||The Other Path - Great Wall of China Trek
1st Stop Report - April 7th:
The Great Wall journey begins. I arrived at the first Great Wall stop this morning. We are in Jiayuguan, which is the northwest beginnings of the Great Wall. It's high desert, so a bit cold, very desolate and industrial. The people are really great though - the taxi drivers talk non-stop to my guide Cindy asking her what we're doing out there - they're very curious about what I'm up to. It's a pretty barren desert landscape, it's as if the Great Wall had been plopped down into the northern Nevada desert. Yesterday was a huge travel day. I left Shanghai at 6pm on Monday night on the overnight train to Beijing. Arrived in Beijing at 8am yesterday morning met by Cindy my guide who is great. Checked into a hotel for a few hours to clean up and get my stuff organized, then took a 3pm flight out to Lanzhou arriving there about 5pm. We were met by our local guides Sally and Jerry (interesting to hear some of the origins of the Western names some people choose for themselves - Cindy chose "Cindy" as she liked the Cinderella story) who were like hyper-tour guides - very earnest and proud of their district which is a barren industrial desert land on the Yellow river along the silk road. They picked us up in a small van and we drove into the city barreling through the desert while Sally rattled off anecdotes, facts, and tales about their district. She was really enthusiastic and seemed sincerely interested in talking about the progress in their province. Jerry was a tall guy with bleached blonde hair - he didn't speak English, but I could tell he was very funny by the way he was interacting with Sally and Cindy. They took us to dinner then took us to the train station. Cindy and I had an overnight train to Jiayuguan. Arrived here at 8am, went to the hotel and then took a taxi to the Great Wall, so I did my first trek and took lots of pictures.
2nd stop report - April 9th Today I'm writing from an internet cafe in Wuwei, the 2nd stop on my Great Wall trek. We went out to the Wall this morning - a one hour taxi ride from town down some amazingly potholed rural roads. I took some video while we were driving so you can see what it's like driving down these roads - one of the main skills for driving in these areas seems to be knowing how to use your horn - often and insistently. The taxi driver drove us out there, then waited for an hour or so while we were there, then drove us back - all for about $8 USD. The taxi driver informed Cindy that it's mainly westerners who come to see the Wall in this area, not Chinese. It's a section of Wall that is very old, from the Qin Dynasty - 221 B.C., so pretty worn. We were only able to walk for about a half hour before the section of Wall that we were at disappeared into the desert sands. I think I got some good pictures and we met some of the local farmers. They were really enthusiastic about being video taped and photographed. They were running in from the fields to make sure they weren't left out. I had my picture taken with them and Cindy shot some video of me showing them their picture on the digital camera - they loved it. They also gave us a plowing demo - very ingenious rotary plow that pushed the corn kernels deep into the ground - the rows are covered in plastic to keep the seeds moist. I have their address, as they want me to send them the pictures. I'm collecting these addresses as we meet people along the way. Yesterday we left Jiayuguan at around 10:30 in the morning on the train and got into Wuwei at around 3:30 in the afternoon. On the train we met a group of guys from the Xiajiang Province - upper northwest region (close to Afghanistan/Pakistan). I guessed they were from the northwest as they looked more Arabic and their language sounds Arabic, but they also speak Mandarin, the unifying language, so they could communicate with Cindy. They were cooks who were on their way to the Hunan Province to work in a restaurant that serves their region's style of cooking - they cook a lot of mutton. They were also enthusiastic about the cameras. The two English words they seemed to know were "Sony" and "California" - got some video of them goofing around and took their picture, so of course we've got their address and need to mail it to them when we get back. I'm going to have to develop a database to keep track of the people we meet, so they all get the right pictures ;)
We leave tomorrow on the afternoon train for Yinchuan
- looking forward to the next meeting with the Wall.
3rd Stop Report - April 11th
It's Sunday evening here in Yinchuan and we got back from our third Great Wall trek this afternoon.
