China trip – 8. The Great Wall of China Mutianyu district

At the Youth Hostel in Beijing, there was the chance to do several organised tours, there are live theatre events and guided tours around Beijing, but of course, trips to the Great Wall.   Actually, there are four different parts to the great wall you can visit.

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The bus ride from central Beijing to Mutianyu is about a couple of hours.  Once you get there, you walk upto the hills where the Great Wall, but many people pay for a cable car and so we did to save time.

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The Great Wall has characterised by these towers every so often maybe 3 per kilometer of wall, but the connecting bit where we went to has these small balcony sections, which are good for organised groups to visit and gather.

The Mutianyu district is the modern section as this was rebuilt in the 1500s.  My travel companion for this visit was a pilot for a well known US airline, young chap in his late 20s.

Things I learned about the Great Wall:-

  1. Its huge and spans much of China’s massive nation
  2. Its not visible from space, (old wives tale)
  3. The weather was quite nicely warm, actually really pleasant (was there April 2017)
  4. The atmosphere and nature here are wonderful, you can hear the buzzing of bees, lots of different types of trees and occasional honk of a pheasant.
  5. It’s physically demanding walking it, bits of it are very steep, its essential to be fit.
  6. In the event you get sick or an injury getting help could be difficult
  7. DSCF9532 1024Some people live up here, well there are locals who sell stuff to tourists and some folks earn money from just photos.
  8. You will see a lot of other foreigners including people from your own country.
  9. The bricks are black on the Mutianyu section.
  10. Not everyone is respectful of this beautiful world-famous landmark, there is graffiti in some of the towers.
  11. Perhaps this wall is the first example of the Chinese being the most industrious nation on earth.

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7. Beijing’s Happy Dragon Hostel and visitors

9.

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China trip – 7. Beijing’s Happy Dragon Hostel and visitors

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This is the Happy Dragon youth hostel in Beijing, its where I stayed, I really like it.  It’s in a small narrow street off the main roads but easy to get to from the Metro trains.

It’s wonderful, the staff there are welcoming, the front entrance looks like ancient Chinese with its painted doorway and orange lamps, and staff are friendly, has a decent bar, and easy to book day trips to the important places you will want to see.

Beijing’s massive city street plan are several concentric square-ish circles.  You won’t be able to see this map while you are in China – I’ll explain why a little later in this series.

The hostel pins up lists of tour groups to places like the Great Wall.   It also gives details of how to not get ripped off, as confidence tricksters are out to take advantage of tourists.

I met a lot of really interesting people.   A Canadian University lecturer who comes for a month at a time to teach English to Chinese students, me and him and a girl from Sudan had a few beers and chats about our previous travels, our plans to go next and my faith in Christ.    I also met American Christians just here for a few days and another Christian lady who had just come back from – North Korea!   I later met a secular Muslim from the UK who works as an engineer and was enjoying China and dreading going to Mecca in Saudi Arabia on a Hajj trip as he thought it would be boring!  I also met two different groups of Israelis, some on a trip to celebrate finishing mandatory army service and some others about 30.  I also met a lot of Australians and Germans.  There’s always the odd one in a youth hostel.   I’m sharing a room with strangers and its the way I have normally done travel, but some guy thought it was a good idea to make phone calls at 1 in the morning.

About two days after I got here, I wanted to make sure I was booked up for the Great Wall, as I wasn’t sure if the trips run every day or if there would be any problems with the weather.

6. Chairman’s Mao’s legacy

8. The Great Wall of China Mutianyu district

China trip – 6. Chairman’s Mao’s legacy

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Chinese communist leader Chairman Mao (Mao Zedong) died in 1976 but still leaves a lasting legacy in China.

He still seems well respected today, like with these framed pictures in a shop window.

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These little red books of his writings are on every gift counter.    Interesting enough, his teachings were collected by some people in the 1960s in the UK.  Communism seems cool to some in the west, just like the Che Guevara t-shirts were popular with students in Britain for a while.  This seems troubling.

5. Chinese police

7. Beijing’s Happy Dragon Hostel and visitors

China trip – 5. Chinese police

It seems China is serious about protecting citizens and tourists from petty crime or terrorism which is a good thing, I often feel that Britain and Europe are too trusting and naive when it comes to try to accept everyone and not screen out those who are a risk from radical Islam and other terror threats.

China’s police are everywhere.   As this is a communist country, does this provide reassurance from crime or worry?  I am not sure.

