CHINA’S GINORMOUS WALL …

CHINA BLOG 13

Thursday June 2, 2016

No record of our Mad Midlife adventure in China would be complete without a paragraph or three (plus pix) about the world’s longest security fence. So here goes:

With just 48 hours left in this mind-boggling ancient/modern land, we drove through mountains north of Beijing in search of the Great Wall of China. This awe-inspiring structure was first erected 2000 years ago by order of Emperor Qin (yes, the same Buried Army guy).

Why did he do it? To protect China from invading Mongols and Huns.

How long is it? Well, we saw just a tiny section, snaking and twisting its way across peaks and ridges like a monster dragon – but the Wall’s total length varied throughout the centuries as successive dynasties added bits of their own. Researchers now reckon that its true all-up length is more than the often-quoted 8000 kms – much more – with some claims as high as (hold onto your hat) 21,000 kms!

Unbelievable, right? (By way of comparison, New Zealand from top to bottom is a mere 1600 kms.)

We Kiwis did our level best to “knock the bastard off” (if I can quote Sir Edmund Hillary). And, after puffing and panting up the steep, oversized steps, we were glad, later, to partake in a much-less-strenuous Tea Drinking Ceremony … eyeball some jade and cloisonné artists at work … and, later still, browse a long line of novelty ethnic food-stalls in downtown Beijing. (Fancy some barbequed grasshoppers … or snakes … or frogs … or tarantula spiders … or 20cm-long centipedes … or a crisp, crunchy starfish? Crowds of smartly-dressed locals, predominantly young people, were snacking happily on these treats – I kid you not!)

We wrapped up our Beijing sojourn with a last-day visit to the famous Temple of Heaven (where the emperors used to pray for good harvest, and where Beijing’s happy citizens now unwind) … a cycle-rickshaw ride, including lunch with a local family, in the cramped, tangled alleyways of the Hutong (the old living-quarters of Beijing) … and a delicious Midlife Madness ‘Farewell Peking Duck Banquet’ in the evening.

These past three weeks have been a BLAST (just ask anyone in our group) … and we’ve witnessed more EYE-POPPING ASIAN WONDERS than we could ever have anticipated.

“Xi Xi!” (shay-shay) – “Thank you, China!”

PEOPLE-NEWS: We’ve given away one more of our world-famous Quacky Yellow Ducks …

  • It went to a stern-faced, uniformed Customs Officer at Beijing Airport, who pulled me aside to search my bag. He pulled out my leftover duckies, asking (in broken ‘Chenglish’) what they were. I took one out and showed him, making it quack and light-up in his face. He jumped back, startled, then broke into a wide grin. I gave it to him, urging: “Take it home to your baby!” … and, with a polite nod of his head, he accepted.

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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BIGGER-THAN-BIG BEIJING …

CHINA BLOG 12

Wednesday June 1, 2016

Well, it’s over! It’s done! Like all good things, our extra-good time in China has come to an end, and we Mad Midlife Kiwis are on our way home. China has frankly blown us away: we’ve done so much, seen so much, learnt so much and enjoyed so much that the challenge, now, is to sort those memories and impressions and photos into some sort of order. But, before I put this blog to bed, there’s one final stopover that must be acknowledged – China’s amazing modern capital, Beijing, where everything seems so BIG!

Few places on earth can match the extraordinary historical panorama on display in Beijing. (If you’re old enough, you might remember it better as Peking.) This city alone boasts six UNESCO World Heritage sites, just one less than the whole of Egypt. And we began our sightseeing by walking-with-the-hordes across the world’s biggest public gathering-place, Tiananmen Square, still watched over by a huge portrait of Chairman Mao. (You may remember the student protest, police crackdown and tragic massacre that took place here in 1989.)

We followed that up with a stroll through China’s biggest and best-preserved Imperial Palace, the Forbidden City. Built in the 15th century, this vast walled compound served as home and power-base for the emperors of the last two dynasties, the Ming and Qing, and was off-limits to commoners like us for 500 years.

Then we meandered through China’s biggest Imperial Garden, the Summer Palace, and enjoyed a dragon-boat ride on the lake.

STILL TO COME: We can’t leave Beijing without seeing Great Wall of China – don’t you agree? Standby for our Midlife Madness Grande Finale

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.)

ASTONISHINGLY XI’AN …

CHINA BLOG 11

Sunday May 29, 2016

Long before we got to Xi’an (pronounced ‘Shee-arn’) we knew it was gonna be a whopper-stopper. I mean, back in the day it was China’s ancient capital, where the famous trading route – the ‘Silk Road’ – used to start. This legendary city grew to become a melting pot of cultures and religions, as well as home to emperors, courtesans, poets, monks, merchants and warriors. And, even though its glory days ended in the early 10th century, many elements of Old Xi’an are still present:

  • like the narrow, weathered alleyways of the Muslim Quarter … which we explored, after trekking through yet another fascinating food-&-souvenir market
  • like the massive encircling Ming-era walls (complete with moat and watchtowers) … which we ogled, then scaled, then walked around on top of
  • like the fabled Wild Goose Pagoda, an active Buddhist temple… which we didn’t climb, thank goodness (well, give us a break – it was raining!)
  • like the 8th Wonder of the Ancient World, the Buried Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang … truly one of the most incredible sights you could ever lay eyes on: 8000-plus Terracotta Warriors, standing rank upon rank, armed and ready for battle – with war-horses and chariots close at hand!

Speaking of emperors, 496 of them ruled throughout China’s never-ending history, 75 of them from Xi’an. Emperor Qin (pronounced ‘Chin’) was probably the most famous (he unified the previously-warring states in 221 BC, then, more than 2000 years ago, ordered construction of the Great Wall) … and perhaps the most brutal (when his massive tomb was finished, he had his hard workers and happy concubines buried alive with those fearsome terracotta warriors, to make sure the place stayed a secret).

It’s a much longer story, of course, and our heads were spinning as we left the area. (If you give your Mad Midlife friends half a chance, they’ll bore you senseless with the details – and your head will be spinning, too!) But don’t worry: we unwound that same evening at a stunningly colourful Tang Dynasty Show! And (you ain’t gonna believe this, but …) we V.I.P. Kiwis actually got ON STAGE with the performers at the end of the show!

Just feast your eyes on the pix …

STILL TO COME: Last but not least, we reach Beijing – yet another glittering, glamorous, ultra modern Chinese city … bulging at the seams with 23 million people plus a mind-boggling past: the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, and (you’ve been waiting for this – right?) the Great Wall of China! So stay tuned …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to receive future Mad Midlife Travel Blogs in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription! And if you’d like to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your comments! (Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.)