The concierge in the hotel recommended the tour to the Wall by "coaster" for 150 yuan. What was a "coaster?" I wondered. I always thought a coaster was something you put under your drink to protect the table -- or maybe a recording artist who sang about Charlie Brown with his friends.
For 550 yuan I could book a private tour by car. From what I was told later in the day, 550 yuan is half a year's wages for a typical Chinese working man. (At this time there were about 5.5 yuan to the dollar) I opted for the "coaster." The Wall (or as the Japanese call it, "The Long Castle") is at least an hour and half drive from the city.
The "coaster" tour included a visit to the Ming Tombs -- a mistake, I was to find out. The Ming Tombs weren't that great. Because the tour wasted time here and lingered in a tourist restaurant with slow service, we wound up having only one hour to explore the Wall. It would have been better to get some sort of snack at a food stand at the Badaling Wall site.
The tour guide did, however, manage to find 45 minutes for us to spend at a souvenir store on the way back to the hotel after our far too brief interlude at the Wall. But you have to expect things like this when you sign up for tours.
Spread the word. Tell everyone you know. NEVER go on a Great Wall tour that includes the Ming Tombs. Trust me!
The "coaster" turned out to be a nine-passenger van. How come I didn't know that word?
The Wall's length totals 6000 kilometers. Construction began in the 7th century B.C. The present Great Wall was built during the Ming Dynasty over 600 years ago. The part the tourists here visit is called "Badaling."
|The Wall at Badaling is 7.8 meters high and about 5 meters wide. According to the Urban Folklore Usenet newsgroup, "about 90 percent of the Wall is either lying in rubble or buried in windblown sand. The longest intact remnant, which you usually see in aerial photos, is some 35 miles long. The 'tourist section' outside Beijing is just that: a replica, just long enough to go out of sight at both ends, 500 miles off the original alignment and built for 19th Century British tourists to see."|
While on the subject of urban legends, the often made claim that the Great Wall is the only man-made object that can be seen from outer space turns out to be an urban legend classic.
Some day-to-day merchandising. I wonder if these ventures were in operation when Richard Nixon visited the Wall in 1972. How much tourist trade did the Wall do at that time?