Sunday, October 02, 2005

Great Wall, Getting out, Getting home.

We made the trip to the Great Wall at Badaling.

I spoke to the concierge to ask about which Great wall trip to make. You can go to Mutianyu or to Simatai. Badaling is the closest to Beijing, and that is where most of the tours go.
There are a couple places at Badaling to access the wall, one of which has a cable car to take you to the top.
This is the place I was looking for, since Mom wouldn't appreciate it if I made her hike a mile or so, and climb several hundred steps to be able to enjoy the spectacle that is the Great Wall.

So. I ask Mr. Concierge- "Hey- I want to go to Badaling, the part where the cable car is. My mom- she can't walk far."
"Ah. Badaling. Yes. Cable car. Yes."
I should have remembered about the "Yes, yes, yes" thing.
So- We meet the tourguide in the lobby at 7:15 in the morning to begin the trip to The Great Wall and the Ming Tombs.
It was the same trip I took last time I was here.
This time I was prepared... In this case, I actually wanted to go to the Jade Joint and the Cloisonne Center. The Chinese medicine place I could have done without, but since our guide makes a commission, we told her we would play along.

Anyway- We hit Jade City first, seeing their display and carving demo, then hitting the gift shop.
After 20 or so minutes I dragged Mom kicking and screaming from the showroom. Beautiful stuff- but we can buy the same stuff at Panjiayuan for 1/10 of the price.
We galloped off to the Ming Tombs and got to look at the dead guy's stuff. I guess the "no pictures" guy wasn't around today because I snapped away at the different relics, got a few really nice shots of the funeral godies.

Then we were off the have our phlegm checked- the Doc at the Chinese Medicine Show checked our pulses, looked at the yellow in my eyes, measured my phlogistin levels. Recommended some Asian crap to improve my health which I promptly turned down.

Then we were off to The Great Wall. I asked to be sure we were going to the place with the cable car. The tour guide said OK, no problem.
(Phrase to watch for: "Yes, no problem." If you hear this, watch your ass.)

Now, I don't know about you, but when someone says "cable car" to me, I'm thinking funicular- something along the lines of the tram in Hong Kong, or the cable cars in San Francisco. Maybe even a gondola.
No, Not here.

The cable car is like something you'd find in a third-world circus as a pseudo-rollercoaster. They were small plastic rollercoaster cars on a chain roller. They looked like they were a cross between a 1970's vintage Big Wheel from Mattel and a really big skateboard. The idea was that you have to sit down on this little plastic car, the padded bar comes down over your shoulders and you are off up the side of the hill.
The thing is perfect for a 12 y/o Chinese kid, but let me tell you, this thing was a nightmare for a 77 year-old lady and a 6'5" dinosaur.

So- think of this: I'm trying to make this trip easy on Mom when it comes to dealing with the terrain, on getting around. Now they want us to jump on this little plastic car while it is still moving... Now, it was tough for me to jump on this thing and get settled, but Mom- damn, they nearly ran her over.
Not a good thing. But, we did get on and settled in and we made it to the top.

All the way up I was worried, since it was (to me) misrepresented- I was a bit worried that this was just a rollercoaster and when we hit the top, we'd plunge over the top and zip through the loops and spins and I'd have to scrape Mom off the pavement at the bottom... But- it turned out ok... but just barely.
We got up to the top- It was a bit misty, but it was still impressive.
The ride down was even more interesting...
They hook 6 or 7 of the cars together and a guy gets in the first car and installs a hand brake on that car... A number of unsuspecting fools get in the following cars and they relaese the brake and gravity takes over.
An overpowering smell of burned rubber tells me that the friction brake is just recycled tires, and I had visions of the brake handle snapping off and our ride becoming a rocket sled flying down the side of the hill.

All in all, the trip to the Great Wall was interesting, in the same manner that a 5 car pile-up is interesting. You slow down to look, then you say to yourself "Man, I'm glad that wasn't me..."

We hit all the touristy stuff- The Forbidden City, The Great Wall, The Ming Tombs...
We went shopping and loaded up with stuff for the folks back home, picking up all manner of goodies from Silk Street...
We had some wonderful meals from some local places- Soup dumplings, springrolls, fried rice, and all cheap cheap cheap. Lunch was usually around $10- total...

