Sleeping on the Great Wall
by Lynne Stewart
If you don't climb the Great Wall, you are a wimp! " (bu shang changcheng
fei haohan.) So said Chairman Mao, and even imperialist running dogs
have to agree. This leaves you with a choice: you can head for the ticketed,
signposted, souvenir-swamped Badaling and Mutianyu, or you can be a
real people's hero and take a gentle country lane to a section of the
wall without ticket booths, trinket stalls and overpriced restaurants.
Huanghuacheng is a picturesque section of the wall in steep mountainous
area. There is no rebuilt brickwork here, and some sections of the wall
are mere rubble. Sounds just like Sanlitun, but at least in Huanghuacheng
you won't get a hangover, be harassed by tabloid journalists or hassled
by VCD vendors. The whole surrounding area rewards exploration, but
a sure-bet for a good hike just follows the Great Wall for a spectacular
four or five kilometer stretch.
Getting there is easy, and doesn't require your own car. Take the subway
to Dongzhimen station and walk east past the KFC until you reach the
bus depot. Every fifteen minutes or so bus #916 ( rmb 5) departs for
Huairou, made famous as the suburban venue of the Beijing International
Women's Conference in 1996. From Huairou, hire a minibus to Huanghuacheng.
This trip, winding along tree-lined rural fields and villages should
cost about rmb 30, one way.
By the time you arrive at Huanghuacheng, you'll probably be ready for
a snack. Welcome to 'Pair of Dragons playing with a Pearl' - (shuang
long zhu jiujia), a small family-run restaurant where you will be handed
a fishing rod and invited to wave it about in the pond which runs off
the nearby Huanghua reservoir. The pond is well stocked with fish: within
five minutes of casting, our meal was flapping impressively at the end
of the line. We order accompanying dishes, enjoy the beer and refuse
enticing offers to spend the night there.
To walk up the wall, cross over the dam wall holding back the Huanghua
reservoir just 50 meters north of the restaurant and then head straight
for the first tower. Do not take the sensible-looking level path which
heads off to the left. Walk through the window of the crumbling watchtower
and climb up it on the right. You are immediately rewarded with views
of the wall across the road to the west and the water below. At dusk
you may also be treated to the sound of pipe-playing on the opposite
Climb on to the second tower where parapets have fallen down and locals
have removed the bricks. From here, you can walk as far as you want
to, before bedding down for the night. It's best to walk in daylight
since the rodents in the fourth tower elicit screams from more sensitive
hikers: a large rat forced us to turn back to bed down in the third
tower, where we slept surrounded by walls but under clean open skies.
Bedding requirements depend on the temperature but the ground is hard
and stony, so take something soft if you don't like sleeping on rough
The next day, you can continue walking eastward, as far as Huairou if
you are an exceptionally fast walker. But Chairman Mao said you just
have to get on top of the Great Wall to be a hero, he didn't say how
or require any further physical activity. My personal feeling is " bugger
walking fast " so we take a shortcut back to the road.
About four hours' walk east of the restaurant starting point, the wall
takes a ninety degree turn northwards. After this bend is a well-preserved
watchtower. Just downhill from this is another intact tower with a stone
tablet inscribed with Chinese characters in its south chamber. The tablet
is supposed to date from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
There are stairs leading down from the wall on the southeastern side
of the tower. Follow the stairs to a path leading down to the valley
floor. Back on flat land the path takes you through orchards and back
to the road. To get back to Huairou, turn right and walk on to the bridge
where there is water for sale and drivers will vie for your patronage.
If you're not ready to go back to modernity yet, don't go down the stairs
at the stone tablet tower. Just follow the wall until you reach the
valley floor, from where you can reach the same path through the orchards.
This route requires some serious scrambling, so avoid high-heeled shoes,
mini-skirts and suits.
Title-Badachu By Subway
by Joshua Samuel Brown
I have pet names for the various cities in which I've lived, names usually
intoned most when I'm in the process of escaping. Taipei, situated in
a wet and slimy valley surrounded on all sides by lovely mountains,
is 'The Bowl of Pus.' Beijing, flat and impossibly dusty, is 'Grit Bath
I've been in Grit Bath 1 one month, and haven't been much further than
the third ring road. I need to get out, but I have no idea where, so
I do the logical thing for an impoverished writer-get as far out of
the city as the subway can take me.
Armed only with a bottle of water, two oily croissants and a fengshui
(geomancy) compass, I get on the subway at Jianguomen, and ride westward
on the great underground dragon for 50 minutes to the far western terminus,
a place called Pingguoyuan, or 'apple orchard.'