Last I wrote it was Friday evening in Wuwei and I hadn't yet had my exciting celebrity walk through the town square. On Friday evening after dinner, Cindy and I took a walk through the central city square in Wuwei, which was bustling with people of all ages at 9 o'clock pm. I stopped to take some pictures of some children who were playing on a large scale illuminated chess board. The parents noticed I was trying to photograph their children, so they were trying to get them to look toward the camera. Soon a crowd starting gathering to see my camera, everyone's really interested in the digital camera - they like seeing the instant images. So I'm showing this crowd of people the images and then Cindy takes the camera and starts photographing me with my newly found "fans". She literally had to pull me out of the crowd, as it was getting so huge. Then as we're walking off, a young student walks up to me to ask if he could practice his English. I'd heard this could happen, so it was really cool. I had Cindy video tape our encounter. He was really excited, as he didn't see many foreigners and he couldn't believe I was interested in coming to his town. We chatted for awhile and the crowd started surging again, surrounding us to see what's going on with the pink haired foreigner. Pretty soon a policeman comes up to disperse the crowd, because it was getting pretty large - a little weird. Cindy was teasing me about being the Western troublemaker. Everyone dispersed and we kept walking with the student and his friend. He asked for my e-mail, so he could practice his English, so I might have a Chinese pen pal ;)
We left Wuwei by train yesterday afternoon around 3:30
and arrived in Yinchuan around 10:30 last night.
Checked into our hotel - the nicest one so far - we're
splurging, because the next town is going to be really
small, so we'll have to go down a few notches on the
comfort level ;o
This morning we left the hotel at 10 in a chartered
taxi - really nice guy, don't know his name, who drove
us out to the Wall, about an hour out of town. He
walked with us along the wall, which was much taller
than the last section in Wuwei, but still very old -
made of mud. We only went for about a half hour again,
as the Wall had been broken by a flood that winter.
Cindy narrated a little description about what had
happened to that section of the Wall that winter as
told by the taxi driver, so I video taped that - nice.
I'm breaking her in, she's getting more comfortable in
front of the camera. There's a great story I need to
video tape at some point - she was telling me the
other day that she started selling Amway last year and
was describing the traditional "American dream" through
her Amway aspirations - "if you work hard and take the
right opportunities, you can be a self made sucess" -
I took lots of pictures today, beautiful desert
landscape with lots of ancient tombs in the
background. We were on the Mongolian border, the
driver pointed out the sign. On the way back to town,
we stopped at some ancient tombs, approximately 1000
years old. Very monumental - like giant mud beehives.
After walking through this for an hour or so, we
headed back into town and treated the driver to lunch.
He took us to a good local restaurant, we were teasing
him that he was not only our driver, but our local
tour guide and photographer, as he took some pictures
of Cindy and I at the Wall. During lunch he was
asking, through Cindy, what state I was from, when she
told him California, he knew that Arnold Schwarzeneger
was our Governor. Even in the middle of the Chinese
desert they know our infamous Governor ;)
4th Stop Report - April 13th
It's Tuesday night in Yulin and I'm here at the internet cafe - Michael Jackson is playing in honor of the "maiguo" (American). We arrived here yesterday afternoon around 4pm after a long distance bus ride from Yinchuan that took 7 1/2 hours. Pretty good highway most of the way, but there was about an hour going through rural dirt roads, amazing the bus didn't keel over - quite a rockin' ride. The bus driver was really great - very warm and friendly. He was extremely concerned about the Westerner's comfort. When we boarded the bus in the morning, before the bus left, two inspectors came on and told the bus driver the bus wasn't up to snuff, but he countered that it was in very good condition "see there's a Westerner riding my bus" so it must be good ;) He was telling other passengers not to put their seat back when they sat in front of me, his wife was taking their cigarettes away - I felt awkward about the special treatment, felt too much like the privileged Westerner, but Cindy said the way they look at it is I've come a very long way and I'm a guest in their country, so they want to make sure I have a good time - very gracious. Along the way I had my most interesting bathroom experience. We stopped for a pit stop and I've been in lots of squat toilets - no problem, troth toilets - no problem, but I met my challenge: an outdoor open pit toilet next to a pig sty. All I can say is one of my most valued possessions here in China is my Purel Antiseptic Hand Wash (with aloe).
