Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Great Wall & Summer Palace

Today we visited the Great Wall of China and the Summer Palace.  On the plus side, the weather was so much nicer than yesterday.  It rained most of last night and the temperature was moderate all day.  The bad part was that both places were incredibly crowded.  

We arrived at the Great Wall in late morning, visiting a spot outside of Beijing.  Our guide told us that the spot we were visiting was the most beautiful spot around. She told us that while the climb was steeper there, that there were many fewer people than at another nearby location where the train serviced.  The climb was a bit steep, but the steepness itself wasn't the problem.  Most of the time it was wide enough for two or three people; one lane going up, one going down and a "passing lane".  There was a solid line of people going up and down the wall.  Often people walking up would get tired and stop to rest.  Unfortunately they often didn't wait until they came to a wider spot.  They just stopped and the line backed up.  

Tim, Jacob and I walked up to the fourth tower, while the tour guide stayed back with Aleena and Nalin at the third tower.  The guide told us that the highest that she ever had people go was the second tower.  To be sure, there were other people at the fourth tower, and some even went higher, but it was much less crowded and much more pleasant the farther we went up.

In the afternoon we visited the Summer Palace.  My hope that it would be less crowded than the Great Wall was quickly dashed as there were people every where.  To add to the fun of the crowd, there were merchants selling annoying whistles that both vendors and customers seem to enjoy blowing very loudly.  At the end we took a boat over to another part of the palace that was less crowded.  That was much more pleasant.    

Taking photos in crowds like these presents some challenges.  There are spots where you can wait your turn and take a photo.  Other times you have to just wait until everyone has moved out of the background and quickly take the photo.  The kids did  a really nice job of posing quickly, at least most of the time.  One good thing is that I knew going in that I wasn't going to get a great photo of the Great Wall, Forbidden City or any of the other sites that we would see.  I'm on a family vacation.  We usually visit places when the light isn't at it's best.  In most places, putting a tripod down would be very difficult as it would get bumped or trip people.  Even if I did claim a space, getting a shot without masses of people would hardly be possible.  If I wanted to do a real photo trip, it would have to be without the kids, and I'd probably travel in the off season and arrive early in the morning.  Maybe some day, but I'm not sure I'm up for another trip to China for a long time.

Tomorrow we are visiting Heaven's Gate Temple and then flying to Inner Mongolia.  I hope it is less crowded there.  Truthfully, while I know how lucky I am to get to see so much of the world, a good part of today was not enjoyable.  There are just people around you everywhere, and the truth is that Chinese views on politeness and personal space are very much different than those in the U.S. or even Thailand.  I guess that means that I get to experience the culture very close up.  

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