There are the obvious reasons why one travel blogs. To share travel adventures, through photos and words, trying to encapsulate an experience to the reading and viewing audience. To imbue in others the same excitement, curiosity and inspiration that the blogger felt whilst traveling. To pinpoint exact emotional exaltation.
This is also the general sentiment of why I travel blog as well. The intricacies of it are way more personal. Solo travel for me only started at 24, with a trip to Brno, Czech Republic with a theatre show that ended up, with a very unexpected job in Prague and then a 4-month expedition, tracing my family’s heritage through Eastern Europe. I had never a train before and was thrilled with sticking my head out of the window, letting the wind make my eyes squint, a tornado of my brown hair, like a dog in a car ride. That same trip, I was introduced to couchsurfing. Travel took on an entirely new meaning, where it wasn’t simply placards and buildings and other travelers, it was local people, personal accounts, trans-ocean humour, Ipod music exchanges, one or two dance sessions, a game of golf in Dijon, foraging for dinner in Groningen. All I had read about travel came from books and those books laid out the foundational blueprints of how to travel. Yet there had to be something else, something more expansive and less focused on the MUST SEES and the MUST EATS.
So blogs. First big websites like Trip Advisor (which I still use as a base for exploration), then more obscure travel sites like Atlas Obscura (which, if you haven’t checked out, is the best source for Off the Beaten Path travel oddities), to the worldwide blogosphere of adventurers, trippers, dream followers and spontaneity experts. I was hooked to their words, as many of them weren’t simply telling me what they saw, but how they felt, how places impacted them or didn’t. Blogging is personal creative writing, an individual’s take on the world through their eyes, through their pens, through their keyboards. It can be laced with superlatives, poetics, judgment, digressions, failure, no words at all, all visual. I blog, even if only a few read it, to show them my version of cities and towns, of nature and of bike trips. They are my visceral accounts of the world. They are my endorsement of decorative language, trying to squeeze out the true emotion I felt in a singular moment, possibly written days after. I cannot prescribe nor would I ever want to, a reaction to what I write or how it effects where people decide to go. I hope that the few who do read it, have an opinion or an idea that sprouts from it. I hope, as that’s all one can do with putting writing into the public’s glance, that it pushes people to either travel or challenge themselves, ask questions, look unto other blogs to continue planning or imagining a more complete global sphere.
I frequently embellish memories. I cannot remember exacts, so I shameless fill in the blanks. I blog because I love to write. I love to reimagine what I have seen, to reinvigorate the recollections with verbose imaculations and neologisms (such as imaculations). Though, recent travel, via bicycle gives me the space to write as I travel. I stop where I want and if I feel the urge, I jot down the day, in summation or elongation. I write in a blue tent, where one of the poles is partially snapped due to a crow landing on it, by the waning sun, drifting behind the red mountains just outside of Santa Monica. That is an actual memory. The things that I lock into my brain vault are sometimes obscure fragments. Sometimes, due to my prior habits during travels (drinking copious amounts at night), memories are literally slits of narrow light with broken and blurred images. I write as form of self-preservation, because one of my greatest fears is loosing it all to time. Not necessarily as a legacy of what I have accomplished, but more as something for myself to look back on and simply account for what I have done. Not as somewhat of a CV for pomposity, but more as a timeline that I existed.
While my travels include people and places, I also consciously set quests for myself. I blog to uncover gems, maybe not ones that were necessarily covered by layers of sediment, just ones’ that maybe overlooked, underappreciated, the map to get to them has been used as scratch paper or made into papier-mâché for a birthday piñata (what I am saying is that no one cares where this place is). Blogs and websites are full of hints and my duty with these hints is to test them out and confirm their validity. This description seems quite vague without an example. The city of Xian, China, was the ancient capital for hundreds of years. Tourists flock here to cycle the ancient walls and see the UNESCO approved Terracotta Warriors. What very few people know about, is that at the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi, a ways out of city, another burial plot was opened to revealed, miniature terracotta figurines, along with terracotta livestock and chariots. In total, over 50,000 pieces are on display. Along with this amazing experience, is a very beautifully set up underground museum, with large vaulted glass walls revealing the digs, but beside and below you, you are free to trapes around the tomb area, see several of the tomb gates, and watch an AMAZING hologram film about the history of the site (no 3d glasses required). This place is completely under the radar and when I got there, I basically had free range of the place (think Night at the Museum, minus the reanimation of historical items). There were a handful of different directions as to how to get to this place, since it was in an odd location of the highway, leading north of the city. Armed with a few of these Internet found directions, plus the Chinese characters to this place, I ventured out to confirm this place’s existence. Luck had it that the #4, the first bus I got on and was on my list, was confirmed by the bus driver to be the correct bus. For me, that could happen is I end up going somewhere else and possibly exploring something unexpected. So it’s a win win for me.
