Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Beijing Tour II

Mutianyu Great Wall
Badaling, Mutianyu and Jinshanling etc. are sections of the great wall that can be accessed from Beijing. Being the first portion of the great wall to open to tourists and for its well established traffic network, Badaling is the most visited section. I was indecisive of which section to visit, considering the number of tourists, accessibility, transportation and level of restoration. I chose the Mutianyu for my great wall adventure.

According to websites, to get to Mutianyu one can take bus no. 916 from Dongzhimen station in Beijing City to Huairou County then change to a taxi or minibus to the Mutianyu. The moment I walked out of the Dongzhimen subway station I saw a bus no. 916 picking up passengers at a bus stop. I ran to the bus and soon realized that it was not an express bus. The ticket collector told me that in order to get the express one I would have to go to the Dongzhimen long distance bus station which is located at No.45, Dongzhimenwai Xiejie, about 100 meters from the subway line 2 exit B. The express bus no. 916 commutes between Beijing City and Huairou County via the Jingcheng expressway (ticket can be purchased on bus from a ticket collector, RMB12, about a 40 minutes ride). I asked the ticket collector how could I go to Mutianyu from here at the Huairo bus ternimal before stepping out of the bus and she told me to take a bus no. 916 elsewhere. I was totally confused: I was on a bus no. 916 and that bus didn't pass by any places that looks like a great wall and why couldn't I take a bus from the terminal? I figured the bus no. 916 in Huairou County took a different route than the one in Beijing City so I followed her instruction and walked to a bus stop waiting for the bus. The driver of the first bus no. 916 shook his head when I asked him whether Mutianyu was one of the destinations of the bus then I walked across the road and got the same answer from the second bus driver. I walked back to the bus terminal and this time got a promising answer: take a bus no. 936. After getting another shaking head answer from the driver of bus no. 936, I surrendered to a taxi driver who had been trying to sell the service the moment I got out of the bus. According to websites, the price of a one way trip to Mutianyu is from RMB 30~50 and I made a deal with the driver in a cost of RMB80 for a round trip.

The Mutianyu great wall (07:30~17:30; RMB40/45 without/with CD) has 2 cable car stations, one of them also equipped with wheeled toboggans to ride down from the wall on a winding metal track. I took the cable car (RMB35 for oneway/50 for a round trip) that lifted to the No 14th watch tower; from there I turned right and climbed all the way to the tower No. 1 where the road ended. I was hoping that I could catch the tail end of autumn hues as a background but as it turned out, the withered surroundings helped the great wall to stand out in the sun and diminished the modern look of it from the renovations, creating a greater sense of time proper to the place.

Mutianyu on Wikipedia: (Chinese: 慕田峪; pinyin: Mùtiányù) is a section of the Great Wall of China located in Huairou County 70km northeast of Beijing. The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is connected with Jiankou in the west and Lianhuachi in the east. As one of the best-preserved parts of the Great Wall, the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall used to serve as the northern barrier defending the capital and the imperial tombs.

First built in the mid-6th century during the Northern Qi, Mutianyu Great Wall is older than the Badaling section of the Great Wall. In the Ming dynasty, under the supervision of General Xu Da, construction of the present wall began on the foundation of the wall of Northern Qi. In 1404, a pass was built in the wall. In 1569, the Mutianyu Great Wall was rebuilt and till today most parts of it are well preserved. The Mutianyu Great Wall has the largest construction scale and best quality among all sections of Great Wall.

Built mainly with granite, the wall is 7-8 meters high and the top is 4-5 meters wide. Compared with other sections of Great Wall, Mutianyu Great Wall possesses unique characteristics in its construction.

  • Watchtowers are densely placed along this section of the Great Wall - 22 watchtowers on this 2,250-meter-long stretch.
  • Both the outer and inner parapets are crenelated with merlons, so that shots could be fired at the enemy on both sides - a feature very rare on other parts of the Great Wall.
  • The Mutianyu Pass consists of 3 watchtowers, one big in the center and two smaller on both sides. Standing on the same terrace, the three watchtowers are connected to each other inside and compose a rarely seen structure among all sections of Great Wall.

Besides, this section of Great Wall is surrounded by woodland and streams. The forest-coverage rate is over 90 percent.

