Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Great Wall or Bust! Okay, It's a Bust.

See those humps at the top of the mountain.  Those are two of the turrets of Jinshangling.  That's all I saw of the Great Wall today! 😒

Our day of sightseeing started out on the wrong foot when the guide called in sick and the weather turned crappy on us. Not to mention the fact that the driver showed up so early we weren't ready to leave the apartment.

We had a brief visit to Changling Temple which wasn't bad though I had been hoping for a history lesson on the Ming Dynasty from the guide but since we didn't a guide, I will have to read up on the dynasty on my own. Not the end of the world as I enjoy the reading but I know neither Bro nor SK will take the time to do so after this trip so having the guide to educate them would have really been very beneficial for them. Oh well.

From Changling Tomb, it was about a two hour ride to get to the Jinshangling section of the Great Wall. The ride was very uninspiring except I noticed that the fruit trees were in bloom.  The landscape was dotted with fluffy white dots - those were all the flowering trees.  That was a good sign that we might arrive into Xinjiang in time to catch the apricot blossoms there.  Afterall, this trip is about the blossoms and so far, we've been lucky with the peach blooms in Shanghai.




Then out of the blue, I hear Bro declare that he saw snowflakes. What? No way! So we all peered out the windows and sure enough, it was snowing! What the hell? It's spring!! There should not be any snow!! None of us was dressed for snow. As we drove along, it seemed like the snowing was falling harder and harder. It was already dawning on me that there would be no way that we could do a hike on the Great Wall in this kind of weather - not given the way we were dressed.

Had there been a guide with us, this is when I would have raised the concern about the snow and asked for an alternative plan.  All the driver could do for us was continue with the itinerary as he had been instructed to do.   Sadly, I didn't have enough internet connection to do a Wechat with the tour agency so we were pretty much stuck.  The only thing we could do was hope that the weather would clear up as we neared the wall though the closer we got, the less likely of a possibility that was.

Soon, we arrived into an area that was obviously the entrance and service area for Jinshangling.  Our driver parked our car and as he got out of the van, he signaled for us to do the same.  The moment we opened the door, the bitter cold air hit our faces.  Not to mention that it was wet outside due to the snow.  It was frickin' cold and none of us, including our driver, were dressed appropriately for this kind of weather.

We followed him to an awaiting trolley which we all boarded.  Minutes later, a Western family joined us.  Several of the members were also not dressed for winter weather.  We were all miserably cold.  I was really and truly not enjoying this moment AT ALL!




The trolley took us up to another point and then everyone had to get out and walk.  I had no idea where we were going to but there was no way, no way, no way we were going to do any hiking today.  Not only would we have a miserable time but I don't want to risk any of the three of us getting sick on this trip!  As is SK has been grappling with her ongoing allergies.  Thank God Yim is arriving with her medicine tonight.  Bro has been coughing and while it has not stopped him from doing anything, I don't want it to flare up into bronchitis.  At this point, I'm wondering what the hell the driver is thinking subjecting us to all this.  Unfortunately, my access to the internet is basically nil.  I think the hills are blocking the cell tower signals.


We scurried like bunnies for quite some distance arriving at a building.....just in time before all my extremities would have frozen.  I've never been so happy to see a building and thankfully, the doors were not locked!


From the entrance, we could see two turrets along the ridge of the wall.  I think we all pretty much agreed that there would not be any hiking today.  I know Bro and SK were very much looking forward to seeing the wall.  Afterall, it is probably the most well known landmark in China and it's a definite must see if you come to Beijing.  SK does have a two year visa so she will come back.  Maybe Bro will join her and they can do the wall hike on that trip.  I have no doubt that both will be back to China one day.


We entered in to the building and I think we all collectively breathed a sigh of relief - finally in a warm space.  To our immediate left was a small dining room.  There were only two tables - each large enough to accommodate eight people.  I guessed this was our lunch spot.  We opened the door and immediately got a large whiff of cigarette smoke coming from the first table which was filled with men eating and smoking....a lot of smoking.

SK is very sensitive to smoke and I knew right away that she was not going to be happy.....not that I like the odorous smell of unfiltered cigarettes either.  But we had no choice so we marched right on in and got seated at table next to the men.  The saving grace was that the food that they were eating looked pretty delicious so perhaps icky smoke would be made up for by tasty food.  Well, that turned out to be a pipe dream.  It seemed that our meal was pre-ordered as dishes came out to our table without us looking at a menu.  One look at the dishes and I knew SK would not be happy and to be honest, neither would I.  Once you see something covered in a reddish, thick sauce, you know it's sweet.  In my mind, that sauce is used to cover many things wrong with a dish including that the ingredients might not be as fresh as you think.  Of course, what good is an icky sweet sauce if it's not drenching bits of fried meat.  I was convinced we got served the tourist meal and the tourists that the kitchen had in mind were Western tourists.   The men, seated at the table next to us, had the food for Chinese tourists.  That's what we had been hoping to get but .....sigh.....no.   The cigarette smoke swirling all around us and icky dishes of Chinese food before us most certainly did not make up for the disappointment of not being able to hike Jinshanling.  As far as I was concerned, our day was going from bad to worse.