I blog to interact with people. Blogs are a dialogue, a community of shared experiences and responses, where the responses may come in the form of words or in exploration of what the blogs’ describe. I hope that as this site builds that this dialogue fills the forums and itinerary of the new site (which will be up THIS MONTH) with evolving dialogues and information that result in people testing the waters, unburdening themselves with limits by asking questions and seeing the blog reflect your inquiries, with maybe not always answers, but further explorations, adding points to the map that I will travel to confirm experiences and places or discover errors, saving you the hassle of a fruitless expedition to nowhere. My blogs and my travels will mirror your dreams, aspirations, desires, or highlight your wonderful memories, follow your deep incites, possibly making travel a more tangible possibility instead of something you do on free weekends or something you’ll do when your decrepitly old.
I blog, because it makes me feel wonderful. It’s me facing my fears as well. I travel around the world, yet I am scared of publishing my writing. I believe it is good, that it is informative and well written, but am afraid of it being said to be otherwise. This is my version of being bold and it holds more importance that what many would be considered a blip, not part of any creative career. But blips are my greatest assets. Microcosms are my favorite worlds. I am worried about not getting anywhere; I am worried about denouncing things in favor of acceptance.
“It not a Great Wall. It’s an alright wall. It’s the Alright Wall of China.”
-Karl Pilkton, An Idiot Abroad.
After reading information about The Great Wall in his Lonely Planet China Guide and realizing many of the tourist sections of the wall were rebuilt in the 1980s, to include such ancient devices of revelry such as massive, German engineered slides, hawkers selling you skull caps with a single braid of black hair coming out of the back of them and pits filled with suicidal brown bears, Karl was left unimpressed by what some would consider one of the greatest feats of human skill and endurance of all time. Like Mr. Pilkington, I was very wary to see “The Wall”, as I was not interesting in see Great Wall 2.0. Not even 2.0. Mavericks upgrade. Shitty, cheap and simply a money grab.
The GREAT thing about the GREAT Wall is it is humongous. One, I shouldn’t be so judgement, so….yes…one…fine…gentleman attempted to walk the entire length of the wall. For starters, there isn’t just ONE wall. Regardless, He failed. Like not, you were SOOO close. No. He failed miserably. It goes over ice mountain ranges. Like, your ability to walk isn’t how it is in Skyrim in real life, sir. Its Lord of the Ring’s helicopter shot BIG. Back to the Greatness of this, the Chinese government simply doesn’t have enough resources nor care to “tourify” every inch of it and tourists aren’t going to be bothered to trek into the middle of no where to stare at a wall. Or so they think. I wanted to see The Great Wall. Or more so, the Real Great Wall, not the Fake Wall. Luckily there are enough people on the internets that feel the same way.
For all your up-to-date Wall needs, check out: http://www.greatwallforum.com/
Huanghuachang, the Great Wall that goes into a river, due to damming was the planned destination. Buses were researched and on a rainy weekend morning I headed out on a somewhat empty bus from Dongzhimen Central Station. Our excitement was a sweet as sugar, but the rain would not melt it. So maybe it was as sweet as honey as I think precipitation has no effect of that sticky substance. Through the outskirt hills of Beijing, in Huirou city. A few stops. Nothing unusual. Faces come on and off. Sits empty and fill. A pair of eyes meet mine.
“You going to Great Wall”
“Oh. It’s closed.”
