The second day in Beijing we head out 50 km to the Great Wall of China at Juyong Pass, first built in the 5th century.
Our bus parks along with numerous other tour buses. We look up, and to our left
is the stairs alongside the Great Wall going up the mountain crowded with an endless river of people. The hordes are out climbing over 1,200 steps to get to the top of the ridge from the bottom through six stone towers to the top stone tower on the crest of the ridge. Each of the towers looks like it held soldiers guarding this section of the wall. Also, the towers had a beacon system where soldiers burned wolf dung, trnasmitting news of enemy movements back to the capital.
We start up the steps to the 1st tower which holds the snack shops (ice cream is populpar) and gift shops. Up more stone steps to the actual start of the climb, with railings on left and right while the steps are here about 6' wide. Each step is a different size from the previous, so I have to pay attention. I try to keep to the right with the rest of the people ascending while those descending are supposed to keep to the left, but the problem is many people going down try to go down on the right getting in the way of we climbing up. I hear many languages: Chinese, French, German, English, Japanese--it seems like all of humanity is climbing today.
Finally, the 2nd stone tower, which has a flat area which windows to look out of. It's very crowded inside of the tower as many of us take photos or just take a breather staring out the windows. The way to towers 2 and 3 are the steepest: after that the climb levels off. Now, up those really steep stairs to tower 3. Still all those crowds of people make it though. Finally, I'm getting exhausted right below tower 3, so I just down on a step to take a breath and look at the valley way below. I've done 2/3 of the climb but feel like it's enough, so start down.
In Tower 2 there's a crush of people and a man is right up against me behind me. He annoys me but in two seconds he's gone. 10 steps below Tower 2 I realize my wallet, which was in my cargo pants pocket on my calf, is gone. I climb back up to Tower 2 and look for my wallet. Then I realize that the man was a pickpocket and stole my wallet. Oh, I shouldn't have worn it in my pants pocket, shouldn't have worn cargo pants, shouldn't have brought any money at all. I haven't lost any documents (I never keep documents in my wallet) but just lost $30. I feel terrible as I climb down the steps, just terrible as I sit on the courtyard by the snack shop. I feel as if I've been socked in the face.
I tell George, our national guide, "My wallet got stolen!" He said, "Did you lose your passport?" "No," I said. "Oh, good," he says, moving away. For the next hour I sit there along feeling bummed out until finally our whole group gathers together. Two people complain of sore muscles. Five people made it to the 6th tower. Our bus drives another hour, pulling into downtown Beijing where we get out to do more walking.
We are at the Drum and Bell Towers, two huge stone towers. We climb up more steep steps on the side of the Drum Tower, originally built in 1273 to mark the center of the Mongol Empire. In previous times the Drum and Bell Tower banged out the time for the inhabitants. Now the Drum Tower serves as a good place for tourists to take photos of Beijing's rooftops.
Near the Drum Tower we walk by the hutong area, little alleyways lined with 1-story old homes around courtyards where tens of thousands of Beijing people used to live. Now the government is destroying most of the hutongs to build high-rises. Our hutong guide grew up here but he said he also moved into a new apartment in a high-rise. As we walked by the hutongs on the left with a lake on the right, this area was the most human with Chinese sitting on tiny cafes in the hutong buildings or on chairs lakeside. I loved the hutongs! We stopped to join the crowd around a man making elegant animal sculptures out of straw! He's great!
We gather around the area with pedicabs, a tricycles with a 2-seat compartment, get in a pedicab for a tour of the hutong (our guide climbs on a bike)--off we go! In and out, up and down the little alleyways we see tiny grocery stores, some dogs (little ones are legal); tiny cafes with men grilling meat; men seated on crates playing cards; and the entrances to courtyards lined with little homes. Our pedicab stops by 1 entranceway, so we get out for our visit to a local family.
We enter into a courtyard which has trees full of thick green squash and lined with four buildings. We enter one building straightway into the reception area to be greeted by a gray-haired elegant woman of about 65, our hostess. We seat ourselves on the new purple couches and chairs--our hostess says she get them in Ikea! We talk to her through a translator. Her father, a manager of a factory in Manchuria, bought this land--4 houses and courtyard. She grew up here and raised her two daughters here. She was a librarian while her husband (who also greeted us) was an engineer but both are now retired. The government appropriated all houses including theirs but put a couple other families in the houses, so about 3-4 families lived there, but then the government gave them back their home, so now they only live there with their two daughters. She graciously gave us tea and candies.
As we walked out of the hutong area, we saw a tall European couple along with child. Our host says they are British and live in the hutongs. Though many Chinese think the hutongs are poor area, some Chinese film stars have bought homes here.
At dinner, we went to a restaurant for Peking Duck. My tablemate Humberto, a Chinese Mexican, said Peking Duck is just like a burrito! Our take a thin-taco like pancake, put a few pieces of duck, put in some onions, and then eat. Delicious. Yes, just like a burrito!