The Wild Wall and the Repo Man’s Buick

Following last night’s storm (lightning, thunder and rain through the night), the pollution and dust were relegated to the ground and sewers of Beijing and we were off the see the Great Wall.  It is a rare sight these days to have a relatively clear day and we took advantage.  We went first to the Mutianyu section of the wall, but before I go too far, let me tell you how we got there….

Howard and Kathy (their western names), his wife, are friends and at last minute they decided they wanted to drive us to the wall.  This was great for us given that our alternative was to take a taxi and basically figure it out by ourselves.  Like most things in China, relationships are essential.  To prove this, Howard is friends with Mr. Gu who happens to be the local repo man.  Mr. Gu has access to lots of cars as you might imagine.  We, in turn, were fortunate enough to get our pick of his latest stock to drive out to the wall (about 90 minutes).  In order to carry us big foreigners, Mr. Gu set us up with a Buick mini van.  The day had begun as only a day in Beijing can.

At Mutianyu, we took a cable car to a high part on the wall and then split with Howard and Kathy to make our own way (were were in need of exercise and they were not interested).  We climbed to the very top section (past a film crew and helicopter filming the latest Chinese blockbuster), which proved that Ty is indeed a real man (I had proven this myself a few years ago) and then made our way back across the wall in the searing heat.  All told, it was about 3 miles of climbing and walking.  The way down is a luge-like track (photos will be better than me explaining it).

After this “touristy” part of the wall, we drove another hour to the “Wild Wall” or a section that has not been refurbished and commercialized.  It was in a beautiful valley full of restaurants famous for river fish (trout) because of the clean water.  Ty was gracious enough to catch us a fish (in a net, a tradition at these restaurants) which they then prepared for our lunch.  On the way back, Howard entertained us with a long joke about a Duck while Kathy chimed in to assist – as I keep saying, you can only get entertainment like this in China and you can’t pay for it – it has to come by accident.  Once back in Beijing we took a trip by the Olympic village, Bird’s Nest stadium, and Water Cube.

After what was already a long and eventful day, we piled back into Mr. Gu’s temporary Buick and went to a North Korean restaurant.  No, I don’t mean a North Korean “style” restaurant, I mean a restaurant with actual North Korean staff and ingredients (e.g. we had a fish that only exists inside of N. Korea).  This place has some sort of deal with the North Korean and Chinese governments that allow the staff to work and live here (under constant supervision).  The waitresses actually live in the restaurant and are only allowed to leave with an escort and only occasionally.  Amazing.  You can read another example here.  The food was great, and there was also a show (singing, dancing, etc.) that could only be called bizarre.  Add this to the list of very rare things I have been able to experience in my life.  A lucky man I am indeed and I strive not to take this for granted.  To that end, greetings and I miss you to Sonya and my family – you are the main reasons why I feel such luck.

Travel update: we were supposed to leave tomorrow for Tibet but were once again foiled due to regulations.  Our Tibetan entry permits are only good on the 3rd so we have to wait and fly on Monday.  Two more days in Beijing ahead…

BTW – Ty (my travel partner and a friend since I was five years old) is also giving his own perspective if you want to check it out.

Until next time,



Hot, hot, and hot, followed by rain…

Sitting at the Sunday Cafe in Wang Jing district of Beijing (with three friends from Beijing), following a very long and hot day of sightseeing.  Here’s the quick rundown:

  • Breakfast here at the Sunday Cafe – great place BTW
  • Taxi past my favorite building in Beijing (and scene of horrible fire) to the Grand Hyatt to grab a tourist map and then a short walk to Tiananmen Square
  • Lot’s of pictures, sweating, more pictures, more sweating, and huge crowds
  • Forbidden City – been multiple times but it is still amazing
  • Beihai Park – great temple overlooking Hou Hai Lake.  Lots of stairs, more sweating
  • Lunch at Hou Hai and then a long hot walk through Old Beijing / Hutong District
  • A huge rain storm while eating Szechuan food for dinner – this is great because it might help clear the air for our Great Wall trip tomorrow.  Fingers crossed.

That’s it for now.  Taking tons of photos and video but haven’t had a chance to post more than the ones in these posts.  Maybe tomorrow night – it’s  11pm and we leave at 7:30am for the Great Wall.



Greetings from Beijing!

[This post written by Ty] After a wonderful time in Hong Kong – albeit short – we are headed north to the capital city of Beijing.  The day started a little earlier than it could have.  We thought our plane was a 9am departure  so we headed out at 7 for the airport.  On the way we decided to look at the itinerary and realized that the flight was 12:45 so that gave us time to regroup and catch up at the local Pacific Coffee Company.  If you know me and coffee that was just fine!  Actually it gave Robert a chance to catch up with another friend from his days in Hong Kong, Archie. 

After about a three hour flight we dropped into Beijing and I have to say the most unimaginably foul air quality.  If you watched the Olympics they focused on the quality of air and the health issues but unless you experience this you can not imagine the brown fog that is ever present in this place.  I can’t blame it all on the pollution however.  The nearby Gobi Desert blows sand into the city on a regular basis and this adds to the fun.  You can just imagine a nice morning jog sucking in the sand and pollutants from the factories that are  making all our wonderful toys.  I read that the air quality number for the US to become a hazard for young children and the elderly is 50 micrograms.  On average in Beijing the number is 141!!  As you can image a major problem for the Chinese and the world. 

The highlight of the day was dinner with Jason Wu, our host, at an old rice storage factory turned into a Chinese restaurant.  The food was great and the beer was not too bad either. 

Tomorrow the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.



A Great Day in Hong Kong

Here’s a quick rundown of our day in HK:

  • Coffee and chat at Starbucks
  • Showered and out for the day
  • HK Tram from Happy Valley to Central
  • Walking around central and checking the sites
  • a GREAT dim sum lunch with Carine and Grace (my former colleagues)
  • A drink with our friend Mark Wales in Lan Kwai Fong
  • Checking out my former apartment and all the changes in HK over the last 6 months
  • Another coffee to try to stay awake, which I drank with enough speed to almost make me sick
  • A foot massage with Joanna at Happy Foot – always my favorite part of any visit.
  • A Nepalese food dinner at Annapurna in Soho (with Joanna and some friends)
  • Drinks at Boca with many of my HK friends, including a performance of Hound Dog by Melvis, a local Chinese Elvis impersonator
  • Barely making it home before collapsing after 30-some hours of almost no sleep
  • Now at breakfast before heading to the airport to Beijing!

More to follow!


Getting Ready for the Big Trip…

6 days left before the big adventure.  In fact, I’m just writing this post to test Live Writer to make sure everything is working.  Up next comes some last minute confirmations, finalizing Tibetan entry permits, and spending more $$. 

For those I haven’t mentioned it to, my friend Ty and I are off to Hong Kong, China, Tibet, Nepal, India, UK, and Iceland.  Wish me luck. 

Stay tuned for more…