Pause. From my research I knew that this was an unregulated part of the Wall. This means no ticket booth or official check in procedures. This SHOULD mean no opening or closing time. I was confused and in my confusion, we got off the bus and loaded into his vehicle. It was like so trance. Like trusting the white panel van full of candy.
“Where are we going?”
“To the Great Wall”
“What? I thought it was closed”
“Mutianyu is open”
Mutianyu was one of the horribly touristic sections of The Wall I had wished to never encounter. We had been duped. The man, who was wearing an official bus staff uniform, removed it. He was a Black Taxi Driver and we were at him whim, along with another white couple that sat in the car with us as well. I counted my wad o’ money. I knew that Huanghuacheng was no longer an option anymore, but I was damned if I was going to pay a zillion dollars to go pay a zillion more dollars to hang out with a zillion tourists on a 5 year old’s macaroni art project, deemed The Great Wall. We came to a “reasonable” deal. Exiting the black cab, we were suddenly drenched from above and from all angles, by rain and dripping hawkers. Pretty sure I don’t need a 4 foot statue of Mao made of the finest plastics. No, thank you, that’s awful kind of you, I just don’t think I am in the mood to buy a pet bird or cat or dog or ?. Though we did need an umbrella. Again, hard bargained, including using the line, I live in Beijing, I know how much this should cost, don’t fuck with me (yeah, I totally have no idea how to say that last line, but imagine that reaction). The adult umbrella was ridiculously priced, so we bought two kid ones. It was like walking on a tight rope, balancing the circumference of the small umbrella perfectly above our heads. Through hawkers row, lined with booths, flashing blinding lights into your retina, like maybe if you were blind you wouldn’t be able to see the piles of shit, drinks, t-shirts, shit and more shit being sold. But, to be honest, they are people just trying to scrape by, so I get it. I feel for them, but on a day where the clouds had opened both physically and metaphorically, I had very little patience to gab. Purchased expensive tickets with a glib smile plastered to my face plastered in wet hair. Climbed numerous stairs up and up and up. AND Viola! On the Wall. Or were we?
The fog, which was as thick as being surrounded by a legion of Santa beards, made it difficult to tell exactly where you were. It felt as if we were on a road in the clouds. The rain was actually a blessing in disguise, as it cleaned the wall of most of the tourists and hawkers. Yet, with map in hand, I had alternative plans. I was heading to the greyed out area at the edge of the map. I was going to see the REAL wall. And no, you can’t go beyond this point sign or cement blockade was going to stop me. Up an over the blockade and finally, we were face to face with antiquity. The fog felt more appropriate here, as if it became part of the myth of the wall, something that existed on a scroll in waves of black ink. We stood atop a crumbling tower, one of the many guard towers that appear along the wall. We followed The Wall for a bit. Old growth vegetation fought its way up through the crumbling structure. At points it was hard to tell where The Wall was and if we were just aimlessly meandering, lost in a sea of evergreens. But then a small rock, a patch of rubble would lead us onwards. We walked for 40 minutes until the underbrush, became the overbrush and we had to turned back, in fears of being engulfed. This part, getting to touch the real stone of this magnificent work, the same stones that the builders had assembled hundreds of years ago at the orders of their Emperor, was the pay off. Done with the Real Wall, the rest of the Wall was simply the elaborate pathway back to the bus stop. But wait! The story doesn’t end there!
I had to go to the washroom. Not being completely savvy in ways of the public washroom at tourist sites in China, I thought there’d be toilet paper. There was definitely not. My favorite game ensued. Check your pockets and see what will work. Several receipts and the umbrella cover. FINALLY, I found an alternative use for those things. Velvety soft.
Famished from the walk and not interesting in indulging in the extremely out of place Great Wall Subway or Baskin’ Robbins, we tried the local inn. The food was meh, but it filled the gap. Unfortunately, the slow service led to us missing our bus. No problem, we’ll just cab somewhere and bus from there. Black carred it to a bus stop. A bus stop in the middle of nowhere. Like NOWHERE. Wait. Wait. Wait…..RAIN. NIGHT. Finally. Bus…..bus comes and takes us into Huirou, where we catch a connecting bus back to Beijing.
