To walk on The Great Wall is to step into history. The Great Wall took several dynasties to complete. It spans thousands of miles and was built as a defense against the Northern Mongolian marauders. You are walking at a 45˚ angle high in the mountains. It is not easy. Coming back down is also difficult because of the angulation.
While you are romanticizing our journey on this historic spot you are surrounded by peddlers selling T-shirts, pocketbooks, etc., all imprinted with pictures of The Great Wall. The guardhouses every few hundred feet become centers of commerce. If you traverse five guardhouses, they give you a printed award to prove your bravery and tenacity.
The next day we traveled by bicycle rickshaw to the Hutongs or Beijing Old Town. This is the China we expected. The narrow, crowded alleys and one-story buildings are a sharp contrast to the huge modern condominiums springing up everywhere in Beijing. While in the poor Hutong section, the entire tour of 24 people is having lunch at Mrs. Lee's home. She is a gracious host and the food is fresh and definitely Chinese and delicious. Her home is small and cramped but has most modern conveniences. She is the friendly matriarch presiding over her married children and their spouses, who translated her friendly and kind words to the visitors. Next day after a hearty breakfast (Asian and American delicacies) we boarded a Chinese airplane for our trip to Xian.
Xian is the launching point of the celebrated Silk Road. An ancient center of commerce, it is a walled city of eight million. It is brighter and sunnier and less crowded than Beijing. We stayed at a 5-star Sofitel Hotel (French owned) with a huge indoor pool and hot tub. Ultra-modern, yet both Western and Chinese, Xian became world famous with the discovery of the Terra-Cotta Warriors. In 1974, farmer Yang, while drilling a well, unearthed China's greatest archeological find. Six thousand life-sized terra-cotta warriors were buried with Tang Emperor Qin Shi Huang 1,000 years ago. Farmer Yang is now employed in the gift shop and he signs the tourist's souvenir book. But he will not sit for a photograph.
Death was a new beginning for the ancient Chinese. They were buried in huge mounds along with their possessions to start a new life. The Emperor had 6,000 soldiers built so he would have protection in the next life. Unearthed were horses and chariots to facilitate his military forces. Each man's face had its own individuality. They seemed intent on their mission.
The soldiers, archers and charioteers would guard the Emperor's tomb. It is a large sand pit. The Chinese Government placed a concrete and glass structure over the three enormous excavation pits as the work on restoration is continuing. Broken terra-cotta pieces are fitted together almost like a puzzle; thousands of shards of clay. (On a platform we looked down on these thousands of life-sized warriors and horses. What was the Emperor's game plan? As a westerner, I find it hard to fathom.) Xian has become a world famous tourist attraction due to the soldiers.
In the evening we dined on dumplings followed by the Tang Dynasty Stage Show. A dynasty is the years of the reign of a particular emperor. It can last four years or a century.
Potpourri of things I jotted down.
Chinese Lunches - Lazy Susans spinning with many unknown dishes. Staples were rice and soup. Comment on some dishes, "What is it?" It is not exactly what Americans consider Chinese food.
Incense Burning - Three Sandalwood sticks set afire and the smoke ascends to the sky along with the prayers and wishes of the person who is praying.
Many Buddhas - Past, present and future Buddhas. One Buddha was 85-feet tall, made from one tree.
Condominiums - high risers, 40 to 80 stories, not yet occupied (except in Hong Kong).
When entering a room do not step on the threshold. Walk over the step. Otherwise, it is bad luck.
Good Luck is very important to the Chinese. Feng Shui is a method of placing furniture and other objects in a manner that will guarantee "Good Luck."