Actually Pretty Great Wall

By Stephen Ewashkiw | October 14, 2013

A trip to Beijing is obviously not complete without a visit to The Great Wall.

The most popular section is Badaling, as it is very close to Beijing. It is also the section that is best renovated, and has few steep climbs, so it is packed with tourists from all over China and all over the world.

Do Not Cry Out Or Hit The Alarm

We opted for a trip to the Jinshanling section, a further away and much less visited area which has some restored parts, but most of which is crumbling Ming Dynasty era wall, dating from the mid 16th century. When Mao successfully united China in 1949, as a show of how powerful the new China was, he declared the Wall to be the property of the people and encouraged them to strip it for building material. The Jinshanling section shows signs of this having happened, though we didn’t spot any houses on our drive that matched the stonework.

The trip to Jinshanling sets off at the ripe time of 6:00am, so we had to set our alarms for a time I only normally like to get up if I am catching a plane. The desire to hit the alarm and sleep longer was strong, but my desire to climb the Wall today was stronger.

Fortunately (I am not sure this is fortunate) there is a four hour bus ride to get us to the Wall, so I took full advantage of it and slept most of the way. We had been promised breakfast and lunch on the journey, but breakfast turned out to be McDonalds.

The absurdity of a busload of western tourists being served a pile of McDonalds food in Communist China was not lost on us, or any of our fellow travellers.

Our vegetarian breakfast was egg and cheese McMuffin which we politely declined. We had brought snacks, so we munched sesame snaps, oranges, and a few other goodies to give us enough energy to climb.

Climbing Up The Walls

We stopped for a bathroom break just before the Wall. I walked off the bus and was blown away. There, following the crest of the mountain in front of me, was The Great Wall Of China.

Um, wow.

Great Wall in the distance.

Great Wall in the distance.

The weather is positively winter-like and windy. Despite our extra layers, we needed to climb up to the Wall quite quickly to get warm. When we reached the top we were cold – and sweaty too. Not a great combination.

But the Wall.

The Wall is stunning.

woman walking the great wall of china

Jane on The Great Wall of China.

The mountains wind away into the distance with the Wall skirting the top ridge as far as you can see. It makes for impressive views and difficult hiking. The steepest climb had 102 stairs, but the hardest sections were the parts where the stone stairs had been taken or were falling apart, making the steps more a slippery, rocky slide.

I am glad we had proper hiking shoes, and are both in good shape. It was an exhausting three hours of walking and picture taking.

And yoga, of course.

yoga on the great wall of china

Great Wall yoga.

The Wall was originally built to keep the Mongols from attacking China, but these days it is mostly Mongolian women working on the Wall, selling t-shirts, panda hats, Mao hats, snacks, postcards, and the like. There is a bit of irony in there somewhere if you look.

We took a thousand pictures and Jane has had to edit them down to a small selection of the best ones for you.

jane and stephen on the great wall of china

The two of us at the Great Wall.

Jane’s note: Even though the wind was blowing like crazy, the sky was still a grey lifeless blodge, so our pictures just aren’t as good as they should be. Sad face.

The Smell Of A Local, Man

When we got back to Beijing it was a bit early for dinner, so Jane wisely suggested we check out Uncle Bean. Back in Malmö when we visited Lilla Kafferosteriet I had learned that their roaster, Filip, had been to Beijing to teach Uncle Bean about roasting. This put it on my list of coffee roasters of the world that I had to visit.

We found the roastery quite easily, and Jane and I had two pour-overs.

making pour over coffee at uncle bean beijing

Pouring over at Uncle Bean Coffee.

The first was a dark roast from Yunnan Province. After the barista ground the beans she offered them to me to smell which was terrific. They had the full, rich scent which comes with a dark roast. This was my first Chinese bean as far as I am aware and it was quite tasty. It was definitely a dark roast, with the flavour intense on first taste but quickly dissipating. It wasn’t very acidic and could easily be a session coffee.