Getting off the train, I begin walking around the market behind the
station. I run into a stall selling fresh-cut tobacco, and fine imitation
1950s 'Father Knows Best' style pipes. I buy one, chat and have a smoke.
" What's fun to do around here? " I ask the tobacco vendor.
" Nothing! Nothing's fun around here! " she answers, smiling.
" Anything pretty? "
" None of that, either, " she says.
" Then why do you live here? "
" This is Pingguoyuan! " She says, adding " Why don't you go to Badachu,
it's pretty. "
I hop into a motorcycle taxi. The ride to the Badachu park gates takes
about 15 minutes and costs rmb 5, and the driver keeps telling me to
not lean too far to the right.
Ninety minutes after leaving the heart of Grit Bath 1, with time for
a chat, snack and smoke, I am at the bottom of the western hills at
Badachu, sucking in clean air. Pagodas dot the hills, and the chant
of religious scriptures combines with pop music in a soothingly cacophonous
mix. I climb up the hill on cobblestone paths. At the top is a temple
with an ancient 400 year-old bell, and I pay rmb 1 to strike the lucky
bell three times with a wooden mallet.
Walking further into the hills, I run across four guys and their ponies
standing in the road. They aren't hawking rides, but I ask anyway. "
Yeah, sure, " says one of them, and we negotiate in a leisurely way
for rmb 40 an hour. Mr. Wang runs behind me most of the way, but once
he ascertains I can ride, he lags behind and yells at me " Faster! Faster!
As I ride along the rocky ridge at the top of the Western Hills, Beijing
is only a dim smudge of smog in the distance. I dismount for a while
at the top, and Mr. Wang takes me to the temple and restaurant on the
top of the peak. I grab some juice, and visit a Buddha in a cave. Mr.
Wang has ascertained that I can handle Xiao Hong, his healthy and excitable
Xinjiang pony, and lets me go off alone.
I ride around a bit longer until I hear Mr. Wang whistling to his horse.
We ride down the hill, and I ask Mr. Wang how I can find him and the
horses again. He tells me that the park is used as a grazing and boarding
area for some of the local equines and their people, and it's pretty
much catch as catch can. " Just look around on the top of the hill until
you find one of us. Bring your friends. " With that I dismount, and
begin a long walk back toward dusty Beijing as the sun sets behind the
GETTING THERE: Take the Beijing subway
east-west line to the western terminus station of Pingguoyuan. From
there, take a taxi or motorbike taxi to Badachu .
Title-Cool Off Underground
Heading south in the sweltering heat of this record-breaking summer
might not sound like a great idea. " People are heading north, as did
the emperors of old " my trusty interpreter tells me. If you want to
follow the masses go north-but one answerto cooling off lies 50 kilometers
south of Beijing and a few meters further down-straight down.
Qianzhen Cave, one of the largest grottoes in northern China, is located
in the quaint Hebei Province village of Nancheying. The cool cave (average
11-13º C) is an underground labyrinth created by millennia of geologic
magic. Limestone seepage and tectonic shifts occurring over 70 million
years ago have created a landscape of beauty filled with stalactites,
bats and a myriad other natural wonders.
The caves were discovered early in the Ming Dynasty, in 1379. A Buddhist
monk named Guang Fa was roaming the hills looking for an end to human
suffering, a quest that was supposedly fulfilled when he stumbled into
the cave. The different parts of the cave still bear religious names
like 'Temple of Disordered Pagodas' and 'Hall of Buddha' but ill-informed
tour guides have taken the place of meditating monks.
Despite the colored lights and noisy chatter of yellow-capped tour groups
inside the cave, a tour down below still rewards the visitor with a
sense of calm. The tranquility ends when you emerge from the cave however:
fiercely entrepreneurial trinket vendors whose stalls line the entrance
to the cave ensure that the visitor is brought swiftly back to the commercial
realities of modern China.
GETTING THERE: Qianzhen Cave can be reached
via tour bus #7, an inexpensive air-conditioned coach that departs from
Qianmen (terminal 22) and Fuxingmen (terminal 336) every Saturday and
Sunday at 9:30 and 10:00 am respectively.
Cave admission ticket: rmb 48
The restaurant in the upper parking lot
has a virtual monopoly on meals, but it is both inexpensive and excellent,
using all local ingredients. Try their field greens, wild vegetables,
and free range gongbao chicken.
