We may be snowless this winter here in the Twin Cities, but there was snow in the mountains outside of Beijing earlier this month. Dutch photographer Tom van Dillen captured the beauty of the Great Wall under a blanket of snow with his drone:
When I lived in Beijing, one of my favorite things to do was go to take visitors to the Great Wall in the mountains outside of the city. There are a few designated Great Wall tourist sites, but I also enjoyed exploring some of the unrestored and undeveloped sites as well.
But I never did what Great Wall historian William Lindesay did, namely hike the length of it. To celebrate 30 years of working in China, he and his family spent a year hiking from the easternmost part of the wall at Shanhaiguan to the western terminus at Jiayuguan.
British geographer, conservationist and author William Lindesay has had a lifelong obsession with the Great Wall of China. Three decades ago, he left his home on Merseyside to live near the wall so he might better be able to study it. In 2016 he and his family travelled 15,000km (9,320 miles) around the wall network, filming it from the air with a drone. Mr Lindesay and his sons, Jim and Thomas, spoke to the BBC about their epic journey and how they shot it.
A video clip of some of the best shots can be found here. (email readers, please click on the link to see the video.) These are shots and perspectives not seen before and they are amazing.
You can read a more detailed account of the journey here.
Whenever I take visitors to one of the Great Wall tourist sites outside of Beijing, I have to break the news to them that the Wall is not visible from space, nor is it one complete wall stretching from west to east. The disappointment is usually palpable.
It turns out that there are quite a few ‘facts’ that we think we know about the Great Wall, that are actually ‘fantasy.’ Watch this funny video clip from the folks at Off the Great Wall to see how one poor fellow handles his encounter with reality.
Well, it seemed like a reasonable idea. Due to time constraints, we would take our group of 60+ new teachers to the Great Wall at Badaling instead of Mutyianyu in the afternoon. Since it is closer, we could get up, climb a bit, then make it back into town before the dreaded Friday evening rush hour descends. Our collective memory of Badaling is that the wall was easier to get on (no hiking up 1000 steps or having to ride a cable car), and for those who didn’t feel like hiking, there was always Starbucks, KFC, and a bit of shopping.
What we didn’t count on, however, was the fact that vehicles are no longer allowed within about 1km of the entrance to the wall. Our driver dropped us at a parking lot I had never seen before that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and told us to continue walking up the highway. So there I was, being followed by 60+ laowai (foreigners) trudging up the highway looking for the entrance to the Great Wall. I kept looking up the mountains towering around us and saw nothing of the wall.
“Where’s the Wall,” they asked.
“Beats me!” I replied.
This did not instill them with confidence.
But we kept walking.
We finally staggered into another parking lot (why the driver hadn’t taken us there, I don’t know), which had a sign over a doorway that said “this way to the great wall.”
Huh? They moved the wall inside?
Half the group went on in, while I stayed back with the dozen or so who had been lured into the toilets. We too entered the “this is the way to the great wall” door, climbed the stairs past the trinket-peddlers, and then emerged once again onto the road, where we still had to walk for another 200 meters to get to the wall. We finally arrived at the actual entrance about 45 minutes after we had gotten off the bus, and following a 1 km walk UPHILL!
The poor folks only had about 30-45 minutes to actually be on the wall before we had to begin making the trek back down the valley to the bus.
Those who weren’t climbing got shut out as well since the KFC was another 500 yards up the highway from the entrance and the Starbucks is no longer.
When we returned to the parking lot, the driver was waiting to give me a thorough scolding for bringing the group here and not to the Juyongguan Great Wall, down at the entrance to the valley. He said in all his years of hauling foreign tour groups around he’d never taken one to Badaling.
I hung my head in shame and said “Yes, we are stupid foreigners. We should have listened to you. I promise we will next time.”
This is a photo of the toilets perched atop a terrace at the Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall, north of Beijing.
I remember the first time I saw them– back when they were first installed in the 1990’s.
I had taken some friends to the Wall and of course as we got off the gondola that ferried us up the side of the mountain, one of them announced that she had to use the toilet. I groaned, knowing full well that there were no toilets once we got off. Most likely we were going to have to ride back down to use the toilets that we had just passed on our way to the gondola!
So imagine my surprise when we got off and saw these. Glory Be! Port-a-potties had been installed on the top of the mountain, just before the entrance to the actual Wall.
That was the good news. The not-s0-good news was that standing between my friend and relief was a fearsome looking woman who was obviously in charge. I asked if the toilets were usable, and our conversation ensued thusly:
Me: Can we use the toilets?
She: Yes, but you will have to pay.
Me: How much will we have to pay?
She: 2 kuai (2 Chinese dollars).
Me: 2 kuai? Are you crazy? Public toilets never cost more than 2 mao (20 Chinese cents).
She: But I had to haul the water to clean the toilets up from the valley. I carried the buckets by myself. It was hard work. They don’t have to do that in the city. (She had a point.)
Me: Yes, but 2 kuai????
She : Ok, will your friend go #1 or #2? (this was an opening for a face-saving solution to the impasse)
She: Ok, then 1 kuai for #1, but 2 kuai for#2!
Now it’s true we often say that in China everything is negotiable, but I believe this was the first (and only, so far) time that I had to bargain to use the toilet.
Last month’s unusually warm fall weather has given way to this month’s unusually cold winter. With the three snowfalls and frigid temperatures it feels more like January than November. Some friends and I decided to take the tourist train to Badaling this afternoon to see the Great Wall in the snow. Although we nearly froze our….well everything….off, this scene was worth the trip.
After spending about 15 minutes on the wall, we fled to the Starbucks to await our train back to the city. A good time was had by all.