dougie baird , china, great wall of china


Travel Writing > Travelogues > Douglas' China Diary

Douglas' China Diary

Day 1 - Saturday 27 October 2001 - China Here We Come

After a year of fund-raising and a week of worrying about what to take with me it was time to set off on one of the biggest adventures of my life. Neil turns up bang on time, a quick goodbye to my wife and the wains then we're off.

As we travel along Alderman Road we notice a huge banner saying "GOOD LUCK IN CHINA", Harry one of my work mates got up early to place the message between two trees in the middle of a busy roundabout...What a great geasture, I have really been taken aback with the response from my freinds.

We stop to pick up Mark who is part of our group for China. As we travel along heading out of Glasgow my mind starts to wonder whether I have everything....TO LATE NOW.

We arrive at Edinburgh Airport with plenty of time to spare, a quick goodbye and thank you to Neil for the lift.

Bang on Time (11:00am) we leave for Amsterdam, we have more than 50 in our party, all ages and levels of fitness from all over Scotland and a few from further afield, at 13:30 we arrive in Amsterdam which brings back a few memories of visiting there whilst I was touring Europe many years ago. Nae time to go windmill bagging, as I have a plane to catch to China. We have all to line up in alphabetical order for the group visa which makes me get through departure fast. At 17:15 we fly off to we go then...AFF TAE WALK RA WAA WAE (HEINZ VARIETY) 57 STRANGERS, by now we're all getting to know each other.

Day 2 - Nihao to the Barracks

Arrive in Beijing at 8:35 local time and we are transferred to the Huangyaguan Restort Hotel.

This takes about 2 hours and gives our first look at China. I had been warned to expect the worst "WELCOME TO HELL" but I think it was a trick by the group leaders to ease us into Chinese accomodation, I actually loved every minute of our stay there, it was built in a valley with the Great Wall on either side....Fantastic setting.

So we go to our rooms..NO KEYS..I find this very strange having travelled a bit, but it seems that China is a very safe country, but I decide to carry my passport money and improtant items with me.

Can't wait to get out and explore so I venture out for a wander around the surrounding area.

The people seem to be very poor in this area but very freindly, after that we end up having a small refreshement (aye that will be right) in Sandy and Malcolm's room (awright so it wis a right good piss up wae about 20 new pals in a single room), then it's our first meal in bad... after dinner we have a quiz which my team does badly, then off to bed.

Day 3 - Huangyaguan Pass

We start the day by warming up by stretching and bending - coached by Paddy our fitness coach from Silk Steps. This was done every morning right after breakie.

First day on the wall....will I be fit enough I ask myself?? We start by leaving the Barracks straight after breakfast.

We started by walking through villages which gives us a good view of Chinese life, after 3km we arrive at a statue of some Chinese leader then onto the wall. The views are "pure dead brilliant by the way" we walk for a short while then descend down into the valley, we take our time here as this is a very steep section, we stop at the bottom for lunch, which is basic, (egg, nuts and a double decker sanny), but it fills you up, and washed down with plenty of water.

The weather is brilliant, really warm for autumn, later in the after noon David one of our tour leaders points to a red flag at the top on the other side of the valley, thats our aim for the afternoon, off we go, it's a lot harder than the morning but the views are spectacular, Back to the hotel for dinner and a few beers.

Day 4 - Siniatal to Jinshanling - Me and My Shadow

Morning drive for two and a half hours brings us to one of the most spectacular sections of the Great Wall. We will walk from Jinshanling to Simatai.

We had been warned in the morning about aggressive souviner sellers, as we reach the start of the wall we see a large group of peddlers ready to pounce, I squeeze my way through only to be followed by a young girl not much older than Yvonne my daughter, the girl looked very poor, I thought to myself I had paid £80 for a pair of Salomon Super Grip Hiking Boots and here she is walking the wall everyday in her plimsolls, she didn't speak much english but she did now the appropriate words.

We were told if we chased our shadow away another one would turn up, so just go along with it as if it was part of the challange, so I introduced myself to my shadow, "My name is Dougie, what is your name?" She mumbled something so I christened her Fran as I was sure an Anna would turn up soon.

She offered to carry my bag for me but I said I would buy a book of her at the end of the walk, I looked about to see that a lot of the group had taken up the offer of help and that every person now had a shadow. Fran found it funny that my name was similar to a four legged animal which was probably part of her diet.

