Jan/10
20

By yesterday, Jeff had concluded his meetings, which turned out to extremely productive and fruitful. They liked him, he liked them, etc. It was a most successful start to the real discussions that will result in an investor to finance the project. There are several more potential partners circling and interested in getting into higher level discussions with Jeff but this was the first one to take things to the next level.

I was prepared to sell the condo and sell our cars and take the children out of private schools to make this new company work. I’d done it before but it’s shaping up that I won’t have to do that this time around and, while it’s too early for the champagne, I am very optimistic and grateful. Let’s hope that things continue to be bright and hopeful so we can fund this company, hire all these sharp people who are applying, get some decent insurance, and get this game started!

Anyway, we had an entire day that was free so we were ready to see the Great Wall of China. It’s almost 10,000 miles long, if you can imagine that, but the part we went to see was only about an hour’s drive from Beijing.

It turned out to be nothing like I expected it to be.

The first thing was that you can see parts of the Great Wall from the freeway. Like, oh there’s the Great Wall of China!, right above a gas station.

See what I mean? That’s the Wall there, on top of the hill. Weird, huh?

The second thing that I noticed was that the wall is…yes, it IS a wall but it’s more complicated than that. It’s not a wall like we would think of it, like the Berlin Wall, for example. It’s a series of watchtowers on the top of mountains in a line, with fortified stairways between them. Below, you can see that the stairways is a smaller “wall” that you would expect. It’s not uniform at all.

And the cold…oh, yes. It was in the teens with a ferocious wind that probably made it feel closer to single digits or lower.

When I got out of the car, I pulled one glove on my right hand and then immediately pulled my left glove on…but my fingers had already gotten numb and I had difficulty getting the right fingers in place in the glove. Like, 10 seconds in the air.

I was so unprepared. I have on cotton socks, jeans, and that jacket looks like down but is just a cheap fiberfill thing I bought for $24, which is perfect for Seattle’s gentle 50 degree winters. Thank goodness for The World’s Most Awesome Hat and my scarf. Without it, I would not have been able to make it. I considered buying new stuff just for this outing but ultimately decided to pass because I figured

How cold can it really be?

Spoken like a person from Texas, ladies and gentleman.

It was our plan to climb the stairs to the top watchtower, a climb that takes about three hours round trip. After about ten seconds of feeling the cold, seeing the stairs, and feeling the thin mountain air, we hopped in line for the ancient sliding car (cable car) to the top.

Jeff gives this idea a big, big thumbs up.

I am surprised that we made it without mishap as the cable car is probably about as old as the wall itself, manned by bored looking Red Army cadets, and buffeting by huge gusts of wind that take the car almost sideways as you travel along. It was terrifying at points but, on the plus side, it was 5 degrees warmer.

On the way up, our guide told us this was the coldest day of the year so far and that it was supposed to warm up by twenty degrees or more in the next few days. Nice.

As you can tell, I was too cold to try and frame up pictures properly but I hope you can get a sense here of how unbelievably steep and forbidding these mountains are….you can’t imagine being able to walk across them, let alone built things in a pre-industrial age.

As we watched people struggle up the stairway, literally climbing a mountain, we were very happy we wimped out and took the cable car.

In places, there are no stairs…you just hang on to the side railings and climb a very steep slippery slope of paving stones.

Once we got off the cable car, there was good news and bad news.

The good news was that the sections of wall to climb were not very steep compared to the sections we saw from the cable car.

The bad news was that it was all-out nightmare cold, to the point that everything hurt, even your lungs as you took a breath.

On the right side of my face, you see see that my eyes watered with the wind and then froze on my cheek.

Right after that picture was taken, I heard what I thought was a baby crying on the slope behind me. For a second, I thought I was hallucinating until I looked down and saw one of many… domesticated cats.

They are feral Manx cats, with no tails. Is it possible that they are the decedents of cats that came as companions for people guarding the wall? No one seemed to know anything about them but to find a big population of feral cats on a remote mountaintop…well, there’s probably a fascinating story there.

With that, we began our climb. Slowly. Painfully.

Here you can get a better sense of what the wall was really used for…each watchtower had a huge bonfire pre built and a smaller mini-fire off separately. When someone wanted to send up a warning, they would light their big signal bonfires and then each watchtower would spot the fire and light their own and so on, up and down ten thousand miles of mountaintops in a matter of hours.

This gives you a better idea of how monumental the construction of the wall is, each brick hand carried up here.

Almost to the top watchtower. The steps are huge, like almost two normal steps put together, and very uneven. Normally I just zone out on stairs but this time I had to watch where I placed each step, carefully, or else I was going to fall a very long way down.

Just in case you were thinking about it….

At last, we reach the watchtower. Sadly, this one is bricked up but in many of them, you can go in, climb up to the higher level and actually see the bonfire pit for the signal fires.

Once I rested for a minute, I was overwhelmed with the experience of being in this place. What an opportunity. I never thought I would ever see The Great Wall.

Gratuitous cute husband pictures.

Then, shaky and exhausted and oxygen deprived and very, very, very cold….we carefully made our way down the stairs, which was harder than going up because my hands were so numb that I couldn’t hold the metal of the railing very well, and got on the cable car going down.

I warmed up slowly as we drove home, still marveling that I’d been able to see The Wall, and after a steaming hot bath to thaw out, we headed out for pizza and beer for lunch. I’m sorry but it’s true. I love the food here but we passed a pizza place on the street and it smelled so good that we raced in and chowed down on what is probably the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life, washed down with a tankard of local beer.

Then we bought gifts for the children and packed up and in a few hours, we head to the airport to fly home, via Tokyo.