Last night we walked around the town around dusk - very dynamic city of about 330,000. Cindy has actually been surprised at the development in the cities we've been in. It seems there's a lot of government focus on developing the northwest region - the eastern region has been thriving, so now the focus is on the West. So there are amazing public squares, etc. in these desert cities. You'll be driving through miles of rural farming region, then get to the city and they have amazing light displays, giant hotels, Pierre Cardin, etc. When we were walking last night, we walked past a store that had a PA system going. They use these to announce sales and promos, so Cindy asked me what I thought they were saying, so I figured some sales pitch and she translated: "consumer comrades" come for the latest deal, etc. Quite the phrase that encapsulates a lot of the change in China. Lots of contradictions and complexities. While we were walking back to the hotel we came upon a demonstration - farmers sitting in the middle of the road with some type of bamboo tool. We didn't linger - I'd read it's best to steer clear of anything like that, but very interesting. The cities are getting a lot of economic input, and in some cases farm land is getting taken away, so lots of issues for the farmers.
This morning we set out at 9am in a taxi for our
fourth meeting with the Wall. There is a large Ming
Dynasty tower close to Yulin, so we went up there.
Took lots of pictures. I did a little narrative about
the Wall, while Cindy acted as cameraman. There was
some older Wall (most likely Qin dynasty) running off
the Ming Tower, so I followed a path along the Wall
for about an hour or so, so got more path this time. I
was out two hours all together. As I was walking
through the woods along the Wall, three small boys
were playing nearby, so I said "ni hao", then they
followed me saying "ni hao" for about 5 minutes. I
should've video taped them - really cute, but I was
heading up a hill and didn't want to stop.
When I got back, we hitched a ride from some locals in a mini-van. Very nice people. We wanted to go to some temples carved into the caves in the hillsides - they were built in the 15th century, so they drove over there and went to see them with us, then they drove us back into Yulin.
Tomorrow we have a travel day - it's going to be a
little challenging, as the town we're in doesn't have
a big train station, so no train that goes to the next
city we're going to, Datong. Also no direct buses, so
we're taking a taxi to the capital of the province (4
hours away), then we get a train to Datong there. So
Cindy's working hard on this one.
So I plan on drinking very little liquids in the
morning if you know what I mean ;)
5th and 6th Stops Report - April 16th
It's Friday evening in Zhang Jia Kou, we arrived here
this morning around 11:30. Yesterday was an action
packed adventure in Datong, so didn't get to e-mail
after the 5th Great Wall stop, so today I've got two
for the price of one.
Wednesday morning we left Yulin around 9:30 am - since there was no direct train from Yulin to Datong, we took a taxi to Shenmu, which had a train to Datong. It was about a 60 kilometer (2 1/2 hour) drive, which went along the Great Wall all the way. Our train left Shenmu at 1:30 pm and arrived in Datong at 8pm. We shared a compartment with two businessmen from Yulin. They're in the coal business (big industry in north central China) and were on their way to the coast to check on an international shipment. They were really nice - one of the guys was doing card tricks for us. The other bought a U.S. five dollar bill from me, as he wanted to show it to his friends. I gave them (and the conductor) some U.S. postage stamps that I had brought to give as little souvenirs - they really liked them. They are Chinese New Year stamps - Year of the Monkey, so pretty cool. The one guy (the card trick one) was a compulsive smoker, so eventually we fled the compartment and hung out in the dining car. We had some fun with the cooks and one of the conductors in there. When they found out I was American they were saying things like - "I've heard when Americans get home they throw everything out, even their cameras because they're afraid of the germs", I just laughed - I'm definitely not throwing out my big investment in my digital cameras.
When we arrived in Datong we checked into our hotel,
the Datong Hotel, looks like Caesar's Palace in Las
Vegas. Datong has some famous cliff carvings (a UNESCO
site), so there are quite a few Westerners who come to Datong.