We also had a light roast Kenyan coffee that was more like my usual choice for coffee, and we ended up buying a bag of it to take on the road. I still have some Monmouth Coffee beans with me, but who knows when we will see a coffee roaster again? The staff also gifted me a small bag of the Yunnan, so we’ll get to try that again too.

Before we left I decided to try and tell the staff why we were there, but their English wasn’t strong enough to understand. To help, they called the owner who I spoke to on the phone. She offered to arrange for us to meet Uncle Bean (as their roaster is known) but sadly we haver run out of time to make this happen. Next time…

Another thing we’re leaving for next time is a visit to Ace Coffee in North Luogu Lane, where they also roast their own coffee. Sadly, we found it just after we’d had a bad coffee elsewhere.

Snack Attack

For dinner we decided to go to Snack Street, a market to the east of The Forbidden City which is famous for selling all sorts of things to eat. We saw whole baby chickens on sticks, scorpions, starfish, grubs, cuttlefish, as well as some regular food like tofu, potatoes, and various meats.

It is a chaotic scene, with all these amazing, and many not so amazing, smells wafting around, people everywhere, and stalls selling food, drinks, and junky trinkets. Red lanterns were swaying overhead, and green laser toys were bouncing off their paper shells.

scorpions for sale beijing

Scorpions, seahorses, and starfish at Snack Street.

On the way into the market, we heard a tourist yelling in English at one vendor, claiming he was charging too much.

We thought nothing of it until we decided to buy some roasted baby potatoes from another stall. When we paid him (admittedly this was a little stupid) with a 100 Yuan bill, he refused to give us our change, claiming that the price of 25 Yuan was per potato, making a tiny tray of five potatoes run about $15. Ha!

That is more than a large dinner for two costs in many restaurants here. He even had the gaul to demand more money from us! Even at 25 Yuan a tray it was still a rip-off.

We made a big stink, ensuring that no more customers could buy from him while we were there. We managed to get him to hand over about 50 Yuan in change and then served ourselves some extra potatoes. He wasn’t happy about that, but we didn’t care.

If you head to the snack market and are not Chinese, be warned. This was the first time in China we have felt taken advantage of and it was not pleasant.

Jane’s note: That’s what we get for going to the touristy area. The food streets around our hostel are far better (if less showy) and everyone we’ve encountered there has been pleasant and honest. This transaction left me feeling shaky and angry. Mostly, I was furious at the vendors who do this kind of thing, helping to give all Chinese an undeserved bad reputation.

Unimpressed with this transaction we decided to get away from this tourist trap and instead went to a Claypot place that was less than authentic, being in a super fancy mall. But at least they were friendly, charged us what it said on the menu, and gave us our correct change.

Exhausted and ready for bed after a 14-hour day, we made our way back to the hostel and climbed one more, albeit small, hill to settle into our top bunks.  

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  1. Comment by stone

    stone November 12, 2013 at 2:57 am

    You shouldn’t feel too bad about being ripped off. Even Chinese tourists get ripped off too if they are not careful. A couple things I learned about buying from street vendors while I was there was to never ask for the price of something if it wasn’t listed (because it will always be inflated) and to always pick something and give a price you are willing to pay or negotiate until you feel good about the price.

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen November 13, 2013 at 4:54 am

      Great advice – thanks! We have had really good experiences with people in China apart from this one time. People seem quite honest, so I have tried to forget this one bad apple.

  2. Comment by Mauricio Osorio

    Mauricio Osorio October 15, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    Great adventure, too bad about the potato spud.

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen October 18, 2013 at 6:40 am

      True, but it could have been worse. At least we didn’t get robbed (although I guess technically we did) or anything.

  3. Comment by Roxy

    Roxy October 15, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    Love these pictures!

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen October 18, 2013 at 6:40 am

      Thanks Rox. If only the sky had been clear they could have been even better. Next time!

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