Sunday, June 22, 2008

不到长城非好汉 (second posting attempt)

I tried to post this entry this morning, but since then it seems to have disappeared. So I post it again for your reading pleasure. The title, by the way, is a Chinese saying: "One who has not been to the Great Wall is not a real man."

Yesterday I visited the Great Wall at Simatai. The Wall at Simatai was first built in the 6th century and renovated in the 14th, and since then there has been very little restoration work done on the Wall, so more or less all of it is the real Ming Dynasty deal. The Chinese tend not to talk about visiting the Wall so much as "climbing it," and at Simatai where the Wall snakes over the tops of mountains, the climb is a fairly grueling one. It's a beautiful place, though. After climbing the Wall, we ate in a cafeteria where a large picture of Simatai was on display with the caption 龍入云雾 ("The Dragon enters the Clouds and Mist"), which may sound like something out of a second-rate kung fu movie but gets the effect of the place pretty well. Whether because of pollution or because of the natural climate, a white fog tends to fill the valleys between the peaks, giving the landscape the muted appearance of a Chinese painting. These pictures aren't great, but they might do something to give the impression of the Great Wall:

After climbing the Wall, I went down the easy way, by riding a zipline over the river that runs through Simatai and then taking a boat the rest of the way. I wanted to put these pictures up yesterday, but from the Great Wall I had to run to a dinner party hosted by Spencer,* a former classmate of mine, in another classmate's apartment. At the dinner party I was invited to another party hosted by Time magazine's Beijing correspondent to send off another expatriate who was leaving the city. And this party was not in any ordinary apartment, but in an ancient courtyard house in a hutong district of the city. American expatriates in Beijing seem to be having the time of their lives. I, on the other hand, have a disconcerting number of characters to memorize.

*While it's not usually policy on the Foreign Devil to use people's real names, I think it's a necessary corrective in a city where everyone, but foreigners especially, is reinventing himself with reckless abandon.

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