The next morning we headed out on our Great Wall adventure with our taxi driver, Fai. While I was waiting for Cindy to make the call, I was watching the Teletubbies, dubbed in Chinese, a truly surreal experience. I knew we were in for an interesting day, when the driver didn't know where the Great Wall was. It's an ancient section, that's not renovated, so even the local CITS (local tour agency) didn't know why we wanted to go there - which makes it all the more interesting. So we're standing in the local CITS office with Fai and the CITS people trying to figure out where it is on the map. After awhile, when Fai had an idea of where it was, we headed out. Datong is another coal industry town, so along the way we drove down rural/industrial roads passing countless coal trucks. Everything along the way is covered in coal dust. After stopping about 10 times to ask the way (I videotaped most of these, so have some good narrative starring Fai), asking the gas station attendant, the shop keeper, the policeman, the truck driver, the farmer, etc. We finally arrived at the Wall after driving through the narrow alleys of a farming village. When we get there, the Wall's on the other side of the Imperial river. Luckily the river isn't too wide or deep here, so Cindy and I took off our shoes and waded across - got some video of me coming out of the river. After wading through coyote creek for the C5 Eco-Challenge video, this river was no problem ;) I walked along the Wall for about an hour - nice old clay/mud Wall - authentic, no renovations. Met some cows along the way. I went on my own and Cindy headed back to hang out with the taxi driver. When I got back, of course the car was stuck in the sand. Cindy and I got out and pushed and the car got traction quickly, so no problem. We drove back into town for lunch - some good food for me - aloe in strawberry sauce. After lunch the driver took us to the Buddha carvings - amazing. People were asking to take their picture with me and the Buddha, I should start charging to help fund my travels ;). After this, the driver drove us to another ancient Buddhist site, the Hanging Temple. A Buddhist temple built on the side of the cliff in the 15th century - another amazing place. The driver, Fai, is from Datong, so he was proud to show us these places, but the last one broke the camels back, or his radiator. The Hanging Temple was up a pretty steep mountain, so his car overheated on the way back. We had water and he added that and it got us down the mountain, but when we stopped at a toll gate at the bottom, that was it - no more go on that car. The police at the toll gate helped push the car to the side of the road and they tried adding water again, but I think he had a serious radiator issue. The water was leaking all over. He called his brother to come and tow the car and we waited for about an hour, but Cindy was getting concerned that it was going to take a really long time to get the car back as we'd be towing a car through not the best roads - we were about a half hour outside town, but it wasn't looking like the brother was going to get there any time soon. By this time it's 7:15 pm, so resourceful that she is, Cindy sees a tour bus coming through the toll booth and asks the driver if he's going back into Datong. He was and let us hitch a ride for free - the traveling with a Westerner ticket worked again. We said goodbye to Fai and ran off - we called and checked on him later and to thank him for an otherwise great day. The bus dropped us off right in front of our hotel - very good fortune.
This morning we took a two hour train to Zhang Jia Kou and arrived here at 11:30. We checked into the Flatroad Hotel and had lunch. The Wall is only 4 kilometers from our hotel, so we got a taxi and headed out there. It's a Ming Dynasty section of the Wall, so brick. A lot of the bricks were taken from the Wall during the Cultural Revolution to build houses, etc. So there's a sort of simulated Wall that has been built on the original Wall foundation. Cindy hung out in the town and I took a two hour trek into the hills. Met workers along the way who are working on a walking path that goes along the Wall. We took pictures together - no English, so limited communication, but very nice. It was later in the afternoon, so some nice light. As I got further from the city, the landscape was really beautiful - felt good to get some real walking in and get a good path for the project.
Tomorrow we leave for Xuahua, where we'll stop to see
the Bell Tower, Drum tower, etc. (no Wall there) and
then on to Beijing (3 hours from here). Beijing will
be our home base for the next couple of days, as the
next sites are day trips from Beijing and Cindy
recommended we stay there, as it'll be easier than
finding places in the small villages. So back as Cindy
would say to "the civilized world" for a few days.
7th, 8th, and 9th Stop Report - April 19th
Back in Beijing and there's a plethora of
Great Wall stops to choose from and so conveniently
located nearby (well within 3 hours or so).
