Four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Four Days: Day 2 in Beijing

After the tour on our first day, Jayson dropped us off at the hotel: Ease Cloud Hotel. When the agency (Royal Kites Tours and Travels) announced that we would be staying at Ease Cloud, instinctively, I googled it and read some reviews.

Relatively, Ease Cloud Hotel is a new hotel. This means, there are only a few reviews written about it. But based on the available reviews, I felt terrified: our stay might be “compromised.” The available photos on the net provided a fresh look of the hotel. But all photographs about hotels somehow lie, otherwise, they would not convince many people to check in. We call this one thing: strategic marketing. In summary, a lot of people who checked in at Ease Cloud felt their experiences were terrible: service, food, rooms, and location.

However, when we checked in at the hotel, there’s something I realized: Ease Cloud Hotel, a three-star hotel in Beijing, was not bad after all. I also realized that all the reviewers who felt terrible and horrible were either Americans or Europeans.

The number one complaint about service was the aloofness of the staff members. I do not think the staff members were aloof. There was a gap in communication. The 90% of the staff members do not speak English. I have seen cold service in Europe but perhaps this is something cultural. I mean, not all Europeans, for instance, speak English. They do not speak my language as well.

The second in the list of complaints was food. Four reviewers were complaining about no variety. On the contrary, there was variety: a variety of Chinese food. I guess these reviewers were looking for the typical breakfast at home in the United States or in Europe. The maxim popularized by these Westerners may be useful here: when in Rome do what the Romans do. To put it contextually, you’re in China, eat what the Chinese eat! Is that not part of the adventure and cultural learning?

The third in the list was internet service. I would not want to engage more about this. But I have four words: you are in China! (if you know what I mean).

The final general complaint: location. My only thought: is it the responsibility of the hotel administration to tell you about the location of the hotel from the city center? Guys, there’s google map for you to check. Do your assignment as well.

Over-all, complaints against the hotel were first-world dilemmas. Ease Cloud Hotel is absolutely not a perfect hotel but it definitely delivered what is expected of it.

Anyhow, 22 December 2018, the second day in Beijing via the Group Tour. The second day was identified by my friends and my colleagues as the Great Wall day.

That’s me posing in front of the Jade Factory (Photo: Haidee Pineda)
My partner and I checking on the jade bracelets (Photo: Haidee Pineda)

We started the day with a visit to a Jade Factory operated by the government. This was one of the compulsory trips we needed to do, otherwise, we would be charged USD 45.00 for not entering the factory. Our agent back in Manila informed us about this. Actually, all group tours in Beijing bring tourists to these government operated factories. Anyhow, as instructed by our agent and Jayson, we did not have to buy anything. In a way, entering these factories are “learning” activities. My nerdy part of me really enjoyed these “lectures.” These paved the way to understand the cultural and even political life of the things being discussed.

At the Jade Factory, we were welcomed by an enthusiastic staff who lectured so many things. First, I learned that jade is a mineral composed of nephrite, calcium, magnesium, and jadeite. Second, China is the largest producer of ornaments and pieces of jewelry made of jade. Third, jade has a very special place in the ancient art of the Chinese people. As a matter of fact, Emperors from different ancient dynasties had been considering jade as the official imperial gem. Fourth, jade was used for the Beijing Olympic medals in the 2008 Summer Games. The medals were inspired by the “bi,” China’s ancient jade piece inscribed with a dragon pattern. As stated by the staff, the medals symbolized nobility and virtue and were the embodiment of traditional Chinese values of ethics and honor. Finally, the staff informed us how to distinguish a real jade from a fake one.

After an hour in the factory, Jayson congregated us for the Great Wall visit. The Great Wall from the factory took about twenty minutes. When we arrived at the Juyongguan Section of the Great Wall, it was an overwhelming experience for everyone – especially those who are visiting it for the first time. As stated in the first post about this trip to China, this is my second time in Beijing and I have experienced the Great Wall in 2007 via the Mutianyu Pass.

The gate as viewed from the inside of the Juyong Pass (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
The steep staircase on the western section of the Juyong Great Wall (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
The steep staircase (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

The Great Wall of China is an ancient series of walls, fortifications and guard posts located in nine provinces in North China: expanding from the east at Shanhaiguan in Hebei province and ends at Jiayuguan in Gansu province to the west. The wall was built around 500 years ago. No one is definite about its exact length but it is estimated to have a length between 1,500 and 5,000 miles. In 2012, China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage suggested the wall is more than double than that length: some 13,000 miles long. But generally, the Great Wall was built as a great military defense project of successive Chinese Empires.