Title-Western-Style at the Sheerwood
by Yanhong Wheeler
For two weeks in a row, I ride in a friend's
car on tree-lined gravel roads with zero traffic flow, along the banks
of a small river, through corn fields and bean vines, into an open space,
the borders of which extend as far as my eyes can see. Whitewashed Spanish-style
houses nestle gracefully among flowers and shrubs, all shaded by gigantic
walnut trees. The sky is blue, the clouds are white, the air smells
of freshly cut grass.
I mount 'Motorcycle,' an orange stallion, and gallop over lush green
lawns. At dusk, mist rises from the surrounding fields, seeps through
rows of birch trees and spreads over the damp grass. The setting sun
is a glowing fireball, painting red and golden shades onto everything.
I am not in Spain. Nor Mongolia. I am a mere 30 minute-drive away from
Sanlitun. The 33,350-acre Sheerwood International Equestrian Club is
one of Beijing's best-kept secrets. With a stable of 110 horses, two
race tracks, one indoor and four outdoor equestrian arenas, the club
is far more than just a horse riding venue. The elegantly built and
tastefully decorated main compound can host barbecue parties in any
of its gardens, and even extend the fun to the multi-terraced roofs
of the houses. Soon-to-be-completed amenities include an outdoor pool,
tennis court, gym, fencing facilities, art room, conference hall, restaurant
and a dozen guest rooms.
" Most men are naturally inclined to love two types of animals, " says
David Zhao, general manager of Sheerwood, " horses and dogs. " The 31
year-old native of Shanghai is himself a horse and dog aficionado as
well as a skilled rider. His eyes glisten with affection and his voice
emanates passion when he recounts dramatic anecdotes of his horses.
Zhao is also the most patient and thorough teacher any rookie rider
" I have more confidence in teaching women, " says Zhao with an apologetic
smile to my male friends there.
" Women handle horses better than men, no matter how they mount the
horse in the beginning, either willingly or after much crying and kicking.
It's because women are more patient, more affectionate and believe in
communicating with a living animal, whereas men are instinctively inclined
to conquer and control. Men don't have the patience to spend a whole
day not riding, but brushing, feeding and grooming their horses. "
Sheerwood contracts its spare land out to nearby farmers and uses the
harvested corn to feed the horses. Zhao's plan is to run the club like
a farm. He intends his members to occasionally stay overnight to nurture
a relationship with their mounts, instead of treating them as mere riding
For that reason, Zhao remains very picky about who can join the club.
Membership is limited to 300, and money is not the only qualification.
Zhao once firmly turned away an arrogant tycoon whose motorcade of Cadillacs
honked and dashed through the tranquil road leading to the club, stirring
up clouds of dust and fallen leaves onto the riders.
But Zhao loans even his own horse Okie, a Western-trained stallion,
to people with the right attitude. Like Frank Hawke, the president of
IMC-Asia (a major US pharmaceutical company) but at heart a cowboy-complete
with mustache, Stetson, chaparejos, boots and big-buckled belt.
Having grown up riding horses in Tucson, Arizona, Hawke says that for
someone from Arizona living in Beijing, " it is important to be able
to see nature and be close to animals every now and then. " Frank hopes
there will be more expatriate members in the club who like riding "
Western-style. " At the moment, he is feeling a little lonely: most
people ride English-style.
Zhao lets me try Okie. This is the first time I have ridden with a Western-style
saddle. On previous rides I have sat on a variety of different saddles:
Mongolian (too painful), Russian (too narrow), English (too scary) and
Chinese (too dangerous). I never imagined that saddles could actually
be comfortable. But a Western saddle is designed to give so much sense
of ease and safety, I am told, that the rider can basically go to sleep
Dressed with a Western saddle, Okie is simply the fastest, the supplest,
and the steadiest horse I have ever dreamt of riding. He is easier to
control than a power steering wheel of a car. You only have to move
your body or the reins slightly for him to know what you want.
Now I see why Zhao thinks women are better with horses: we all love
someone who is sensitive and who understands our needs even without
us articulating them verbally, just like Okie.
The sun is setting now. I bring my mount back to the trainer, Mr. Li,
who has been my technical escort the whole afternoon. The 23 year-old
from a small town in Hebei greets me with a bright, boyish smile, his
face bathed in the golden glow of the sunset. " It's a lovely feeling,
isn't it? " he asks me. " When you are on top of a running horse and
dash through the air, you feel this sense of freedom, of control and
victory. You feel you are on top of the world. "
For more information about the Sheerwood Club,
call Amy at 6500-7799 ext 107