The Great Wall
The Chinese name for the great wall is Mutianyu. I looked forward most to this leg of our journey. I’m sure that is a common refrain from travelers to China, but for me the deep history of the wall and the magnitude of the endeavor to build such a massive structure is astounding. The section of the wall we visited, located in rural Beijing, in the early Ming dynasty. General Xu Da of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, built the wall on top of a 1,000 meter high mountain ridge. This section looks like a flying dragon and has multiple guard towers. It’s overwhelmingly huge.
The wall itself is constructed entirely of huge slate gray blocks. It changes elevation quickly with many inclines and declines. Some are quite steep, moving nearly vertically up. Others are more gentle, like rolling hills. These variations in level are addressed by using varying sizes of steps. Some were tiny, barely steep at all, some were massive, even difficult for me at 6’0 tall to climb. Walking the wall is no small feat and quite the workout. This doesn’t hinder the thousands of tourists (both Chinese and foreign) from visiting.
In order to get to the top of the wall there are three options, a cable car, a chair lift, or hiking up. With only a couple of hours to explore, our group opted for the cable car. After our walk on the wall there were four options to get down – cable car, chair lift, hiking, or…a toboggan. I, of course, chose the latter – such a fun and fast way to get to the bottom!
As Americans, we tend to take things as a challenge. We set a goal and we strive to achieve that goal. Often this can get in the way of enjoying the moment, as we are more focused on the goal than we are on truly taking in the experience. This was my challenge as I explored the Great Wall. With only a short two hours to explore, I focused on the experience rather than pushing myself to walk the entire section and make it to the “top”. I’m thankful I broke out of that American cultural norm, because as I walked and looked and explored, the immensity of this place, its history and its miraculous construction, washed over me and brought me to tears. I walked on the Great Wall of China!
The Chinese Tea Ceremony
We ended our Great Wall Day with a stop at a tea shop for a Chinese tea ceremony. I lived in Japan, a country which values and honors tea as well, and has a very traditional tea ceremony. The Chinese tea ceremony was quite different. It was more a demonstration. When tasting tea in China one must first smell the tea to take in the fine aroma. There is a specific process for this. There are two cups for the tasting, a tall cup and short cup. The tea first goes into the small cup then the small cup goes on top, like a lid – it looks a bit like a mushroom. The whole thing is held together then turned over, so the tea pours into the smaller cup. You then lift the tall cup out, roll it between your palms and smell it. The bouquet of the tea is amazing. You drink the first cup in three sips for luck.
We had the pleasure of trying five different teas, all very different, and all so delicious, I went wild after the ceremony, buying several canisters of my favorites. When drinking tea, the water must be exactly the right temperature in order to steep the tea properly. They test the water temperature with a tiny ceramic naked boy, called PP boy. He is soaked in cold water. They bring him out of the water and pour the hot water on his head. If he pees, the water is the right temperature. They say, “no pee, no tea!” Hilarious!
The teas we tried all had different health benefits and should be drank at different times during the day. We tried a Ginseng Oolong, a traditional Jasmine tea, a Lichi fruit tea, Pu-re Tea (the oldest and most traditional of the teas, produced near Tibet and only available in China – it is also the only tea that improves with age), and a Fruit tea. I wish I had the words to describe the flavors. All I can say is, when you visit China, experience a Chinese tea ceremony. You will never view tea the same way again!