How great is the Great Wall of China?

28 04 2010

In the first two days in Beijing we visited the Silk Street market and the Great Wall of China.  We had been looking forward to both attractions for quite a while and were really excited.

The Silk Street market used to be an outdoor street market with numerous stalls lining the streets but has been moved indoors to a seven floor shopping mall.  At the market one can buy all sorts of stuff, both traditional Chinese stuff and replicas of western fashion stuff like bags, watches and clothes.  There is no fixed price and you need to bargain hard to avoid over-paying for the things you want.

We have found the salespeople here in China extremely pleasant but the sales girls at the Silk market were very aggressive, grabbing us into their stalls and trying to block us if we wanted to leave without buying anything – all in good fun though.

We did a bit of shopping and were very happy with the results.  After hard negotiations we got what we wanted for the prices we wanted.  Some store owners acted like they had been unfairly treated but as we all know it is always they that win in the end – otherwise they wouldn’t agree on the final price. 

After Elínborg went berserk in the bags department I had to drag her out of the mall so that we would have some money to eat for the last three days – but we plan to return on our last day to spend any excess Yuan :)  Maybe we’ll be composed enough to take some photos ;)

The day after we went on an organized tour to the Great Wall and the Ding Ling underground tomb with mandatory stops at jade and silk factories.  The wall was build to keep the nomadic hoards of Mongolia away from the Chinese empire.  It is actually a series of walls rather than one long wall, constructed from the 5th to the 16th century.

Most visitors go the the wall at Badaling but to escape the crowds we went to Mútiányú, a bit further from Beijing.  Like Badaling, Mútiányú has both cable cars to go up and slides to go down but we, like proper backpackers, opted for the stairs :)  When we were about half way up we kind of regretted our decision but we marched on and made it to the top.

Most pictures from the wall are without any people on the wall so it is difficult to get a clear image of how high and wide the wall really is.  My first reaction was that the wall seemed smaller than I had imagined (about 8 m. high and 5 m. wide) but very long and majestic. 

We got on the wall through one of the many watch towers and walked on the wall for a couple of hours.  The sky was blue and the weather very nice and we enjoyed the walk very much. 

After the wall we went to the Jade factory.  Our guide rationalized the jade factory visit by telling us that after visiting tombs and graveyards the Chinese always touch jade to get rid of evil spirits from the graves and the wall is the worlds longest graveyard.  It is thought that the bodies of about 10,000 workers were buried under the wall during its construction.  We knew that the main purpose was of course to sell us some jade items.  Jade is not really our thing and the price was definitely not in our range so we left empty handed.

We had a very good lunch and went to the tomb of emperor Wanli and his empress and concubines.  The tomb is an underground palace 27 m. below ground level.  It was impressively build but all of the relics and artifacts were destroyed during the cultural revolution so there wasn’t much to see.

At the end we went to a silk factory and were educated on the production of silk.  The main purpose here was to sell us silk duvets but we are happy with our down duvets and again left empty handed.

The traffic in the afternoon in Beijing is something else and it took us two hours to navigate through the city to get to our hostel but we got there in the end, jumped to the night market to get some dinner and went to sleep after a great day.

Farwell sweat Dalat

23 02 2010

In Iceland we have a saying that says that if you start at the wrong foot you’ll have a good journey ("Fall er farar heill”).  That certainly was true for our stay in Dalat.  When we arrived five days ago we arrived late in the evening but we managed to get a ride to a hotel of choice (Dreams Hotel – see the hostels and guesthouses page for details).  When we came there everything was closed, not just our hotel but the entire street – iron shutters everywhere.  We rang the doorbell but the lady said that they were full and we wouldn’t find any hotel room anywhere in town but we could try the mechanic shop across the street, they might have a room available.  When we tried there the shop was as closed as any other in the street and no doorbell but the lady was watching us an invited us into her hotel and said we could stay in her reception area  since she had no rooms available.  Being our best option we readily agreed.  Then the lady went and got us a thick and nice mattress, thick blankets and pillows and we ended up having a great sleep in the foyer :)

On Icelandic “Wife’s day” or “Women’s day” we rented a scooter and rode to The Valley of Love, a very corny amusement part according to the Lonely Planet.  It ended up being a nice public park with some amusements for the kids, boats on the lake and a nice forest circling the entire lake.  We brought our hammocks and had a wonderful few hours in the park just napping, reading and watching the people.

In the afternoon we rode to an artificial lake and visited a beautiful Pagoda that was on a hill overlooking the lake.  They seem to have many artificial lakes around Dalat that are by-products of big damming projects up here in the highlands.  The Pagoda was, as I said, beautiful but very different from the once we have seen in Thailand and Cambodia.  The garden was beautifully attended with flowers and sculptures.  It was a  very quiet place and we didn’t really want to leave but they closed early.  It seemed a bit unreal, in this place that seemed very old and traditional, seeing the monks bring out the vacuum cleaners just before closing.

Yesterday we rented a scooter again – I think I’ll buy one when we come home, they are so much fun.  We rode to a different pagoda out of town.  This one had a eight storey tower with a 2.5 ton bell (2 m. in diameter) where you are supposed to write your wish on a post-it note and hang it on the bell and then ring it three times to get Buddha’s attention.  The Pagoda also had a big temple and outside was probably a 10 m. Buddha all decorated with dried flowers – quite impressive.  After the pagoda we visited a silk factory and saw how silk is made.  The whole process starts by acquiring eggs of the silk worm, which is a larvae of this butterfly of fly – I couldn’t quite make out which.  After the eggs hatch they are fed huge amounts of leaves (50,000 times their initial weight) and the grow rapidly for about eight weeks (10,000 times their initial weight).  After the eight weeks they start making their cocoons by spinning the silk out of their mouths and they continue for a few days.  When they are done, they are killed by steam, hot water or stung with a needle.  Some are left alive though to produce the next generation.  The worms look a bit like little balls of cotton in their cocoons.  Now they are put in a spinning machine that unravels the cocoons into a thread that goes into another machine that makes a proper silk thread that is now ready to be woven into cloth that can be used to make garments or what ever.  The last thing is to wash the whole thing because silk has some sort of a layer that needs to be washed off to make the transformation from raw silk to silk.  It takes 5,000 worms to make one kilo of silk so my guess is that for one silk scarf you need to harvest and kill about 1,000 silk worms :-o

One evening in one of the many nice restaurants in Dalat we met an Icelandic girl.  She was traveling down Vietnam after five months volunteering in Hanoi and heard us speaking Icelandic and was quite startled.  According to my calculation we have so far met and acknowledged 0,000016% of Iceland’s population.  That equals an American meeting just under 5,000 of his country men or a Swiss meeting 133 other Swiss. 

The only thing that is really bothering us here in Vietnam is all the garbage laying around.  It might be nothing compared to Cambodia but still annoying.  The people seem blind to the problem as we see them just throwing the garbage on the street.  When we arrived we saw a lady walk out of our bus, taking the diaper off her baby and just throw it in a small pond or lake that was next to the sidewalk – just in the middle of the town – what a lack of respect!

But all in all we love Vietnam, it is very beautiful and the people are just interested in their own thing rather than us, which is a nice change.