Sunday, July 06, 2008

The good news is that the thoughtful folks at Yangshuo Mountain Retreat have a really affordable (if less than speedy) internet connection. The bad news is that the computer screen is drawing lots of late night insects. So this'll be quick: China is stunning. Ambivalence and ambiguity seem elemental here, but so does ambition.

Margaret and I didn't lack ambition either when we signed up for a decidedly out of the ordinary Great Wall of China experience: hiking for 4.5 hours through an unrestored part of the wall (starting in a forest on the 'enemy side') to an in-process-of-restoration section, and ending at the restored-and-touristy section. Here's a shot from the first part.

It was beastly hot, and humid beyond belief, but our guide said it was the first time in weeks that you could see this far. The view wasn't our only reward, however -- we ate at a full-fledged mom & pop restaurant in a traditional part of the city, where the Peking Duck was as authentic as it was delicious. As proof, here's all that was left of my once-heaping plate. (As you can see, the vinegar peanuts at 12 o'clock and the lotus root with hawthorn at 10 o'clock didn't fare as well.)

And finally, here's a photo from a park on the way to the Forbidden City, which totally belies the mad crowds and unrelenting traffic on the other side of the thick, ancient walls. (For the record, 'mad,' 'unrelenting' and 'thick' also describe the sweltering heat Beijing subjected us to -- God help the Olympic athletes who show up in a few weeks. They've already stopped non-essential construction, the bulk of commercial trucking, and many industries in the region to help clear the air of the city's famous pollution.)


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