HHS 350 in China — Day 3: Great Wall and Olympic Park

Another day of excitement as all the students learned some Chinese on our 90-minute trip to the Great Wall. I think they all know how to say “good morning” and “thank you” now, but Danny and I challenged them further by teaching them how to say “The Great Wall” in Mandarin as well. Family and friends should feel free to test them when we get home.

Everyone was glad that we switched our Saturday trip plans for the Great Wall to today (Tuesday). For me in particular, once I remembered that this coming Saturday is a big holiday in China (Tomb Sweeping Day), I was very relieved. If the students think China is crowded now, they can’t even imagine the full-blown holiday effect, magnified and intensified by weekend status. It would have meant an entirely different experience than the peace we encountered today.

wall1It was actually raining today, which may seem unfavorable for a visit to The Great Wall, but it was actually a blessing in disguise of sorts because 1) it helps clear up the air, and 2) the rainy weather further dissuades visitors to see attractions. Unswayed by the rain, we all checked out umbrellas from the hotel, put on our jackets and hopped on the bus. Enthusiasm was abound amongst everyone as lively discussions ensued debating the merits of adding a toboggan ride down the hill after our trek along the wall. The rain stopped along the way or perhaps never reached the area where the wall is situated, so we did not need to worry about the weather impacting our plans.

The trek along the wall was amazing! The air was much more clear, the location uncrowded, the scenery mesmerizing, and it felt almost like we had free reign of the area. It was beautiful up on the wall and during our hikes we got plenty of exercise to help work off our delicious breakfast buffet. The ride down on the sleds was so much fun that we decided to celebrate with another group photo to commemorate the experience.

wall4As usual, Danny was a great sport and provided us with a bit of history to put our experience in context and help us understand the significance of the MuTianYu (Chinese: 慕田峪; pinyin: Mùtiányù) section of The Great Wall. We learned about the Northern Qi Dynasty’s original construction of the wall in 226 BC, after coming into power in 556 BC. Qi Shi Huang Di, China’s First Emperor of unified China, who is famous for building the first part of the Great Wall for the Chinese and commissioning the Terra Cotta Warriors & Horses for himself.

One of the most fascinating facts we learned was that about 20 percent of the population at that time (roughly 2 million people) was involved in the construction of the Great Wall and that many of them died during construction. Most did not volunteer for the job, but instead were prisoners of Mongolian decent. We were also able to visit some of the 22 watch towers built along the wall, typically found every 100 meters. These were used by soldiers guarding the area to signal (by smoke in the day, fire at night) impending danger or distress.

wall6We followed up an exciting morning with more adventure at the Olympic Park, where we saw the inside of the Bird’s Nest structure. Some folks also went across the plaza on their own to take a peek inside the Water Cube and explore the small sculpture garden.

Our lunch and dinner had us almost scraping our plates clean due to the huge appetites we worked up from all the walking and hiking. Another 12-hour day and plans for an early morning start means that we will be off to bed soon. Since I am barely staying awake myself, I will sign off here.

wall8Tomorrow we will more formally represent the USA and SDSU as we visit locations and organizations related to topics under the College of Health & Human Services. I think this SDSU group is full of excellent ambassadors and I look forward to seeing them in action over the next few more formal days.

This post is part of a series of guest blogs from Ine Williams, Study Abroad Advisor at the International Student Center and group leader of the spring 2015 HHS 350 course to China.

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