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In malls and places popular with tourists, the Chinese cops have these golf cart type vehicles.   I’d like to know how fast they go and if they could keep up with an escaping shoplifter!

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Underground stations in Beijing and Shanghai are well protected, each station requires bags put through an xray by staff as well as stern warning signs about not bring explosives or firearms onto public transport.

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This huge station in Beijing has a looped cartoon showing how the police protect citizens.  More on the trains of China soon.

4. Snowing seeds in Beijing

6. Chairman’s Mao’s legacy

China trip – 4. Snowing seeds in Beijing

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I think I have seen this from martial arts movies set in Hong Kong or Japan.

It seems at certain times of the year, this “snow” appears from the sky.    Its actually seed or blossom from trees.   It gives the parks in this area of the world a completely different look.  There is lots of it that blows everywhere in these parks.

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DSCF9436 1024The parks here are often among the major attractions in Beijing such as the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Tiananmen Square.

These wooden huts tend to be beautifully decorated, even looking upwards in the rafters.

3. A few million bicycles in Beijing

5. Chinese police

China trip – 3. A few million bicycles in Beijing

9 million bicycles in Beijing was a song by Katie Meula, I’ve not found out how many there are.   There are a lot.   The main roads have dedicated lanes for bikes of all kinds.  In the two weeks I was in China, I witnessed two accidents with bikes hit by cars, which thankfully neither were serious, and folks appearing to have just a few scratches and bruises.

The weird thing is the variation of bikes, mopeds and scooters kind of blur together, and also some are almost cars.   You know in Europe and US you have the tiny Smart car which can be driven in the UK with a motorcycle licence and before then the strange and eccentric Reliant 3 wheeled car?

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So bikes and scooters can often by simple vans for deliveries or a simple crude taxi.

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So, I have seen motorbikes with two or three wheels, some electric and some petrol (actually less given plans to drastically reduce pollution) some with handlebars or steering wheels and some like this have a plastic car-like body on them, some are even four door.

2. Beijing’s industrial aftertaste

4. Snowing seeds in Beijing

China trip – 2. Beijing’s industrial aftertaste

Walking around Beijing, the sights of this massive city is everything is huge.   Very quickly I realised one China’s most biggest challenges in society.   In the middle east, I am used to political instability and the threat of war of neighbours.

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In Beijing, the number one concern is pollution.

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The government has taken the drastic step of forcing old and polluting cars off the road.

The thing that surprised me was Beijing doesn’t immediately seem to have many poor people.   I am sure they are, they seem to live in other districts of the city.   Ancient cars like the ones I saw in Morocco and Turkey simply don’t exist.  People on low incomes simply don’t have cars, they have bikes and scooters, which I’ll explain later come in lots of unconventional styles.  I think much of China’s manufacturing is in another city, as I didn’t see any obvious factories belching out smoke.

Pollution in Beijing means local people have an app on the phone that tells you the toxicity of the air and in some cases, people might not go out at all, and many people are wearing face masks.

My observations with pollution were the skyline in the distance was a murky brown colour, and on my first night sleeping meant I have a funny taste in my mouth.

1. Introduction

3. A few million bicycles in Beijing

 

China trip – 1. Introduction

In the last year or so I had a real interest in China, a nation both ancient and modern on a large chunk of Asia with over a billion people.   I have heard stories about how China has the largest number of people coming to Christ, good relations with Israel, although a nation with restrictions and still officially Communist.   Today, although China is manufacturing capital of the world by a long stretch, everyone wants to do business with the Chinese as the economy is booming and folks there want to buy British and European made products.

I got offered to go on a 9 day mission trip in April 2017 to teach the Bible to current believers there in Beijing, and after a while trying to get my work to get me the time off which took me weeks, I had 16 days to use.    Later on, I found that the trip was full.   I was disappointed but as I already got a flight with Alitalia to fly Gatwick to Beijing via Rome for a real good deal of £395, I decided to make my own plans.

Getting a visa is tricky.  I left it a bit late and most sources online were recommending me get one from a Chinese travel shop in China town area of London.   This was frustrating as I had to get two lots of photos from a nearby post office, as the first ones were the wrong size.   The visa is £180.

This isn’t China, but I do like this part of London.  There are 2 maybe 3 churches of Chinese believers round here.   It would be really interesting to see what its like for Christian to live or work in this district.   I’m also keen to see how Chinese people respond to the life of Jesus.    My trip is purely a holiday and to see and document this fascinating place.