It's Monday evening and it's a balmy 73 degrees at
10pm here in Beijing. The average temperature for this
time of year in Beijing is 70 degrees, but I guess I
brought one of those California heat waves with me -
makes for some extra hard Great Wall trekking - I'm
working hard for the data ;) It was 32 degrees celsius
today, translation (just looked it up) ~90 degrees
fahrenheit - the Great Wall sweat-off today ;o
We arrived in Beijing on Saturday, late afternoon. We hired a taxi when we left Zhang Jai Kou - a Mr. Wang and his lovely wife Lu. We left Zhang Jai Kou around 9:30 am, stopped in Xuahua (a few towns away) to see their drum tower and bell tower. They're very nice Ming Dynasty towers that are in great shape and haven't been renovated. Most of the drum and bell towers in the cities are closed, but these two are open, so you can climb up in them and see what they look like in the inside. Cindy and I were given the privilege of ringing the bell, which entails picking up a very large gong and striking the huge bell - great sound! We spent about an hour in Xuahua, then back on the road to Beijing. The route back goes through the mountains and there were an incredible amount of trucks going through this road - coal truck after coal truck. Lots of traffic going through that part of the trip and then when you get to Beijing - ah traffic that will rival any you find in L.A. or SF Bay Area. It's unfortunate for the environment, but of course car ownership is growing by leaps and bounds here in Beijing and with it the unfortunate by product of pollution and traffic jams. I'm told that in the past 2 or 3 years car ownership has increased by about 10 times. The standard of living is rising here and cars are becoming more affordable. Volkswagen is the winner by far, I was told Volkswagen was the first to invest here in China, so tons of Passats, Jettas, and the number one car I haven't seen in the U.S. - the VW Santana. The number one American car you see here is the Jeep Cherokee and yes, unfortunately the Chinese are no different than us, they like those SUVs. Toyota Land Cruisers and some type of Mitsubishi SUV. When we finally got through the traffic and got to my hotel, Mr. Wang and Lu joined us for dinner. Cindy convinced them to spend the night in a hotel and they were going to try to find a fair back to Zhang Jai Kou the next day, so the trip would be economical. Very nice people.
Sunday morning we started out early and hit two spots
on the Great Wall that are a couple of hours away from
Beijing. These are the sections of the Great Wall that
whenever you've seen a picture of the Great Wall, they
are most likely from this area, as it's Ming Dynasty
Wall, the most recent era of the Wall (500 - 600 years
old), so in very good shape. But also because they are
close to Beijing and the locals have cars now it's a
Sunday traffic jam out there, so everyone can get in
their car and "relax" in the country. I had a really
great experience on Mutianyu. There was a Chinese
computer company out there doing a team building event
- beautiful. The company is called "Lenovo", I believe
they're a hardware company, but I'm not sure. While
Cindy and I were walking, we met two of the guys from
the company who were holding two giant flags with the
company logo on them on one of the Watch Towers. Seems
the team building exercise was symbolized by the 8
towers of the Wall at Mutianyu and that the "brave"
company workers could achieve great things like the
Wall and meet all the milestones set for them. The two
guys we met were the flag bearers for that Watch Tower
mark. We talked to them, as one of the guys spoke very
good English. Cindy videotaped as I talked to
"Michael" about the high tech industry in China - we
talked a little shop. He was interested in Adobe, so
we talked about the rise of the high tech industry in
China. I was telling him that I thought China was
going to be an economic powerhouse in the next decade
and I teased that I might be losing my job to him. He
was so concerned about that statement, his response
was that we weren't in competition, that we were in
cooperation - nice way to look at it - hope he's
right. I couldn't ask for a better moment working on a
C5 project with our history of corporate/art culture
and our theories of collaboration.
I had been to Badaling before in late March, but that was just a test run. This time I collected the path and took lots of pictures. We were there in the late afternoon, so nice light. Unfortunately because of all the pollution I couldn't get really good horizon images, as they look very misty, but some good pictures non-the-less. After doing two treks in one day - I do these treks on my own, as Cindy doesn't have the same motivation that I do to trek on the Great Wall day after day ;), I was ready for some type of reward and I got it. Cindy invited me to her apartment to meet her boyfriend and she'd do an Amway demo for me, as I'd told her I'd love to videotape that - dream come true. I couldn't believe it. When I got to her apartment (she just bought it last year - 51 sq. meters), it was like an Amway shrine. Boxes full of Amway products, posters of the founders of Amway on the Walls, and when I get there, her boyfriend, Shy, is recruiting some new Amway distributors right before my eyes. They're all sitting on the couch looking at his laptop, while he plays some QuickTime movie promos from Amway. We all took a picture together, then Cindy did the demo while I videotaped. She was comparing the most popular brand of dish liquid here in China, Goldfish, with Amway dish liquid. She put some oil on two spoons, then put a couple of drops of each detergent on the spoons. The oil on the Amway spoon beaded up, but the Goldfish, inferior product that it is, just foamed up. When she put them in the glass and stirred. The water in the Amway glass was clear, in the Goldfish glass - an unattractive murky color. Brilliant.