I won't bore you with the tales from the Forbidden City- just tell you that it decided to rain that day... Just my luck. So it made for a soggy time there... I would rather have that than the sweltering heat...
There are pics out in the Gallery- go look at them... It's a pretty cool place.

Anyway- getting back to the 'States was another story all together...

We had a Saturday departure scheduled... Unbeknownst to me, October 1 is the biggest national holiday in the PRC... Basically is the anniversary of the founding of the PRC... Everything is closed for the entire week, and everyone takes the opportunity to go on vacation. Travel. Getting the hell out of Dodge.
As I began to hear rumblings about this, I started to ask questions, mainly "What will it be like at the airport with all these people traveling?"

The general concensus was that it was going to be a nightmare.


So, we decided to go to the airport a little early.

But first- we had to do some last minute shopping at Panjiayuan... Mom picked up a few more strands of beads, some more jade pieces... That kind of stuff.
We took our stuff back to the hotel and packed up.
We were on our way to the Airport at 11:30am for a 3:45pm flight.

As Vicki Kaplan once told me, "If you don't miss a few flights every year, you're spending too much time in airports."

For those of you that think that was too early to be there... It was fortunate we got there when we did.
Everyone with 2RMB to rub together was there, all trying to get out of town. The check-in lines were a mile long...

Once in and through the first tier of security, we got in line to check in...An hour later we had boarding passes, then we got to wait in the outbound passport check line- another half hour goes by.
Then came the real fun... Mag and Bag.

Now... Y'all know how much I enjoy Mag & Bag, especially after Athens... And I likke to think I have learned my lesson, unlike the Old Dog and the New Trick. I take all my Sharp Pointy Stuff and make sure it is in my checked bags. I make sure all tools and items that could possibly be used as nominal weapons are in the checked bags...

Except this time.

As I went through the metal detector, my bag was picked up by the man at the flouroscope...
He started emptying it out... Laptop, power supplies, cell phones, cords and cables, usb stuff, cable ties, pens & pencils, digital camera and hardware...
And a Gerber Multi Tool.

Oh Shit.

They found that jewel, and we were off to the races. Mom, who had passed through with flying colors, including her cane with the concealed sword, went and sat down in the waiting area as I was shuffled off for questioning.

I will spare you the details of the Inquisition, but I will tell you, they have a copy of Tomas Torquemada's Little Black Book... and they have all the chapters memorized!
After they were assured that it was an accident and I had no other weapons, I was released- sadder but wiser for the experience.

I rejoined Mom, and we went to the gate to sit (carefully!) and wait for our flight.

So.. (I know that you love to hear me bitch about flights...)
No bulkhead. No emergency row.
This is gonna suck.

When I sit in a regular coach-class seat, my knees hit the back of the seat in front of me. My legs are so long that I can't put my feet under the seat... My bones and joints just don't bend that way.

So... When Zhou Chinaman in front of me goes to lean his seat back, which he did about 30 seconds after he first sat down, it crushes the seatback down on my knees... and there is no where for them to go, so it becomes a battle of how hard ZC can push, vs how much pressure my knees can take before they fracture.
ZC doesn't understand why his seat doesn't fully recline, so he slams his back into the seat- pushing harder. I counter by holding it up with one arm...
He never looks around to see what is hindering the seat movement, he just keeps bouncing until he is frustrated and gives up. I'm nursing several edema on my legs...
To make a 13 hours story short, I hate that &^%#@* flight...especially in a coach seat.

So... One last fling... Mom's connecting flight to Orlando is 45 minutes from our arrival time in Newark.
We need to wait for all our bags, clear customs, recheck bags and get her to the gate. Fast.
By the Grace of God, a heavy duty baggage cart, a sleepy customs guard and a fast wheelchair, we got her to her gate as they were finishing loading the plane... A quick smooch on the cheek and she was off, and I had another 2 hours to wait for my plane.
I got back in (mostly) one piece...

And promptly came down with another cold.

This is getting to be a habit. I HAVE to start taking Airborne...

TBG Out-

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