2. Beijing’s industrial aftertaste

My experience with taxi drivers in Israel

One of the reasons for this blog was to document things I’ve seen and experienced when I lived in the Holy Land, some of these are things inspired by Jesus’s life and ministry, places and experiences I have had and some things that are just funny or a bit oddball.

In this case, taxi drivers in Israel are often a topic if I meet up with friends who have been out there, often folks driving locals or tourists have some interesting background.  Many taxi drivers try to take advantage of foreigners telling them ‘the meter is broken, I’ll give you a special price’ (both Jewish and Arab drivers have attempted this on me and folks I know)

The Russian techno driver

Often taxi drivers have music or radio with news on of all different types.   In this case, this driver has music with a 1980s techno beat with lyrics in Russian.   It would put off most kinds of passengers but it was so weird it was entertaining for the 15 minute journey.

The grubby driver

This was a ride from one office I was at in Jerusalem to another.   The car was filthy.  There was a layer of grime along the dashboard.   Jerusalem gets covered in dust as this is the nature of this part of the world, but this car had not been cleaned in years and it seemed like some other residue, maybe carrying cargo with badly refilled printer toner cartridges or charcoal or something.

The frenetic driver

I needed to meet a friend outside of Hotel GilGal which is a hotel run by Israeli Messianic evangelist Jacob Damkani in Tel Aviv, I ordered a cab and got a driver who picked me up and went a bit crazy.  Initially, he drove too close behind to a cyclist who mumbled some words of displeasure in Hebrew which then the driver leaned on the horn and exchange more phrases.   He then overtook about 3 cars at once (which often happens) and made a phone call (everyone seems to use phones whilst driving)  and when dropping me off, exclaiming “Baruch HaShem!”  (praise be the name of Lord)

The don’t care smoker

This car has no smoking stickers on it like most.   However, the driver seems to think if your cigarette in your left hand is outside the window it doesn’t count.   Even though the smoke drifts back into the car to the punter in the front seat.  Hmm.

The lots-of-dashboard-symbols taxi

Ok, I drive a Peugeot, a car that has rather over-complex electrical design.  My car always has an error on the dash which the dealer couldn’t fix and so I have ignored for the last 3 years I have had it.  My VW owning friends laugh and show their contempt of French automobiles, until the VW dieselgate scandal happened.  Oh dear.

But anyway this Mercedes I was travelling in had at least 4 messages on the dashboard come up.   “Main dealer service due”, “SRS warning”, “left licence plate bulb failed”  and “furry dice need new elastic”  ok – maybe I made the last one up.

I need doughnuts taxi

There is a lot of cake and pastry shops in Israel.    My driver wanted to stop and get a danish pastry or some kind and coffee.   I was happy to wait. 🙂

The poor condition taxi

The taxis are not normally old, and usually, a Skoda or Mercedes sedan and are no more than 6 years old.    Some are in better shape than others and some have a lot of dents and accident damage.   In one case, the rubber centre part of the steering wheel that holds the airbag had a hole in it.   Drivers of all types do use the horn a lot here, this guy seemed to have worn his out.

The complainer driver

This driver is more like a conventional London cabbie.   Here in the UK, drivers have a lonely job so feel a need to discuss current affairs with the passenger, in Israel it’s sometimes similar.  In this case, my driver was telling me he was fed up of the ultra-Orthodox doing more protests in the street as they often tend to not work or join the army and claim benefits when many people who working long hours to pay bills.

The blatant tax avoider taxi

I once needed to get to a computer conference from Tel Aviv bus station to the Hilton Hotel.  Getting in one car, I asked the driver to put the meter on.   He offered me a ‘special price’ of 85 Shekels and told me he didn’t want to put the meter on as he has to pay the government 35% of the fare.  After a brief argument, I told him he should look at a different sort of job and I’ll ride with someone else.   My other driver who was honest had the meter on and charged me about 37.

The local believer (my favourite)

After chatting for 5 minutes, this driver is a local Israeli Messianic believer, originally from Russia.  He asks me why I am here and I tell him I am a computer technician maintaining systems to provide food and supplies to the poor and needy, he tells me his particular Messianic congregation has had some people helped who were struggling with meeting bills by overseas Christian groups, so food supplies have been a real blessing to them.