Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011 (Mutianyu and Beijing)

YES, OF COURSE THE VILLAGE HAS SOME FREE WIRELESS COMMUNICATION: We (especially Sandy, above) were happy to enjoy fairly easy communication in our residence, called the Big Rock House because of a large rock that the living room encircles. Our place was in the village of Yingbeigou (aka Beigou). Today, the village loudspeaker crackled to life about 8:30 a.m. All we knew for sure was that the broadcast alternated from a man to woman. There was no urgency in the voices. Rather, it became clear that this was a routine happening. No point even guessing what it was all about. But the voices were clear as a bell and easily heard from inside our residence, called the Big Rock House. As wireless communication, it seemed to work just fine, albeit it was one-way.
This "broadcast" was a loud reminder that this is a Communist country. In fact, one of the village's signs shows how to merge two widely recognizable symbols--the heart and the hammer-and-sickle (right, photo by Sandy). [Yes, Communism can be lovable.) Andrew Herron has provided the translation of the accompanying characters:
"Bohai Township [implied: Communist] Party Member
Educational/Demonstration Village".
During the middle of the "broadcast," we headed to the nearby village of Mutianyu for breakfast at The Schoolhouse. There we asked a longtime resident about the announcement. Our informant told us this is a regular update from local officials for the residents of that neighboring village. The information includes, for example, the practical (how much a vendor can charge for chestnuts that day) and the utterly intriguing (how much electricity certain individuals and families used the previous month). Sometimes music blares from the village speakers.
Villages use this all-points-bulletin resource differently. In Beigou, the officials generally use it every day, a couple of times. On the other hand, the mayor of another village uses the broadcast system much more sporadically, according to one resident. They said, with a wink, the mayor used it only when the spirits moved him.
We found out more about the area and the people behind The Schoolhouse from a 2009 article in China Daily, "Great Wall tourist enterprises engender local support."

A RIDGE TOO FAR: After breakfast, we decided to walk over a ridge and back to our house to pack up for the trip home. Someone gave us a map, pointed to the trail, which began about a half mile down the allegedly one-way street that many merrily use (in both directions). She pointed to the trail head right near the entrance to the Great Wall Hotel. After saying we will really enjoy the 30-minute walk, she then uttered that worrisome phrase: "You can't miss it!" That doomed us.
We made it to the beginning of the trail OK. Then, once among the brambles and stones, we managed to miss the trail--TWICE. We actually scanned the soil each time looking for FOOTPRINTS that were not our own. (I'm fairly certain that the idea of NOT following our own footprints was Sandy's.) We were a couple of regular Kit Carsons on this trek. But we eventually made it (45 minutes or so), thanks in large part to sight lines that were uncluttered by leaves.
It was, despite the retracing, a wonderful walk. You're welcome to try it yourself. Don't worry about the trail. You can't miss it.
As we walked through the village of Beigou, back to the house, we were struck by the quiet. The loudspeaker was off. We passed by some public exercise equipment that looked brand new (left, photo by Sandy), but decided not to climb on board. We had already had enough exercise for the morning. And if I fell off or broke one (remember, I have some girth), I didn't want my name broadcast to the entire village on Wednesday morning. Or, worse, get called to the principal's office before we had time to pack.

A DISH WITH A REAL KICK: We started out for Beijing. After traveling about TEN MINUTES, we pulled over for lunch at a restaurant near Mutianyu (I think the name was Xiaolongpu.) We had had a fairly large breakfast only three hours earlier. But this was part of the tour, so we surrendered to it. Even though we weren't all that hungry, we absolutely had to make room for one of the restaurant's traditional dishes: DONKEY. That's right. DONKEY (aka parent of a mule.
The dish was garnished nicely with a pretty flower (right, photo by Sandy). Actually, it was OK, sliced and pressed like luncheon meat. We doused the pieces in a chilli-based sauce. And we washed it down with some beer, half an acre of beans and some absolutely fabulous grilled trout. Gotta find out where to get some donkey in Winchester. Seemed ideal for a sandwich. Wouldn't you love to pack a donkey sandwich in your child's school lunch bag? (Then tell him or her you did it when they turned 21.)

A NESTING IMPULSE: When we got to Beijing, we took advantage of having an opportunity to get a close look at the Bird's Nest stadium (made famous in the 2008 Summer Olympics, aka Games of the XXIX Olympiad) (above). There are virtually no straight edges in the building's exterior, which makes it quite a challenge for workers who dangle vertically to clean surfaces that flow away from them (right).
In the early evening, Sandy and I headed to the Wangfujing Shopping Street, which was near the hotel. No adzes or mattocks for sale there. Here, Rolex coexists smoothly with Li-Ning and fried insects. We bought some chopsticks (at the Wangfujing Chopsticks Store) and cloth shoes.

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