The Great Wall

The Great Wall

Curtis Bratton

Meet ... Curtis Bratton

China Study Abroad Major: History
Location: Beijing, China
Studying: Spending four weeks immersed in the Chinese culture while visiting majestic, historical sites and studying at the prestigious Institute of Chinese as Second Language of Peking University.

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On Saturday (July 21) we went to the Great Wall, specifically the section at Mutianyu, which is one of the best preserved areas of the Wall. We left that morning to overcast skies, but it was like that for the past couple days, so we didn’t think anything of it. By the time we got the section of the wall, it was raining lightly, nothing to worry about (it would get worse later).

The climb up the Wall was almost like of mirror of the final length up Mount Tai, but I didn’t want to take the cable car up (felt too much like cheating, have to walk up then back down). Thing that surprised me the most was the amount of Americans we saw there. There weren’t any (or we couldn’t find them) at Mount Tai or the other locations we went to, Great Wall’s popular I guess.

When we got to the top, it was a little disappointing. The Wall itself was in amazing condition for a structure of its age, but the fog kept us seeing any scenery or any other sections of it. As we began to descend, the rain really picked up. It just dumped on us (I had an umbrella, but others in the group weren’t so lucky).

As we came back on the bus, it was raining very hard, to the point that there were some problems in Beijing.

Rainy Days and the Marsh Man Commith

By the time we got back to the dorms on Saturday (July 21) the rain was a constant sheet everyone was wet and tired from the Great Wall so we were done for the time being. At the height of the storm (maybe around 5) I locked myself out of my room again. Oh joy. My umbrella and rain jacket were inside the room. Went up to Dr. Lou’s room and he called the front desk and told them to expect me (didn’t want a repeat of last time). Now there was the burning question; how to get from building 6, where our rooms are, to building 4, where the front desk is.

There is a walkway that connects buildings 4, 5, and 6 but (as I found out) it does not lead to the front desk, only the residential section of 4. So I ran out real quick and got into the front desk (didn’t get real wet, I was happy). Everything was going as expected, until they gave me the room number. They told me I was in 60304-2. I told them it was 60304-1. They wouldn’t believe it, they told me that the computer had me in 2. After five minutes of failed negotiations, they gave me a key for room 2 and told me it was correct.

I went back and checked, and sure enough, I was in room 1. So I had to go back up to Dr. Lou’s room and had him call down again to tell them they messed up, then walk back out in the rain. I got so wet from the walk back the first time I really didn’t care about getting wet now. By the time I arrived back at the desk, I had been given the moniker of “Puddle Man.”

Had to go back, getting splashed by a bus in the process, get back in my room then bring the spare keys back down or I’d get fined. On the third run, I had evolved into “Marsh Man” and interestingly enough people were stopping to take pictures with me. I don’t know why, but I didn’t care.

The next day I was talking with Dr. Lou about the storm and he said it was one of the worst storms ever in Beijing and that the metro, some roads, and stores were flooded out. A number of people died as well I heard.

Let’s hope I don’t forget that card again.

The National Museum

China Study Abroad On Sunday (July 22) Dr. Jing Lou planned an optional trip to the National Museum of China. We left early and took the metro to the Tiananmen West Station (The metro was drained from the storm, but the sandbags where still set up when we went down).

When we got to Tiananmen it was beautiful out, much better than the first day we went (grabbed some better pictures without all the haze). We had the wait in line for about 20 minutes I was the first inside because I really got into how the Chinese wait in line. Leave no space and if any opens up, take and hold.

The inside of the museum was amazing, completely unexpected. It was huge, super clean, and just very modern. The museum itself was mainly centered on Chinese history, but it had some exhibits from other countries, Dr. Lou highly recommended the Ancient China exhibits in the lower floor, that covered Chinese development from the Neolithic era, though the dynasties, and ended at the Revolution of 1911.

The displays were very impressive. But I really wanted to see the late Qing Dynasty and the Revolution of 1911 (My historical concentration is from 1840-1920). By the time we got up to the late 1800’s, there were only about two or three displays for that time period. One for the Opium War and one short one for the Revolution of 1911.

After that, we went up to the Central Hall, where they had a lot of paintings centered on the CCP and its victory during the Chinese Civil War. The top floors really didn’t hold my interest, one room had an exhibit from London called “Passion for Porcelain”, apparently I’m not passionate enough because I hated it.

To end the trip Dr. Lou had us do a group photo in front of the marble statue at the entrance that depicted the leaders of the CCP after their victory over the Guomingdang. It was only after we were leaving that Dr. Lou told me about the ENTIRE wing of the museum dedicated to the Revolution of 1911. I was not pleased to hear I missed it.

Temple of Heaven and Hongqiao Market

On Friday (July 27) we went to the Temple of Heaven and the Hongqiao Market. These two locations a rather well known so many tourists go and we did see a lot of foreigners. The first stop we made was to the Temple of Heaven.

The temple of heaven was a site where the Emperor would go and pray to the God if Heaven for a good harvest. On a platform where the animal sacrifices were held, there is a flat stone that was said to be the center of the universe. The Temple itself, as our guide told us, is the largest wooden structure in the world. It was a great experience to see the temple, but the humidity was terrible and our friend the fog was back. But, nonetheless, The Temple of Heaven is one of the most symbolic sites associated with China and I was very happy to have had the chance to see it myself.

The next stop was the Hongqiao Market, also known as the pearl market. In the market about 99% of all items offered are fakes (our guide told us that the only thing real was the food from KFC, that’s why it was 99%).SO if you wanted a PSP made by “Sone” you’re in the right place. The market was filled with purses, shoes, and knock-off electronics. Not really what I wanted. The salespeople are very pushy (light way to say it) and if you don’t know how to haggle with them properly or that the items are fake, you will get ripped off. After about an hour there it was time to go back to the bus and head back.

Homeward Bound

These past four weeks have been a once in a lifetime experience for me. Seeing the cultural sites and being in Beijing was just awesome, but I think I’m ready to go home. China was great, except for the stairs (i.e. Mount Tai and the Great Wall), I learned a lot about the language, culture, and how Beijing runs. One thing I’d love to take back is how the traffic works, but I don’t think it’ll catch on (might stay away from driving for a while).

I’m going to miss a lot of things, like my teachers, everything being so cheap, and of course my chaofan (fried rice, it was awesome). Beijing was very different than how I pieced it together from photographs from the 1800’s, but I’m thrilled that I came here. I would say that if I get the chance to come again, I just might take it. And if anyone is considering going, I strongly encourage you to do it. It’s an opportunity you hardly get and an experience you won’t forget.

    — Curtis Bratton, history major