The Great Wall is an interesting place to visit and can make a wonderful great day trip from Beijing. Just realize what you are getting into, what you want out of the experience and research alternatives. I ended up making it to Huanghuacheng and it was more of the experience that I wanted. Again, if you want to see an easily accessible, no hassle part of the wall, Mutianyu, may fit the bill. One note: Bring some information about The Wall with you, as it will truly enrich the experience.
More photos and info BELOW! If you enjoy this blog SUBSCRIBE and CHECK OUT the YOUTUBE CHANNEL. A busy summer for EACH MILE!
Quick Dos and Do Nots of the Great Wall of China:
DO your research. There are many sections of the Great Wall to see. Make sure you find a section that fits what you want to get out of the wall.
DO NOT listen to people telling you alternative information than watch you researched, especially shifty guys on the bus. They might be simply black taxis trying to get you to pay exorbitant fares to go with them. The bus will get you there.
DO Bring supplies. Food, water, rain coats, toilet paper. It’s for sale there, but at three times the price. PLUS, I don’t think toilet paper is for sale out there. It’s just a good idea to bring it with you everywhere.
DO NOT listen to the DON’T WALK HERE signs. They are simply trying to prevent you from walking on the part of the Wall they haven’t charged people to walk on. It has nothing to do with Wall preservation. Do you see anywhere else “preservation” happening?
DO bring info about the Wall. It’s a magnificent marvel, but context makes each part of it that much more awe ridden.
DO NOT expect that you will be alone on the tourist parts of the Wall. It will be you and 85 billion people trying to get a picture of the pristine Wall, without dude picking his nose not in the shot.
DIRECTIONS and INFO
The Great Wall – Mutianyu (慕田峪)
Cost: 45 Yuan
The fastest way is to take bus 916快 (express) or 916, which run from Dongzhimen to Huairou Bus Station first, get off at the terminus (or Qingchun Road North End or Huairou North Street), Walk to the bus stop on the diagonal corner of the intersection and take bus H23, H24 or 936 (Huairou to Dongtai) and get off at Mutianyuhuandao. Again, these buses’ numbers change frequently. Best to show the symbols of Mutianyu to the bus driver.
In, Vancouver, having millions of dollars gives you access to the easy life and many people make that quite visibly apparent. From the fantastical, to the ridiculous, it’s not to hard to sound like the narrator from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous in our not so humble city. Yet with such an influx of millionaires, the castles, the ridiculous cars, the restaurants with “homecooked” meals costing more than your home (or whatever hovel you can rent), none of it really surprises anyone. The gentrification of Vancouver replaces shelters and iconic structures with vegan donut shops and while it all seems distasteful, sadly, we are use to it.
In Beijing this gentrification process is happening as well. The old “hutong” living quarters are being replaced by malls and apartment blocks, but with the such limited space and possibly also the language barrier of not knowing exactly the purpose of the new buildings, the replacement facades don’t seem to delve into financially engrossing statements. Yet once you leave it’s epicenter, get out into the outlying districts, Beijing doesn’t seem as Beijing-y anymore. There is space, vast amounts of unused land, fields, even rivers (though the water in them looks like a liquefied rainbow). People with money head out into these vast expanses, that boarder along some of the poorest areas in the city and recreate worlds they have seen in advertisements and on the television. Since travelling to and from China yields a wealth of it’s own problems, this is the next best option.
Two and half hours of cycling north from my little hutong in the centre of the Dongsi District, which is 15 minutes on foot from the Forbidden City, I was first struck by image of trees. Not planted trees, but trees that were growing on their own accord, wild, uncontained, unplanned. Passed the last subway stop, the wide road heading towards the northern mountains is covered in dirt and garbage falling off and out of trucks, and buses and commuters who come from hours and hours a way to go to work in the hub. The financial pressure of city life allows for nothing better. People live in packed rooms of 10 or 12, in dorms, many miles from their places of work, just to say “I am a Beijinger”. Then again, I can’t say that their lives would be any better back in whatever province they came from.