This morning we headed out to the Simatai section of the Wall - about 3 hours from Beijing. Beautiful landscape. I had my longest, most strenuous trek yet, on the hottest day yet - I ascended about 1200 feet and trekked through 8 towers on the top of these amazing mountains. For about the first third of my trip, I was accompanied by my "friend". As you're going up, these vendors tag along and say they're you're "friend". She showed me a badge, that made me think she was some type of guide, as the Wall is pretty steep and difficult to maneuver at times, so I was thinking they sent someone along with you to make sure you were ok. No, she was just trying to sell me a book. After about a half hour, after telling her unsuccessfully that I was ok on my own, I looked at her book, which was actually a really nice photo book of the Great Wall. I was feeling pretty bad that this 50ish woman is following me up the Great Wall on a really hot day, I know I'm a sucker, but I did negotiate a good price - mercantile success and after she took my picture for me, I had my solitude on the Wall ;)
Tomorrow we head out for Gubeikou, which is also a few hours from Beijing, so tomorrow night we'll come back to Beijing. Then Wednesday we head eastward with a few stops before we get to Shanhaiguan and the Yellow Sea - onwards to the Sea.
10th and 11th Stops Report - April 22
It's Thursday night and I'm writing from Shanhaiguan,
we arrived here early this evening. This is our last
stop on the Great Wall trek. Tomorrow we will go out
to the Wall where it ends at the Yellow Sea - the
journey is almost complete - it's hard to believe it's
only been about 3 weeks, seems like so much has
happened in this short span of time.
For the 10th and 11th stops we went to Gubeikou (a few hours from Beijing) and Xifengkou/Panjiakou (halfway between Beijing and Shanhaiguan). On Tuesday morning we drove from Beijing in a chartered car Cindy was able to arrange through her contacts at CITS, so really comfortable. Our driver Mr. Su was very nice. He drove us on Monday also. Gubeikou is not far from Simatai, but it's a world of difference. No big tourist trappings, no vendor stalls, no renovations, just very beautiful countryside with original Ming Dynasty Wall - Wild Wall. So I enjoyed the solitude. The only people I met out there were two local girls flying a kite. They didn't speak any English, but I managed to ask them through sign language if they could take my picture. Got lots of pictures, but video was a challenge - very strong winds, which is often the case on the Wall. So a good portion of my Wall videos are a struggle to keep the camera steady, as the wind is blowing the camera pretty good. The heat wave had also broken, so a welcome relief. The temperature was in the 70's, so very nice. I hiked for about two hours and when I came back, Mr. Su drove us back to Beijing and took us to a tea ceremony, followed by a visit to a silk factory, so I got to experience a few Beijing tourist experiences and trek the Wall all in one day - pretty good. For dinner Cindy had contacted her friend Jackie, who is a Chinese yuppie, advertising agency entrepreneur. He's trying to learn English, so she thought it would be good for him to practice with a native speaker. She'd been trying to arrange a dinner with him for a few days, but he's super busy. When we did meet up with him, we met at Starbucks initially. He's a Frappuccino drinking, cigarette smoking, cell phone talking, parody of the go, go, go Hollywood ad agency type. He was really nice though - very funny. His English was pretty limited (and my Chinese is even more limited), but we managed to communicate. Turns out we weren't the only ones he was meeting with, he basically folded us into one of his business dinners, which was actually pretty fun. He was meeting with a couple of potential clients. The owner of a juice drink company, his wife (the CEO), one of his managers, and a friend of the manager. They were meeting to talk about possible advertising angles for a new juice drink they had developed. They joked, chit chatted, etc. and I kept waiting for the pitch. Very interesting trying to interpret what's going on when you don't know the language, but you'd be amazed how much you pick up by observing body language. I knew when Jackie was winding up for the pitch and then bam, he took the stage and pitched his idea. He did it with what seemed like a focused vision, his clients were pulled in and it seemed like they were buying it. At the end, I jokingly said, "I agree" and Jackie gave me the hi five and we all had a good laugh.
