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Location: Salt Lake City, Utah, United States

This blog is a record of events in the life of Joseph Taggart and his family since his spinal cord injury while body surfing in Guatemala in January 2006.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Adventures in Beijing-- Part 2

The Great Wall of China
Our second full day in Beijing was just as exhausting as the first. We started out early in the morning for a one-hour drive north out of the city. We were heading to the Great Wall of China!

After about 40 minutes of driving we entered a narrow canyon. The canyon was lush and green, a stark contrast to the metropolis of Beijing. Occasionally we could see sections of the Great Wall high on top of the mountains. There were also tall towers built atop the highest peaks. We later learned that they served both as lookouts and signal towers to the emperor in Beijing. When one tower lit the bonfire on top, the next one would lighht theirs, and so on and tell the signal reached Beijing (yes, just like in Lord of the Rings). Our guide told us that if there were an attack along the Great Wall, the emperor would know about it within a half-hour. This system is far faster than dispatching riders on horses to carry messages.

Once we reached the Great Wall in Badaling, we actually drove underneath it through a bridge to reach the parking lot. Driving underneath it felt a lot like driving through castle gates in a European-style fortress (See Google Satellite Map of the Badaling portion of the Great Wall). While we were purchasing our tickets we noticed that there were "man" certificates for sale. According to Chinese tradition "no man is a man" and "no hero is a hero" until he has climbed the Great Wall. I guess today I'm finally going to become a man :)

China is an extremely superstitious country, and it has been for thousands of years. Lucky numbers are 3, 7, 8 and 9; and of course 13 is unlucky. The number nine is specifically associated with the emperor. For example, in the Forbidden City, most decorations are done in nines. There are nine statuettes at the corners of every roof, there are nine traditional dragons (symbols of the emperor), and there are 81 (9 x 9) decorative nails in each gateway door within the city. Perhaps most impressively, there are exactly 999 rooms within the Forbidden City. The Summer Olympics in Beijing begin August 8, 2008 (8-8-08) at exactly 8:08 p.m. As you can see, the Chinese still take their superstitions about Lucky numbers very seriously.

In preparation for the Special Olympics in Beijing, an elevator was recently installed to make the top of the wall accessible to people in wheelchairs. I was excited to try it out. A security guard escorted us to the brand-new elevator, he told us through our translator/guide that the elevator was just installed a few weeks prior. He also mentioned that only 12 people had used the elevator before me, and that I would be . . . number 14 (Notice that he skipped the number 13 because labeling me as number 13 would be unlucky). Can you tell where the story is headed?

Lucky Number 13
I entered the elevator with a security guard, and it began to rise. The first time we got to the top but we could not get the outside door to open. So we went back down, reset the elevator, and tried again. The second try showed no improvement. The third time the elevator stopped about 2 1/2 feet short of the exit and completely died. We couldn't get it to go up, and we couldn't get it to go down. There I was, stuck in a glass box with a Chinese security guard at the Great Wall of China. Eventually we were able to jimmy the top door open so we could get some fresh air and access to help. By then there was quite a group of onlookers, most of them were security staff and personnel who worked at the Great Wall, but there were a handful of tourists as well. It was concluded that I was going to have to be picked up and carried out of the elevator. The hard part was going to be getting my 350 pound chair out of the elevator. Once we got everything coordinated, the transfers went pretty smoothly. Luckily Matthew was there to direct and do most of the heavy lifting. Overall about an hour passed from the time we purchased our tickets, until we were able to reach the top of the wall.

I'm proud to say that I am the first person ever to have been stuck in an elevator at the Great Wall of China throughout its entire 2000 year history. Too bad they don't have a "man" certificates for that...

The view from the top of the Great Wall was absolutely incredible! We took literally hundreds of photos during our visit, and none of them do it the least bit of justice. Of course there is the sheer scale of the wall. It cumulatively stretches over 5000 km (around 3500 miles) around the northern China. The wall itself averages from 25-50 feet tall and about 16 feet wide. It covers some of the most dynamic, steep and rugged terrain imaginable. It's unbelievable to imagine the amount of manpower and time it took to complete. I've seen some pretty amazing ancient man-made structures in my lifetime -- the Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge, the Acropolis, the Parthenon, Mayan pyramids etc. -- but the Great Wall of China is by far one of the most impressive.

