For many, today was the most anticipated day of our Dialogue. It was a once in a lifetime experience to climb the Wall. The morning started with a five AM wakeup to pack up and check out. By six AM we were on the road with to-go-breakfast boxes, thanks to the hotel. But as Dong Laoshi had warned, the packaging was the nicest part. The majority slept for the 2.5-hour bus ride. Finally we arrived at the East Gate of the Jinshanling part of the Great Wall. This part of the wall is off the beaten path. It was constructed around 1560s to 1580s during the Ming Dynasty. Some very famous battles have been fought on this part of the wall, one well-known one took place in the mid-sixteenth century between the ethnic Han Chinese and Mongolian Mongols. We embarked on our journey with plenty of water, snacks and sunscreen. We had to climb extremely steep stairs up the mountain before actually making it to the Wall, which took about thirty minutes. The weather couldn’t have been better! There were blue, sunny skies accompanied by a nice breeze so that it was not unbearably hot. We finally reached the tower and the view was breathtaking. The Great Wall seemed to go on forever, weaving in and out of the mountains. We walked fifteen towers along the Wall which took us about three hours including some water and snack breaks. The walk was not for the weary! There were so many stairs that seemed to be straight up and down, you really had to watch your step. Each tower was unique and served varying purposes. One thing that was special was little bunkers to protect Chinese soldiers from invaders with small holes in the wall to shoot arrows from. Another tower stored boulders that the soldiers would roll down the mountain to stop Mongols from climbing the Wall. The descend was much easier than the ascend. We were able to take a nice wide stone path to the bus, which we needed and deserved after our arduous morning of climbing.
From the Wall we drove to a small nearby village, Hexi, in Gubeikou. This village has played an important part in Chinese history supply necessities with the soldiers as well as workers to help with the construction. Mr. Zhang, who was the village head for twenty years, warmly welcomed us into his house. He and his wife had been up since five AM preparing a feast for us. The tofu is a village specialty. We were able to see where the tofu is made and Mr. Zhang explained the six steps. We also visited the fish farm where some villagers were fishing. Farming is not very lucrative because each person is only allotted a third of a mu of land (0.04 acre). Many villagers left the village to be migrant workers in the cities. Tourism is very important in their economy as well. The village receives 20-30 thousand tourist per year and that number is expected to increase to fifty thousand. For villagers involved in the tourist industry their annual income is 50,000-100,0000 RMB. Villagers receive some benefits from the government. For example children attended school from kindergarten to ninth grade for free, and villagers over sixty receive around 300 RMB per month from the Beijing government. Although our time there was short it was a good experience.
After our long, traffic filled bus ride back to Beijing, we are all looking forward to our Peking Duck dinner to commence our final night in Beijing before boarding the sleeper train to Nanjing.