Wednesday morning we checked out of my hotel in Beijing and Mr. Su drove us to the next stop, Qianxi, which is about 4 hours from Beijing. It's a very small town that is near the 11th stop on the Wall we went to, the 11th stop is called Xifengkou/Panjiakou. Cindy said Mr. Su was actually sorry to see us go, as he was having fun driving us to all these stops on the Great Wall. We pretty much hunkered down early on Wednesday night, so we could head out to the Wall early the next day, as we had a pretty full agenda to get in for our 11th stop. At 8am this morning, our taxi driver, Mr. Gao picked us up and we checked out of the hotel, bringing our bags with us, as he was going to be driving us to Shanhaiguan also. We drove about an hour out of town to the Panjiakou reservoir and took a speed boat out to the Great Wall. A dam was built in this area in 1975, so part of the Great Wall was submerged, so it's a really beautiful location on a large reservoir. I shot video as we were flying across the reservoir in the speed boat - very cool experience. We were surrounded by beautiful green hills, with the Great Wall topping many of them. We had a local guide who needed to come out with us, as it's a pretty limited area of the Wall that you can get to. She had one of those small megaphones and she used it every once in a while, so I videotaped her. It was pretty funny, because it was just Cindy and I with her, so the megaphone was kind of absurd ;) She was really nice and knowledgeable about the Wall in this area - she spoke Chinese, so Cindy would interpret every once in awhile. When we were out walking on the Wall a couple of local farmers sold us some wild Chestnuts, very good. We spent about 2 hours out on the boat and walking on the Wall, then Mr. Gao drove us back into Qianxi and we all had lunch. Then we hit the road again around 2:30 and drove out to Shanhaiguan. We arrived here about 5pm, checked into the hotel, had dinner, and are now here at the internet cafe. I've got a confirmed time to meet with my contact at the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing on Tuesday to do the talk about C5 and the Great Wall project.
Tomorrow is the big day - a meeting with the Dragon's
Head at the edge of the Yellow Sea. It's going to be a day
of mixed emotions I'm sure. So looking forward to and
a little sad about that final encounter.
12th and Final Meeting with the Wall - April 24th
It's Saturday afternoon and I'm back in Beijing, we
had our final meeting with the Wall yesterday at the
Old Dragon's Head in Shanhaiguan - made it from the
northwest desert to the Yellow Sea, what an amazing
experience. I did a final narrative as Cindy taped,
lots of reflection on what we will find on the other
side of the ocean when the Other Path is revealed and
lots of thanks to the many warm and friendly Chinese
people I've met along the way. The Wall has become an
entity that has become a part of my life that I'll
never forget, it's as if I know it as some type of
friend or companion.
We got up early and had an action packed morning. The Great Wall enters the city of Shanhaiguan from the mountains in the west, joins up with the city wall, and ends at the Yellow Sea. We stopped at 3 stops, the wall in the mountains leading into Shanhaiguan, the city gate, and the Old Dragon's Head at the Yellow Sea. We had a taxi driver take us to all three stops and when we came to the final stop, he recommended we take a speed boat out off the coast so we could get a view from the sea - great suggestion. Got pictures you wouldn't be able to get from land and had an exciting, butt busting high speed boat ride. The boat driver was really fun, he was doing extra fancy turns to thrill us and took our picture looking toward the Wall. When we got back on land, we went to the Dragon's Head, which is basically a fort, so not much trekking, but lots of thoughts about the end of the journey, looking out to the sea - very powerful experience. After we left the final stop, we had a quick lunch and caught an afternoon train back to Beijing. We were paying for our luxury car rides in Beijing the past few days in Qianxi and Shanhaiguan - pretty tough hotel living, no hot water - ouch! I've got a cold now, but the adrenaline of traveling is keeping me going well. On the train we met a dolphin trainer from the Beijing zoo. Nice guy - he spoke English, so we talked for quite awhile.