When we were climbing back to onto the bus, we drew a pretty big crowd. It seems like once someone stops to watch, a crowd quickly gathers. This is probably because people in China are not accustomed to seeing wheelchair accessible vehicles. The crowd that gathered today was definitely one of the biggest, so we couldn't resist getting a photo.

Lunch at the Cloisonné Factory
For lunch we stopped at a restaurant/souvenir store/high-end Cloisonné factory located near the village at the base of the mountains. The local Communist Party owns and operates the all-in-one complex. We had time to take a quick tour of the cloisonné making part of the facility. China has a history of some of the most beautiful cloisonné work in the world. It is made by applying copper wire to a surface then filling the space between the wires with colored enamel, firing it in a kiln, and repeating for the next color. It is a time consuming and difficult task that creates beautiful decorative items from small jewelry to large decorative objects.

The Ming Tombs
After lunch we drove to the nearby Ming Tombs. Like the Forbidden City, this was another absolutely massive complex built for the emperors. Most of them were buried here. It consisted of plenty of large open green space, with a central path dividing it down the middle. Along the path were dozens and dozens of stone statues, most of which were in pairs, with their identical partners directly opposite them along the path. One section of statues was representative of famous emperors and general's from Chinese history. Another section was made up entirely of animals, both real and mythical. There were lions, camels, elephants and horses. In the mythical creatures generally had a sort of "lion-ish" look to them, but with different types of heads, feet and tails. I swear I saw a couple "Liger" statues as well. :)

Along the path there was a large open structure with the massive stone sculpture inside. The base of the sculpture was a very large (maybe 15 feet across) turtle. Coming up from the center of its shell was a tall obelisk tablet about 50 feet tall. Written on the tablet were the lifetime accomplishments of one of the Chinese emperors from the Ming dynasty from the early 1400s. The article on the tablet consisted of over 3000 words etched into the stone in the calligraphy style of writing. We ran into a group from Brigham City and Logan while we were there.

The ‘Bird’s Nest’ and Other Olympic Buildings

The three of us mostly slept during the drive home. But our guide Andy woke us up as we approached the two new Olympic facilities built in Beijing. Perhaps the most impressive is the "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium. It is nicknamed that because all of its steel structure is on the outside of the stadium like a large exoskeleton. The beams are weaved in such a way that it looks just like a bird's nest. Across the street is the "Water Cube" where the swimming competitions will be held. The outside surface of the water cube is actually a canvas like material that inflates like a bubble around at the skeleton structure of the building. It's also designed to look a lot like hundreds of smaller bubbles in a cube shape. I had seen these buildings on TV before, but it didn't compare to seeing them in real life.

Beijing is filled with pretty spectacular modern architecture. Throughout the entire central business district it's hard not to just stare up into the sky at the skyscrapers. It's truly remarkable to think that a developing nation is leading the world in modern architecture. Granted, European architects designed most of these buildings, it's just extremely rare to see so many beautiful buildings together in just one place. One of the most unusual is the skyscraper designed as headquarters for Chinese Television (CCTV). Much of the structure hangs suspended in midair. It is a marvel of modern engineering.,

That evening we did a little bit more souvenir shopping at "Silk Road" before we ate dinner and went to bed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, you have such amazing adventures. I love living these things vicariously through you, since I'll probably never see them in real life. Thanks for sharing all the photos, and your comments and descriptions are excellent!


Jul 9, 2008, 5:58:00 AM  
Blogger RachKromp said...

Thanks so much for posting the fantastic pictures and super detailed descriptions. I am special education teacher in New Jersey and my students are studying China and the Olympics this summer. We ran across your blog and enjoyed seeing what you had to say and experienced. We wish you good health and take care, Room 2

Jul 9, 2008, 9:41:00 AM  
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