:

Peter said...

Your picture affirms my theory that I'm not the only one who just can't remain a normal face when photographed... ;-)