We got back to Beijing last night. Today I walked over
Square to visit Mao's tomb. I was waiting in line with
thousands of Chinese tourists, pretty much the only
Westerner in line. I knew you couldn't take bags in,
but I didn't know where the place was to check bags.
When I got to the section where they're checking if
you have a bag, a guy directed me out of line, told me
I couldn't have a bag, so I asked him where to check,
he grabbed my hand and started running with me tailing
behind, we ran across the street to a check in place,
then he dragged me back across the street and
deposited me back at the front of the line and asked
for a 20 yuan tip, I gave him 10 ;) After standing in
a long, snaking line for about 45 minutes, we arrived
at the mausoleum and were filed past with a very
assertive, keep it moving. Interesting experience. Alot of
people seem to still revere him, they were buying
flowers and leaving them in front of a large statue to
him - very interesting to observe. From what I can understand
from talking to people, those who still revere Mao are likely older
and from rural areas. Capitalism is in full swing when you walk
out of the mausoleum, they're selling Mao cups, Mao
watches, Mao digital calendars - interesting
Afterwards I walked around a lot, wandering the streets basically to absorb the non-touristy neighborhoods. Walked through old neighborhoods of courtyard houses, that are fast becoming an endangered species as everything is being leveled to build new high rise buildings. Then I took the subway back to a market to do some shopping. I was buying a small Chinese dress and shoes to bring back for a friend's new daughter and was going to walk away as I didn't like the price and the saleswoman at the stall was basically dragging me back by the arm - pretty comical. She gave me the price as I was offering about 1/8 of what she was asking, I knew she was way high. Interesting way of shopping. Another woman brought me up in her house to show me the Beijing Olympic t-shirts she wasn't supposed to be selling since she probably wasn't licensed - strange experience, but good opportunity to see her house.
Now I'm going to meet Cindy for our last meeting to go
to the Beijing Opera. She heads out for another job tomorrow.
I'm not looking forward to saying goodbye, I'm going to miss her alot.
Luckily I'll be meeting up with Richard tomorrow night, our former tour guide from the pre-Great Wall
trek part of my time in China - looking forward to seeing him again.
My meeting on Tuesday is firming up - I'll be meeting with Ma Gang the Director of the Digital Media program at the Central Academy of Fine Art. Looking forward to meeting them and getting the first artworld feedback coming pretty much straight off the Wall.
Central Academy of Fine Art - April 27th
Tuesday's presentation at the Central Academy of Fine Art went really well. My former colleague from Adobe, Min Wang, couldn't be there, but he had hooked me up with the head of the Digital Media program, so I met with him. My friend Richard went with me, which was a really great buffer, as Professor Ma's English is not fluent.
I'd prepared a presentation that was an overview of all of C5's previous work and then more specifically about the Landscape Initiatives. I had it pretty much down, so didn't need any notes, just the slides to key off my ideas. I talked about the C5 identity body, our focus on data as an art medium (they were reading Marshall Mc Luhan so appreciated this somehow), and the lineage of theory/process that has brought us to the Landscape Initiatives. There was an interpretor, Zheng Tao, who is a PHD Art History student. We talked before hand and when I was telling him what we were doing, he was really getting it, which was so great. When I originally got to the school, I was having my doubts. I met Professor Ma at 4 and he showed me and Richard around the department. Really nice new campus and a brand new Digital Media Program (only 2 years old), so really nice facilities. I was looking at the work the students were doing, which was mostly image processing, so I was getting concerned there was going to be a huge conceptual gap. We got the tech setup, the usual "can't get the laptop to show up on the projector phenomena" that is truly international, so after about an hour of getting that set up, we went to dinner: Professor Ma, Zheng Tao, Richard, and I. We got back to the school around 6:40 and the students were gathering for the presentation. They'd put a poster up that announced me as Geri Wittig there to talk about looking at the Great Wall digitally - nice. There were about 20 students or so and they seemed pretty engaged. I just went ahead and gave the presentation, which really consisted of talking to Zheng Tao and then he would interpret. Afterwards there were some questions from the students, mainly about the GPS process, etc., then lots of more conceptual/technical questions from Professor Ma. He wished us lots of luck with the project, so good ending.