Greetings from Beijing

Hi everyone – here’s a guest post by my mom about her recent visit to the great wall. Enjoy!

“Your own soul is nourished when you are kind”-King Solomon

It rained all day Saturday in Beijing, from morning through the night – it was fun to skip over puddles under an umbrella, watching people scurry in a busy city on a leisurely day. We woke up Sunday morning to a rare sky that was clear and blue-the mountain ranges were clearly visible from our apartment in Dongzhimin-the perfect day to visit the Great Wall! We had our Chinese lesson from 9-11 with Wu Jing Shang and then headed into a car up to Mutianyu, one of the newer refurbished sections of the wall. It took us about 1.5 hrs to go the 55 miles on the highway-mountains were visible the entire way, calling us to higher elevation. About 5 miles before we got there the terrain changed considerably and we started to climb the highway switchbacks-nothing severe, but our ears popped. The road up is lined with orchards and fruit stands-there is even a “pick your own” farm that caters to the growing numbers of local tourists. We saw tents pitched along the highway and in small parks along shallow creeks-an interesting weekend proposition. When we got to Mutianyu we saw an organic bespoke coffee shop and a Subway (yes, of Jared fame) restaurant. Further up the hill was a marketplace for every communist party souvenir you can imagine. Faux army hats and pins, reproductions of classic brush paintings on cheap plastic scrolls, stuffed animals, pandas, pandas, pandas, and Great Wall T-shirts. We passed all of the clutter to purchase our admission-45 RMB for admission and 65RMB for the chairlift up and the toboggan ride down.

When we got to the top, we immediately headed right, and marched up the wall. And by up, I mean up! The routes were short but steep, peppered by watch towers and soda vendors. I got to use my elementary Chinese to buy a cold water and chat with a vendor on the beautiful day. Our intention for the visit was not to record but to do. So I didn’t bring a camera-all pictures are from my iPhone:

Here are two views from halfway up, and one of Max waiting for me from one of the towers. Note he was swift and impatient (as usual) bounding up the steep stone steps two at a time.

We made it as far as we could go (upon return we were told this is the 12th tower) and turned back. Because the path is a series of descents and ascents, returning is as rigorous as going, so be prepared! My legs were rubber at the last set of stairs-an awesome feeling-so we took a few minutes to rest before embarking on the toboggan ride downhill. The instructions for tobogganing were available in both Chinese and English, with the confident statement “Tobagganing is a safe and comfortable sport” posted for us to contemplate as we watched the plastic hand-braked sleds ride up the chairlift and mounted them on a gently sloping metal slide peppered with signs to slow down.

10 minutes later we were safely back down the hill and back at the park entrance. Rather than eat a meal at the local stalls, our driver promised us a “farmer’s lunch” and took us to a small roadside stand near the base of the hill. There were two small tables and an assortment of chairs, next to a small house garden and a stream.

We were told that fish was on the menu-and when we ordered it, were handed a net and led to a small pond next to the stream. Boy those fish were fast! Neither Max nor I were able to catch one even in this controlled space-I rationalized our lack of success by thinking that the slow fish were already in someone’s stomach-at which point the cook strode over, took the net, and with one flick of the wrist, caught 3 gleaming trout.

We picked one for filleting-which he proceeded to do on a wooden slab set up next to his wood fire. A bowl of fresh fish heads was collected on the left-to be used for a latter meal no doubt, and the fillets were rubbed with a mix of salt, Szechwan peppercorns, chilli, coriander and cumin-then roasted quickly on the fire skin down first. Wow, spicy, tender, moist. Outstanding.

While the fish was roasting we were invited to wander into the garden-surprisingly like a Mediterranean garden- multiple tomato plants,, eggplant, squash, peppers hot and sweet, chives, garlic, onion. The veggies showed up in side dishes-sauted in one case with scrambled eggs-and the fresh sweet flavors came through-delicate eggplant meat, soft tomato chunks, lightly tossed with garlic and chives. Yum!

Finally, next to the garden was a small flock of chickens-and yes-chinese coq au vin was the final dish to round out the meal-the presentation was done with pride, with the head and claw poised on top. The bird was chopped into bite size chunks and braised until soft and comforting-I tasted soy, garlic, onion, mushroom sauce, maybe some carmelized sugar? The deal with the head and the claw is to suck the gelatinous and flavorful skin while spitting out the bones and cartilage. First time I have had claw without a thick coating of sauce!

We stopped to purchase an assortment of fresh fruit that we did not see in the groceries in Beijing : sun ripened peaches, pears, super sweet and juicy plums, ground cherries, tart crab apples. Max ate all with enthusiasm and we saved some to give to our teacher and friends before heading back to Pennsylvania.

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