As you might expect, we did not linger over our meal.  Last grain of rice down the hatch....and we left quite a bit of food on the table, we darted out the room in search of toilets.  SK went first and when she came back, she told us to go down the hallway and look for the open door which would lead into a room.....a hotel room.  We could then use the bathroom.  So, what looked like just a restaurant was actually a hotel.  Not a nice hotel by Western standards....probably a 1 star deal.  Perhaps, it would even be categorized as a hostel.  I don't know the name of this place but one thing for certain, it's in a great location as the entrance to the hiking trail up Jinshanling is easy walking distance away.

Restaurant on the left, rooms on the right.


Our driver was ready to leave when we were so we followed him out the front door.  He was walking alongside another man whom he had apparently arranged with to take us back down to our van.  See....even the driver did not want to repeat the walk and tram ride.  But, out ride was not for free.  We did have to cough up 30 yuan which if we had had a guide, the cost would have been absorbed by the tour agency.  Today, we paid and it was worth it!


Once we were in the van and heading down the road, I repeatedly tried to get cell service and eventually I did - enough to Wechat with the tour agency.  I told them of the situation with the snow and that we had to cancel out on Jinshanling.  I then asked if there was another section, like Mutianyu, that we could hike.  Unfortunately, it would take us at least two hours to drive from Jinshanling to Mutianyu and that would not leave much time to hike the wall and make it back to Beijing.  So basically, we had to scrap all plans to do any hike on any section of the Great Wall.

While I had the tour agency online, I also asked if they could arrange to get the tickets for Bro and SK to visit the Forbidden City tomorrow.  At first, they said they could arrange the tickets so I provided them the passport photo pages for both Bro and SK.  Then, for some reason, they said they could not get us the tickets.  Working with this tour agency has not been smooth and I will definitely never use them again.  Okay, I've not mentioned the name of the tour agency or our contact person because just because we had a bad experience with them does not mean they are a bad agency.  So, I am giving them the benefit of the doubt by not revealing who they are.  If you are interested in hiking the Great Wall, I would suggest considering this agency instead - Wild Great Wall as they only specialize in tours to the Wall.


It was a very uninspired ride back to the city and our hutong 'hood.   It was a really dreary day.  The snow stopped some distance from the city only to change to rain as we made our way on the streets of Beijing.  It took us almost 3 hours to get back to the city and the entire time,  all I wanted to do was get inside our apartment, hop into the shower and rid myself of all the cigarette smoke that had seeped into all my pores.  I was in such a rush to get back to our place that I forgot all about our poor driver.....I forgot to tip him.  I'm sure he was more than ready to see us go.  

Back in the apartment, we all thawed out and very disappointed that the day did not unfold as I had planned it.  But, what can you do when Mother Nature decides to snow on your day?

Around 7p, there was a knock on the front door.  I knew exactly who it was.  It was Yim!!  She had arrived!!  With excitement coursing through every cell in my body, I swung the door open.....only to see a very pissed off face looking back at me.  I welcomed her to Beijing and to the apartment.  She entered in and told us her story of woe.  Poor thing.  Her taxi driver dropped her off at the same gate that our's had.   It was dark outside as the 'hood streets are not well lit.  It was rainy and cold.  She had just arrived from Guilin where it was like being in the tropics.  Unfortunately, she did not have the benefit of strangers redirecting her to the correct gate.  No cell signal to call me for help.  So, it was a challenge for her to find the apartment.  Through her growing frustrations, she managed to get to the right gate and from there, to the apartment.  No wonder her first words to me were "Couldn't you have found us a hotel to stay in?"  We all felt so sorry for her but we also promised her that she would really love the apartment as SK, Bro and I had fallen in love with our very stylish apartment which has come to be known as Edwin's place....named after the Airbnb host.  I showed her to the room that she would be sharing with SK.  We introduced her to all the nice amenities that came with her room and bed and little by little, she was warming up (both literally and figuratively) to being in the apartment.  We gave Yim some time to chill out before venturing out for dinner.

I have to admit, none of us were really interested in braving the cold and rain for a meal but at least we could dress appropriately.

Yesterday, SK, Bro and I had walked by a restaurant that looked like a nice place to have a meal so we decided to check out Spring Trees.  Indeed, the place is very nice though the wait staff were not all that friendly.   Perhaps, we were late for dinner having arrived around 8p?  In any case, we ordered up a few dishes including a soup, roast duck, sauteed cauliflower, a shrimp dish and a steamed egg dish.  We were hungry!!





Oddly, we asked for bowls of rice and they took forever to come to the table.   I mean forever!  It made me wonder whether or not rice is a southern Chinese thing as looking around at the other tables, we noticed no one eating rice.  Our bowls of rice were really odd.....not just a scoop of plain steamed rice but it looked like the rice had actually been steamed inside a small clay container.  Bits of corn kernels garnished the top.  Not like any bowl of Chinese rice I've ever eaten!


As you can see from the photo below, we ate everything!  Hungry threesome!!


Back in the apartment, we all just relaxed.  For dessert, Yim brought out the osmanthus cookies that she had bought while she was in Guilin.  She loves osmanthus.  For me, she also gave me The Natural Confectionery Berry Bliss jelly candies that I got addicted thanks to Yim bringing them with her on our 2016 China trip.  I asked her to bring a pack and she brought 3!  My sweet tooth is happy!

So, our day was pretty much....as SK described it, a shit show but now that Yim is here, all is good.  Tomorrow, SK and Bro will attempt to visit the Forbidden City and if they have time, the Summer Palace.  Yim and I will just wander about the city.  Hopefully, the weather will be better tomorrow.....as long as Yim stops praying for snow.  Crazy woman!

Goodnight from Beijing!