Bird Nest and Water Cube
I think the most mentionable architecture on the planet in August 2008 was the Bird Nest (ticket selling: 09:00~17:30 at gate D, RMB 50; open hours: 09:00~18:00) and the Water Cube (09:00~18:30, RMB30) in Beijing. Getting there is best done by subway line 8 from the two stations, Olympic Sports Center and Olympic Green. There is no better station as both stations are situated in a 10 minute walk from the center of the venues.

I followed the arrow signs that were hung on the fences of the water cube to get a ticket to go in. After circumnambulating the building I still couldn't find the place for tickets. I overheard a guy asking a security about the location of the ticket booth, so I followed him to the booth that was one block over the water cube on the west side. It was 18:00 around, all the lights were off and the area looked like a construction site. I read the rule for ticket purchasing: started at 8:30AM, 5 sections would be opened daily for ticket purchasing, once tickets for one section were sold out, visitors could start purchasing tickets for the next section until all tickets were sold out. I wondered under such ticketing policy how tourtists could ever get a chance to buy tickets as scalpers teamed up to plunder. I was frustrated about the situation and my last resort to get in the water cube was the large scale symphonic concert that integrates lighting, laser and waterscapes with world music. The show started at 19:30 in the price ranged from RMB200 to 800. I read the advertisement and went back to the east-north corner of the water cube to buy a ticket. Once again, the booth was closed and after the trip to Mutianyu I decided to call it a day.

Hutong and Night life
Hutongs are narrow streets or alleys formed by lines of siheyuan--the traditional courtyard residences. The most extensive and best preserved hutongs can be found around Jiaodaokou, Dongcheng district. Situated in the center of the hutong area, the Gǔlóu (Drum Tower) and Zhōnglóu (Bell Tower) were used to tell time and became watches for the officials and civilians. Although the towers have lost their function of telling time, they could be served as a landmark and starting point for tourists in a hutong tour. The NanLuGuXiang (NLGX) and Yandai Byway (click on the blue and purple lines on the map below for more information) are the two most tourists attracting hutongs in the area. Hutongs in modern era have become tourist attractions, a place where cultures and the living styles of ancient Beijing could be unveiled. However, souvenir shops, restaurants and bars came and stationed in with tourists, despite the effort of preserving the old hutong style, the atmosphere in NLGX and Yandai Byway was never the same as in the old time.

I rented a bicycle (RMB15/hour; RMB300 for deposit) to explore the area and saw a large construction in progress on the west side of Gulou Dajie. I worried such scale of construction would create more modern hutongs as tourist attractions instead of renovating the traditional courtyard residences as hutong cultures conservation. I saw the dilemma from the point of view as a foreigner and I was curious about what the residents have to say.

There are two bar areas in Beijing, the Sanlitun Entertainment Area and the Shichahai Bar Area. Shichahai consists of the following three lakes: the Xihai (west sea), Houhai (back sea) and the Qianhai (front sea). Bars are concentracted on Houhainanyan and Qianhaibeiyan (red line on the map) whereas restaurants are located on Qianhaisiyan, a pedestrian precinct(green line on the map). I was hoping to enjoy myself in a bar that has a live band performance but those who approached wanted to offer not only beers and live bands but also sex. I didn't know it was because I looked desperately horny or what, I couldn't lose those panders tailing me every corner I went. I fled the area like a chicken.

View Beijing Hutong in a larger map

Lama Temple
According to travel books, Yōnghégōng (Lama temple, 09:00~17:00, RMB25, Subeway line 2/5 Yonghegong Station) is one of the largest and most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world; the building and the artworks of the temple combine Han Chinese and Tibetan styles. The Buddhism in China (as well as in Taiwan) is a combination of Mahayana and Taoism, I was curious to see what kind of fusion would be when the influence of Tibetan Buddhism was introduced.

The architecture looked like any buildings in the imperial palace, I couldn't tell the true identity of this court as a temple without censers and cushions in front of the buildings for worshipers. Most of deities worshipped here were commonly seen in Buddhist temples, it seemed the influence of Tibetan Buddhism was limited, I couldn't find a new style of Buddhism that combines Mahayana, Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism as expected. A huge statue of Maitreya (18 meters) was positioned in the Pavilion of Infinite Happiness, the last main hall, won a position in Guinness Book of World Records for being carved out out of a single piece of sandalwood.


robert yarn said...

I admire the valuable information you offer in your articles. I will bookmark your blog.I think anyone want to tour abroad then beijing tours can be one the best destination for holiday vacation see The great wall of China and much more...

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