Today we were up by 7 and steamrolling out of Beijing by 8:30 on our massive bus compete with endless bottled water, a clock exactly 2 hours off, and an inability to maintain a reasonable temperature. It was either an arctic tundra or the Simpson desert on board. By steamrolling I mean crawling ever so slowly along highways, byways, and backroads, over sidewalks, farmers, and small children. I don't think any of us have ever seen this level of roadside chaos. The cacophony of honking horns (which came in all sounds, volumes, and tones) was, at times, deafening.
Eventually skyscrapers became medium size buildings which devolved into single story homes and shops before completely disappearing into an endless abyss of corn fields. All of a sudden we were in a very different China. A China of dirt roads, street markets, and ox-pulled carts.
Our first stop was the ancient Qing Tombs, where we had another of our local guide Michael's brilliant history lessons about the life, times, and drama of the middle kingdom's last dynasty. It was like Home and Away meets the Rudd/Gillard government: "Susie said to Annie, 'no I am the emperor's favorite concubine. He told me last night after he revealed that you are actually his secret mother's adopted step child.' Meanwhile, back at the palace, the evil Empress dowager was plotting to roll the current ruler to replace him with her own adopted son.". So much drama!
Lunch brought more delicious food as well as a return to the art of squatting for Darryl, Lorraine, Sandy, and Michelle, who found themselves in a long row of half-walled stalls passing tissue paper down the line. What troopers!
The afternoon found us taking our very first steps on the great wall. As with every group I have joined on this adventure, the look on people's faces as they take in their first sweeping views of the wall stretching as far as the eye can see in either direction is priceless. Indeed, there is no place on earth quite like it and still no picture I have ever seen that fully captures it's extraordinary nature. Special shout out to Nicole, who did a brilliant job conquering day one of our challenge. You go girl!
Following check-in at our guesthouse the group decided pre-dinner happy hour was in order. That happy hour turned into a happy evening as the group sampled a selection of the nation's finest national spirit, called Baijiu. I would describe its taste as somewhere between moonshine and lighter fluid. We did it the traditional way: standing up and shouting yi, er, san, gambei, which translates as 1, 2, 3, Cheers! It was after a few rounds that people's true colours began to shine through. It is in these truthful moments that Aussies love to hand out nicknames and our group was no different.
So, here we go:
Nicki Lee - Dicky Lee, for her brilliant effort
Sandy - H.E., as she arrived from Bangkok (you work it out)
Agnes - Freddo, as she is our Franco-Aussie
Darryl - Precious, for obvious reasons, she says
Rodney - Chili, In honor of his love of spicy food (which is so intense, it brings tears to his eyes)
Peter - Squirrel, for equally obvious reasons
Chris - Tiger, for his ravenous spirit and uber-manliness
Michelle - Pom, because she secretly is one
Paul - Pauly, after famed comedian Pauly Shore
Ben - Bobby Bouchet, in honor of his Waterboy status having brought 8 liters with him
Brendon - Tubby, because he is, well, Tubby
Michelle - Water closet, because after she decided to skip out on a less than ideal toilet she stepped into what she thought was a bush and it turned out to be a 2 meter deep hole. We almost lost her to China!
Lorraine - NaiNai, which is Chinese for grandma because she takes such good care of us (like when she advised Michelle to step into a giant hole)
Andy - Undy, thanks to a little incident at the massage parlor that involved a slight misunderstanding, leaving Andy digging through his bag for an extra pair of pants while his masseuse darted down the hall screaming due to emotional distress and trauma.
Kyle - Captain Awesome again, for obvious reasons
To bed now as we have a very bit walk ahead of us tomorrow. Until then, GO TEAM!