I can’t wait to hold the Square kids in my arms and kiss them and hear about the past 6 days. I miss them so much.

Until Seattle, then,

Annie

Jan/10
19

Sorry about that last post. That was 100 % jet lag kicking in. I could not keep my eyes open last night!

Anyway, what I did not mention was that before I went to the China People’s Revolutionary Military Museum yesterday, I went to….

see Mao Tse Tung’s embalmed body in his mausoleum in Tiananamen Square.

Yes. Beyond AWESOME.

There were no cameras allowed so I have to describe it to you:

Lots of stern looking Red Army soldiers posted everywhere, no hats, no bags, no cameras. It’s an hour long wait. A long, silent line of people pared up two by two that snakes across a frozen Tiananamen Square and up the steps into the mausoleum. Once you enter the doors into the building, you get hit with a most welcome blast of heated air and a giant white statue of Mao, surrounded by dozens of… red poinsettias. I had to stifle a laugh. They even had the red foil around the base, just like a Christmas poinsettia you pick up at the grocery store. As I was the only westerner in the hour-long line, there was no one to share the joke.

Then you get marched, quickly, into a room with a giant floor-to-ceiling glass screen protecting a glass box that holds Mao’s body, flanked by some seriously bad-ass Red Army folks standing at attention. He looks good for someone who died in 1976. Kinda waxy with seriously perfect hair. Jet black hair, no grey. He’s draped with I later found out is the Chinese Communist Party flag but which looks suspiciously like the old Soviet flag.There’s a giant spotlight focused right on his face. You can’t stop to examine him, you are kept marching by at a very fast pace. You see him for maybe 10 or 12 seconds.

The crowds are extremely solemn and respectful, even the kids.

Then you get marched out into the cold again and the crowd erupts into typical Chinese laughter and raucous conversation.

No joke…it was the event of a lifetime. I live for weird moments like that.

After that, I dragged my frostbitten limbs over to the car & we drove over to the military museum, where my wonderful guide patiently translated two huge floors of displays about the origin of the Chinese Communist State, starting with the formation of the party in 1921.

I was very lucky to have taken a year of Chinese history in high school and while I have forgotten pretty much everything I learned in high school, I was pleased that I could throw in comments like

Ah, so this is where The Long March begins….

and have some credibility.

In the three hours we were inside the museum, a cold front moved over Beijing. I didn’t think it was possible for it to be colder. Ponds and rivers are frozen solid. Your fingers go numb in a few minutes.

When we walked out of the museum, the street was blocked off with a procession. It was the bodies of 8 Chinese UN workers killed in the earthquake in Haiti. Those white vans you see going right in the street below are draped with a yellow and black drape on the headlights and they each contain a body.

After they passed by, buses containing the families of the dead followed.

I did not take pictures.

Once we were safely cocooned in the warm(er) car, we headed out to lunch. By this point, both the driver and the guide and I all love each other because they love that they are not driving me around to shop and that I am genuinely interested Revolutionary history, as it’s called, and I Iove them because they speak great English, have a great sense of humor, and are up for anything.

They ask me where I want to go for lunch and I tell them I want to go somewhere where westerners never go.

After extended conversation, they settle on a Beijing style noodle house called…wait for it…

The Noodle King.

It goes without saying that it was delicious.

These are Beijing-style noodles, “hand cut”. It was explained to me with great seriousness that hand cut noodles are….there was much back and forth in Chinese to find the right word…. chewier.

Noodles are such a serious business in Beijing that every year my guide (who probably has at least a passing connection to Chinese intelligence, yes, it’s probably true & I was careful about what I said so as not to jeopardize my visa options in the future for this great country) participates in a noodle tour of the city where you go around on buses to eat the city’s best noodles. People comes from as far away as San Francisco for the tour.

After NoodleFest 2010, I wanted to see the old city of Beijing, the crowded low slung ancient neighborhoods surrounding what used to be the Imperial City.

Shortly after I took this picture, my camera began to malfunction because of the cold. The plan was to climb up to the bell tower built in the 1490s, in the Ming Dynasty, and see the bell that was used for timekeeping in old Beijing. The construction was superb, absolutely superb. It was as solid as if it has been build 10 or 20 years ago.

The view from the top wasn’t much to see, in large part because everyone is inside and the streets are quiet and empty. No kites from the roof. No rickshaws in the alleys. It was quiet and still and cold.

The bell itself was a marvel, al least three stories tall and as wide as a Chevy Suburban. The Emperor who commissioned the bell brought metalsmiths from across China in the 1490s to cast the bell but the casting kept failing and the bell would crack.

Finally, the Emperor became frustrated and set a deadline for the completion of the bell. If it was not finished in time, all the metalsmiths would be beheaded.

The bell got finished.

Afterwards, I tried to walk around and take pictures but the combination of my nubs of feet in my cotton socks (! cotton!) and my running shoes (people, believe me when I tell you that I have learned my lesson about cold like this) and the fact that my camera would only take a picture every third time I tried, made for a miserable experience.

All the foods in the markets are frozen by the cold. You have to take them home to thaw them out to eat them.

In warmed weather, my guide says that these store are crowded with people drinking tea and smoking and playing games and chatting.

I think I have to see that someday, don’t you?

Even though it was only 3 PM and I had at at least two more hours of daylight, I came back to the hotel to try and thaw out. Happily, Jeff’s meeting ended shortly after I got home so we made appointments for late afternoon Chinese foot massage, had dinner, and passed out for the night.

Today, in just a few minutes, we are leaving to drive up into the mountains to see a section of the Great Wall.

In… the mountains.

Yours, doubling up the cotton socks,

Annie

Jan/10
19