Yet I wasn’t riding out this way to investigate this phenomena, but actually the polar opposite situation that Beijingers live, lavish and drape themselves in. Messing around on Google Earth, the night prior, I clicked on a picture from the north of Beijing that revealed a beautiful French chateau. What? That couldn’t be right. This was a rouse that would have been ending up in the middle of nowhere with nothing to show, having me grasp for photo ops of cool vegetation to justify my journey to myself and others. Searching “French chateau Beijing” in google peaked even more interest. The house, according the Chinese news, which made it a tad more reliable than google, said that this house did, indeed, exist. And here I was, standing in front of a replica of 1651 French Chateau. Specifically a replica of 1651 French Chateau, called Château de Maisons-Laffitte, located in the unknown, quaint village of PARIS, FRANCE. The replica, built on land that use to be occupied by wheat fields, is actually a luxury hotel and conference centre built by Mr. Zhang for a whopping 50 million. That’s dollars, not yuan (that would be like 5 followed by 75 billion zeros yuan). The landscape, the baroque architecture, the moat surrounding the house, even the staff wearing French period clothing, attempts to and succeeds to mimic it’s source material. Zhang originally wanted to shoot for the Palace of Versailles, but said it was “too big”. Mr. Zhang, I think we’ll let that one slide. No, what you have done here, complete with helicopter landing pad, wine museum, spa and French named restaurants, seems like the logical choice compared to that. The opulence is immeasurable, though I find it laughable, that with such a wealthy history of extravagance, rather than focus on exoticism, a proud Chinese business owner wouldn’t draw upon the his own history filled with massive palaces, temples and gardens. It seems to be a thing in China to idolize the outside world, that rich is better when it’s foreign rich. That’s whooole other post.
Now, I have seen in Beijing a reconstructed medieval Austrian town, which I will post pictures of once I have found them. Yet, once you get up and close to it, you can see the amateurness of it all. The uninspired murals, the lack of attention to detail. This copy, on the other hand, is a work of art on it’s own. Yes, ridiculous, absurd, out of place, but it’s there, so all one can do is admire it, walk through it’s vast dining rooms, ornate sitting rooms, ball rooms, rooms you have no idea what their function is, but possibly they are functionaless rooms just to remind you that when you have lots of money you don’t have to have a purpose, you can simply be.
After a exploring the grounds, the fountains and purchasing a 4 dollar water! (water in the city costs for the same product like 20 cents at most), I left this place, feeling I had discovered something not many people who live in Beijing know exists. Well now you do, so you have no excuse not to try and see this remarkable anomaly.
Of course, there is a sad side to this project. The land that use to be wheat fields fed up to 800 now landless peasants, before being occupied by this singular property. It’s depressing to think that a golf course, use to be fertile ground that provided life sustaining food for many people. Mr. Zhang DOES give the people, as a collective a $45 a month stipend and offers to hire them to maintain the land for $2 a day… Check below for directions and more info!
INFORMATION: Name of Place: Beijing Zhang Laffitte Chateau (定泗路) Directions: Get on Metro Line 5, heading north to Tiantongyuan North. Get off at Tiantongyuan North, exit on the East side, Exit A. Cross passed all the vendors, across the small street that is jammed with taxis, walk north a bit until you hit an intersection that is coming out of the parking lot. Make a right and cross over the main street. Walk north for a bit along the sketchy big road (named Litang Rd or S213). You will come to a bus stop, which should have a bus called 860路. Show the bus driver the name of the Chateau, which should help him tell you when to get off. If not, you can also show him the stop which is八仙庄南大街. Don’t be shy to ASK, even if you don’t know basic Mandarin, people are quite willing to help if you are persistent and simply show them things they can read, as opposed to trying to explain yourself with wild hand gestures and your mom’s dance moves (also awkward looking in front of a packed bus full of locals, trust me, it’s been done). If you have any other questions, tips, ideas, please email or comment on this post. Plus, if you want a moving visual of China and other adventures of have partaken in, check out my youtube page. PS – Really? 6 subscribers? Are cats knocking shit off tables THAT much more entertaining. If they are…. Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL59E469A3DF414464 Twitter: