On the Road to Beijing
When I was a kid I was told to finish my dinner because “children were starving in China.” We touched down in Beijing a week ago and all the children I’ve seen look pretty well fed. Thanks Mom and Dad for coercing me into eating that cold meatloaf.
Beijing is a busy, bustling city. We spend the first morning walking through Tiananmen Square, the site of the 1989 democracy protest. Ya’ll remember the iconic image of the guy standing in front of the tank.
We walked under a picture of Chairman Mao, the size of a movie screen, and entered an archway leading to the Forbidden City. Here lie well-preserved palaces and temples from 24 emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties that lived and worked in palatial splendor. The place was packed. The Chinese love their history
The following day we taxied an hour and a half outside of Bejing to a section of the Great Wall of China called Mutianyu. The wall was first built in 550 and later reinforced around 1400. The Wall was built to keep out the likes of Genghis Kahn and his army of invading Mongols. It didn’t work. Genghis moved his troops into China in 1211.
I’d watched a Smithsonian special about the wall before we flew to China. I learned that the strength and longevity of the Great Wall of China lies in the sticky rice that was used as its mortar.
Over 400,000 people perished in the construction of the wall. Apparently they left them where they died. So this place is not only a barricade, but a tomb as well. The great wall was called “the longest cemetery on earth.”
We could have ridden the cable car up from the parking lot to the mountain ridge and the Wall, but we climbed the billion steps. It was a grueling work as crows cawed from the skies above.
We reached the top and explored the watchtowers and parapets for two hours taking selfies and imagining a horde of barbarians raining down on us from the north. I sharpened my dagger and held watch.
We concluded our visit to Beijing with a duck dinner. Not any duck dinner. But Peking duck at Suji Minfu, the best place in Beijing to eat duck. Peking duck is glorious. They started roasting duck in China around 420, one of the main dishes in the imperial court. Now everyone can enjoy the thin, crisp skin and amazing meat eaten in a pancake with scallion, cucumber, sweet bean sauce. No one spoke English but that did not matter. Duck was the common denominator.
At a nearby table three Chinese gents were feasting on duck and knocking back quantities of clear alchohol, maybe Chinese rice wine. They were happy and loud and looked at us and smiled. As we finished our meal and passed their table I said, “Ni hai” and shook their hands. They offered me a shot glass of their excellent rice wine. I drank it back to their great delight and with thumbs up we forged our very own U.S. – China détente.