Now I'm pretty sure you were waiting to know what I did with the pack of condoms I found in the minibar inside my room, but sorry to disappoint you dirty minded people; I just left it there. And went to sleep at around midnight. Luckily I had told earlier my tour guide to come pick me up from the hotel at 10 in the morning so I would have enough time to get a proper sleep.
The next morning I headed for the dining hall since I was to get free breakfast with my hotel package and it truly was an awesome breakfast. I'm all for trying out authentic local food and all, but I would always like a good old English breakfast if I am anywhere but Sri Lanka. Thank god they had just that; scrambled eggs (and if you prefer all other sorts too) with mashed potatoes, sausages, salad, toast and of course tea. But it didn't stop there. There was such a huge variety of food, and I was SO hungry after a poor meal in the plane last night, I ended up eating not just that but also wheat bread with peanut butter (crazy, I know) and Chinese noodles with, well I don't remember with what.
Anyhow, full to the brim I was back in my room getting ready to go when I got a call from the reception saying that my guide had arrived. Few minutes later I was in the lobby looking around everywhere wondering how the hell am I going to spot my guide what with three fourth of the people in the lobby being Chinese and they all looking pretty much the same. But I guess that a Sri Lankan with a big ass camera and a tripod in hand in a hotel lobby in China must be kind of a rare sight, so a moment later I saw a cute girl heading my way.
"Hello sir, are you Sach?"
"Yeah, and you must be my guide?"
"Yes sir, I'm Winnie, nice to meet you!"
"Hello nice... what? Winnie? You said your name's Winnie?"
"Yes, like in Winnie the Pooh!"
"Erm... okay, hi Winnie, nice to meet you too!"
Now you shouldn't assume that this conversation went as smooth as you read it. Firstly, the accent of Chinese when they speak English is damn hard to follow especially if they are not really good at English. Add to that the fact that while I was talking I was also thinking how the hell did a Chinese got a name like Winnie. Strange, just like if you named a Sri Lankan guy Angelo Matthews. Anyway after this initial surprise we got into the car she had brought with her and proceeded to teach each other how to say "good morning" in our respective languages. For your information, or FYI as they say in this age of the Internet, it's zao shang hao. Stop trying to pronounce it now and read the rest of this post. As I was saying, we exchanged this information but I was still bemused at "Winnie" so I asked if it is her real name or just a pet name. Looks like most of the Chinese, or at least people who deal with foreigners, have an English name too which I thought was pretty stupid. I can't for the life of me imagine Japs changing their name so it would be convenient for the foreigners to speak it. Eventually I got to know her real name is Yan which I thought pretty cool and also easy to say so we stuck to that. Of course I asked her to do away with "sir" and stick to just Sach.
My plans for the day were first to go see Ming Tombs, then to the Badaling Great Wall and later if time permits, somewhere else too. The first place I visited, Ming Tombs, disappointed me since there wasn't really much to see. Then Yan suggested that we go see this Jade factory and store, which to be honest I didn't think would be very interesting either. How very wrong I was. It was fascinating to see the all the brilliant sculptures, jewelry and all sorts of other things that were made of Jade. Before this Jade stones meant green color beautiful stones to me. But it was much more than that; there were all sorts of colors like blue, purple, orange, brown, gold - you name it they have it. They also took me around the factory to see how actual stones are cut, polished and made into beautiful artwork which was pretty awesome. It was tedious work which sometimes take months apparently and you need to be skilled at the art. After spending more than an hour there and taking many many photos I finally spent a few bucks on a Jade bracelet before leaving the place.
Next was the lunch. Yes even after such a huge meal I still was hungry so we proceeded to find a restaurant and ended up in a place which I can best compare with a Saivar Kadey in Colombo. I ordered Chinese Fried Rice and a pork curry and I was in for not one, but two surprises. Firstly, being used to get so little whatever you order in Japan, I couldn't believe the size of the pork curry for one person. Easily three people could eat it. And secondly, I think the Sri Lankans can give a good lesson to Chinese on how to make Chinese Fried Rice. This rice was SO bland. I finished only one third of what was on the table though I must tell that the pork curry was really good.
Now all that behind, finally, I was ready to go see my dream destination. We hopped in the car and headed for the Badaling Great Wall, but I had picked the worst day of the week, Sunday, to go there. The traffic was awful and it took much longer than I had hoped so it was close to 4 in the evening when we finally arrived there. From there tourists must take cable cars to go up to the Great Wall, but I felt really hopeless seeing the very long line that was there. But that's when Yan stepped in; not only she was able to get me tickets pretty quick, she also found another cable car place where I could use the same ticket but was MUCH less crowded. Thank god I had decided to go with a guide that day. However, since Yan could not use her tour guide pass to travel by the cable car the plan was for me to walk on the wall for about one and a half hours before coming back to the same location where she would wait for me. Since the cable cars stop their service at 5 p.m., she was continually reminding me to get back on time. Minutes later, finally, there I was on The Great Wall of China, and what can I say but it truly was a great feeling being there taking in the absolutely spectacular sight which was literally all around me. Whichever way you look the Great Wall ran on almost all the mountains until you could not see it anymore. Ever since I was a kid I always was fascinated by this place, I often wondered how cool it would be to actually see this place but never really thought I would be there someday. It was truly a dream come true though not for the first time; I felt the same standing in front of the altar in Sistine Chapel and looking at the painting Last Judgement, a wonderful work by that genius Michelangelo.
After about ten minutes of being amazed I realized I also need to take photos so set up my tripod and camera and set to work. Several minutes later I felt a gentle touch on my shoulder and I turned to see Yan there behind me. Apparently she was worried that I might miss the final cable car downwards - actually I would have - so she had talked up with the guys operating them to take her up there. And a good thing she did too; I took SO much time photographing eventually it was close to six in the evening when I finished. She was very patient with all that, and then we walked on the Great Wall towards an exit where we can go downwards on foot to where she had asked the driver to bring the car to. From there onwards I mostly slept in the car on our way back to hotel where I said my goodbyes to Yan, a really wonderful girl whom I would love to meet again someday.
Await for more which happened on that night as well as the following day, on my next post.