Along the way, Jayson told us a story, a popular legend attributed to the Great Wall. When the wall was built, male Chinese were forced by the Emperor to work. The same male members served as the royal guards and soldiers of the emperor. Fan Xiliang was one of the male members of the empire who was forced to build the Great Wall. Fan was married to a girl named Meng Jiangnu. Meng waited day and night for her husband to return from the forced labor. Days, weeks and months passed – Fan never returned home. The Royal Guard promised that Fan would return home in winter. Winter came, but Fan failed to return. Meng sewed some warm clothes. She took them to the construction site but Fan was nowhere to be found. She was then informed that Fan died earlier in Summer and his body was buried in the wall. Meng stayed by the wall and wept for days and nights. Then thunder and storm came and a portion of the wall collapsed. Meng finally found Fan’s body, which she buried somewhere in the Shanhai region of the great wall. After Fan’s body was buried, Meng climbed to one of the towers and jumped to her death.

Today, the Chinese community in Shanhai built a temple to commemorate the love affair of Meng Jiangnü and Fan Xiliang. The temple can be found 5 km northeast of the Shanhai Pass o the Great Wall.

Asked whether or not a lot of forced laborers were buried underneath or inside the walls, Jayson was not definite with his answer but the possibility is huge as he remarked. Somehow, this reminded me of the infamous Manila Film Center. To date, people share horror stories about a group of men haunting the center. These men were buried at the center when it collapsed due to a weak foundation. Imelda Marcos, wife of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos could not postpone the construction because of the scheduled international film festival. So ordered by Marcos to continue the construction and let those who were trapped to be the site’s “sacrificial offering.”

Despite this, the Great Wall is true to its name: a Great ancient marvel. The UNESCO elevated the status of this ancient gem into a World Heritage Site in 1987 with the following synthesis: “The Great Wall reflects collision and exchanges between agricultural civilizations and nomadic civilizations in ancient China. It provides significant physical evidence of the far-sighted political strategic thinking and mighty military and national defence forces of central empires in ancient China, and is an outstanding example of the superb military architecture, technology and art of ancient China. It embodies unparalleled significance as the national symbol for safeguarding the security of the country and its people.”

As earlier noted, our The Great Wall experience commenced at the Juyongguan section of the Great Wall via the Juyong Pass, one of the three most famous passes along the Great Wall of China, together with Jiayuguan and Shanhaiguan. The pass is 60 kms from downtown Beijing. It is a solid stronghold encircling a valley, which according to Jayson was the direct Northern access to Beijing during the ancient times.

Some of the structures inside the Juyong Great Wall (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
A temple inside the fortifications of the Juyong Great Wall (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
A view of the roof of a former rest area of soldiers and laborers, now a museum (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

Other the ancient wall, many old buildings like towers, apartment-like structures, and temples, can be seen here. These are now transformed into museums and shops.

Stairs on the western part are quite steep (my adventurous self made me want to try this section of the pass) while the other side is supposedly gentler (based on the standards of athletes).

Of the different passes in Beijing, this section is not suitable for people with knee problems or for people in wheelchairs. I remember in Mutinayu, differently abled people may access the Great Wall through a lift or a cable car. Unfortunately, one may only access the higher levels of the Great Wall through the steep stairs in the west or the almost paved concrete walk-way in the east.

While climbing the western section of the Juyong Great Wall, I remember Jayson’s story, especially since it was really cold at that time. I wondered that if the story was true – I could just imagine how painful it was for Meng. How symbolic the cold season with the death of Fan. It was a tiring climb and each time I paused for a break, I paused to think of Fan and Meng’s love for each other.

After an hour and a half strolling in the Great Wall, we were once again convened at the exit gate of the pass. Unfortunately, we had to stay for forty minutes because three members of the group were missing. When they showed up, it quite pissed me off that these individuals were not even apologetic for being late. One even reasoned that she was just somewhere near the bus and she saw us being convened. She was waiting for someone to call them. It was not a petty thing methinks. They participated in a group tour and are expected to be cooperative and considerate. Jayson was fumingly mad but he was so polite. In the bus, he stated that it was rude for people to let others wait in a group tour.

Anyhow, after The Great Wall, Jayson brought us to a traditional Chinese Medicine house being operated by the government and gave us free time at the Olympic Park.

The foot reflexology therapy at the Herbal Medicine Research Institute (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
The Bird’s Nest or simply the Nest, the official stadium of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
The Water Cube, or the National Aquatics Center of China (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

At the Chinese Medicine House, we were treated with foot reflexology.

We enjoyed the Bird’s Nest Stadium and National Aquatic Center, two important stadiums during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games at the Olympic Park. I am convinced that in the next twenty or thirty years, these stadiums will also be elevated to the status of World Heritage Site.

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