Saturday, 6 December 2014

China, The Ming Tombs and The Great Wall

Today, our second in China, was one I had looked forward to for some time. The Great Wall is one of the things that you are aware of from  an early age, seeing it for yourself was going to be a bit special. Only about 10 years or so ago I saw the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland for the first time. I made a significant detour to see it and it was well worth the effort. Those National Geographic magazine photos coming to life decades later, it's also a journey in to your childhood.
Once again the tour started at 7.00am, they certainly gave us value for money from a time perspective.
Now I don't know if you had noticed from my previous posting but the sky in Beijing the previous day indicated a beautiful sunny day. This is not normal for Beijing we were told. Far from it in fact, you normally struggle to see the tops of the taller buildings such is the density of the smog. We however had got lucky because our visit coincided with the imminent APEC conference. The Chinese government, wanting to give the right impressions to their Asian Pacific economic partners, had ordered all factories to cease working for the 6 days leading up to the conference. Traffic restrictions were imposed, only private cars and public transport was on the roads and the former was restricted to alternate days depending on whether your car number plate ended in an odd or even number. Police presence was immense with blue flashing lights at every junction on major routes. Only the Chinese could organise such an event to happen, even the roads were being washed around the major sights such as Tiananmen Square.
Tiananmen Square

All this had a major impact on our day. We arrived at our first destination, the Ming Tombs, about an hour ahead of schedule.
The Emperors chose to be buried a long way from Beijing. The place had to have the perfect Feng Shui which meant mountains behind and water in front. We had arrived at the foothills of the mountains that protect the vast China plains from foreign invasion at that time.
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There was a river nearby unseen by ourselves. The burial site was quite a large parkland area with courtyards and a few buildings. We entered the largest to be confronted with this huge statue of one of the residents and I presumed this was the actual tomb.
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It wasn't ! Incredibly the building was somewhere to come and pay respects and whatever but the Emperor was actually buried in a tomb of many entrances, only one of which took you to the burial chamber. This whole structure was then covered in earth to the extent it became a rather large hill. Few knew the details and it was all a plan to prevent the tomb being raided of the valuable objects placed within the tomb. One or two tombs have been excavated and some of the Ming pottery recovered was on display. Interesting stuff but not riveting.
Even less so the next stop, a Jade "factory"and showroom. You know the type of place that they take you to on organised trips, hoping to part you with some more of your hard earned. Well, if you think herbal remedies were expensive this place was in a different league.
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What do you think this Dragon was selling at ? The guy in the middle isn't taking a photo with his phone but is converting the price with his calculator.
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Yes, that's right, there are no decimal points missing !
There were some cheaper offerings, there was even some totally cheap tat for the likes of my budget but plastic jade doesn't do it for me. In fact Jade isn't my thing either.
Someone has the money though.Did you notice the pile of paper in front of the Emperor's statue. They were Chinese Yuan notes. There are 10 to the £1.
Here at the entrance of the factory local people were throwing money in to this handily placed receptacle in the entrance hall.
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This is the same odd mentality as throwing money in to fountains and ponds in public places here in the UK. Look again though and there is a big difference.
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There's enough to buy a dragon in there !
You couldn't however afford to buy this monstrosity though.
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I can assure you the couple on the right were not arguing about whether it would fit in the suitcase, the price tag was roughly £2,000,000!
Anyway, we spent far too much time here as we were also scheduled to have lunch there too. With nothing to see outside, the nearest thing to wildlife I could find were these.
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* For the techno's . This shot taken with my Canon 5D3 without flash is at ISO 25,600. There isn't too much noise when you don't crop the image.
Anyway, after lunch we were back on schedule and headed off to the main highlight of the day..The Great Wall.
Construction of the wall began nearly 2000 years ago. The aim was to protect China from the invading hordes to the north. Most of the original wall was replaced during the Ming dynasty and it's estimated that it was around 5500 miles long. As many as 1,000,000 people died constructing it.
Much of it fell in to disrepair and the stones have been taken to use on local building projects but in the Beijing area a lot of restoration work has taken place and it's a major tourist attraction for both foreigners and locals alike.
There are several places you can get on to the wall, we had been taken to Badaling where you can take a cabin lift to the top of the mountain to get easy access to one of the towers. Allegedly.
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I know Claire loves heights but she sometimes conquers her fear if the reward is big enough.
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There were other points where yo could walk from low down saving the cost of the cabin lift and the queueing for it but we hadn't been given the opportunity, it was assumed we all wanted the easy way up and besides, we were only given and hour or two for our visit.
We stepped out of the tunnelled entrance of the cabin lift station and found ourselves soon on the wall.
The population of China is 1.4 billion people. That's 1400,000,000. A sobering fact.
Today was a Sunday, it was factory shutdown, a general holiday. A significant number of the population must have all had the same thought.
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You soon found yourself committed to going one way..upwards. There could be no turning back.
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Like Sardines in a tin, Penguins on the march, we shuffled slowly forward. The problem was that beyond the tower you were committed to a long downhill walk that would take more than the time we had been allocated
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but  there was a tiny opening that allowed an escape route back to the cabin lift but the demand to use it was just too huge. Behind us the crowds were building up as both cabin lift users and walkers from afar neared the top.
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As a fellow walker said to me, another to tick off the bucket list, but it wasn't what I had hoped for. A bit of a disappointment if truth be known.
Why we hadn't gone there first before the crowds built up I don't know but it's too late now.
After the wall we were taken back to Beijing to visit a silk showroom, nobody bought anything as far as i'm aware. We did get to see some of the city centre buildings on our journey back to the hotel but I would have much preferred a good Wall experience.
Our third day in China was largely spent travelling to Tianjin, where we were to board the cruise ship Sapphire Princess.
Leaving again at the crack of dawn there was little traffic on the road. The outskirts of Beijing full of tower block apartments where many of the 22 million locals live.
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The further we drove away, the more the deterioration in air quality.
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and driving standards. That car is actually trying to change lane direction in fast moving traffic!
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Unless you see the smog for yourselves it's difficult to imagine. Apparently at the APEC conference which President Obama attended, and agreement was made between China and the USA to reduce omissions by the year 2030. The first ever commitment by China.
When news of the agreement reached the House of Congress, the Republicans immediately started to object as it would impact on jobs and price inflation.
These people need to visit China on a normal day, we all should. We are poisoning our planet at an alarming rate. Something has to be done and quickly.
I guess I am being hypocritical though. I buy Chinese goods, fly in huge planes and board gigantic cruise liners just because I can.
Something I didn't think too deeply about as we made ourselves  comfortable in our very adequate inside cabin.
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Tonight we were to set sail for Busan, South Korea.
Along the route out of Beijing I had spotted several bird species but none I could be absolutely sure of given the distance and light. My Chinese list remains very tiny indeed !


  1. Wonderful photos! Thank you for posting this travelogue, it does capture some impressions us homebodies never get to see.
    Stunned by the money in the dragon bowl, there was at least one 50,000 Yuan note in there. Surely it can't be real.

  2. Certainly was real, the Chinese seem to be great believers in joss. Buying good luck I guess.