This was the hardest but most rewarding day of the walk, following the wall as it snakes over the high mountain ridges. Jinshangling has 67 watchtowers with each one an example of different architecture. These remote areas of the wall are fantastic; there are high ridges with both ruined and restored watchtowers, with some of the wall in overgrown by vegetation and in it's natural un-repaired state. At Jinshanling the wall zigzags up inclines and straddles between peaks like a suspension bridge, the staircases on the wall here can be very steep, especially at the Simatai end where there is an option to climb another 2km further up steep staircases.

About half way along the wall another shadow (Anna) appears coming towards me from the Simatai end, I explained that Fran is my China for the trip, I had been setup as we go on a few hundred yards and Fran tells me she has to return to Jinshanling to look after her kids, being a big softie I buy a book off her and wish her well. Then Anna moves over to greet me with hello hello (whit she wis a rangers supporter - brian) we go again, she walked close by offering to help at awkward parts of the wall. When I stopped she stopped, when I walked she walked, when we reached Jinshanling I gave Anna a few quid which brought a huge smile on her face.

Today had been a very long walk, but a day which I will never forget, we are staying at Jinshanling guest house tonight. Around 5.30pm we walk back upto the wall to watch the sun go down, there is music coming from one of the watchtours, it's our group doing a bit of highland dancing, The Dashing White Sergeant is getting big licks. Nothing I like better than standing on peoples toes.

After Dinner we have a bonfire and some chinese firecrackers and swally some more beers (why not), and then its off tae bed absolutely chinese crackered (knackered).

Day 5 - Mutianyu

After breakfast I wander outside for some fresh air to clear the head only to be met by Anna trying to sell me some more souvenirs, I quickly retreat back to the hotel. We drive to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall located in Huairou county, this is one of the more popular sections of the wall, where President Clinton and other VIPS are brought to.

After a 3km pre-walk I decide to take the optional team hike up the mountain. This is the hardest walking of the week. We have to eait while our guides bargain with the local farmers to allow us to carry on across their land.

Once on the wall we had an unobstructed view in both directions of it's great length meandering along mountain crests. In the afternoon we take the toboggan slide down to the market where we are met by eager vendors, that night we stayed in Changping. We have dinner in the friendship store then it's back to the hotel for our Halloween party.

Day 6 - The Wall at Jurongguan Pass

This is a short but very vigorous walk that loops along the mountains either side of the pass, the wall here is reconstructed and in good condition, starting with a steep haul up a staircase of some 1600 steps. This was quiet hard walking up so many steps but the longer the week goes on the fitter you get.

I meet a few ex-pats here from Australia and Canada, it was quiet strange talking to people that had left Scotland so many years ago at the Great Wall of China, "is the pictures in Garscube Road in Glasgow still there?" I tell them it was in Cambridge Street and it was knocked down about 25 years ago, they laugh and say their going to go hame someday and check out my information, we shake hands and we're off again.

Finally at the bottom Roy buy's us all a WALLS ice cream - just what we needed. Back to the hotel to freshen up for our train trip down to Xian. Then it's off to KFC for dinner...magic...nae chopsticks.

Day 7 - Last Train to Xian Central

We stock up with supplies for our 16 hour train journey from Beijing to Xian, around 5 o'clock we leave Beijing's main train station, we are booked in Soft Class which means we have a bunk to sleep on, later I had a look at the other classes and was pleased where we were staying, we had a nice private compartment with four beds in it, i take the top bunk.

As we leave Beijing the views from the train are very interesting, we pass through many villages and the land is very flat. As time goes on the darker it let the party begin... Fifty odd Scotsmen together on a train means the drink will flow, "Flower of Scotland", "I belong to Glasgow", The Northern Lights" are all belted out from different carraiges, I was in a compartment with another 12 squeezed in, one of the staff on the train comes in to see what the all the commotion was......

"hey gae that man a drink" someone shouts.....
no response from the guard......

"take a sma' whisky" some one else shouts.....

This is turning into something out of Chewin the Fat, he leaves in a hurry but returns five minutes later with a jam jar which he receives a large one in, we all introduce ourselves and he says his name is Coco, after a few more halfs he leaves the worse for wear, never to be see again. A few hours later a member of the transport police is offered a drink, which he declined and lifts his jacket to show his pistol, we dont offer again, time to catch some sleep. We arrive in Xian bang on time and transfer to the Orient Hotel.

In the afternoon we walk 10km which will take us through typical peasent villages, we pass the Weihe River and bamboo trees which spread like a green blanket over the hillsides, we walk to the Zhongnan Mountain, a site famous in China as the place where Taoism originated. We walk a further few kilometres up to the top of the mountain (approx 500m above sea level) where the views over the Shaanxi Plain are spectaular.

In the evening we go out to the Shaanxi Grand Opera House to see a recreation of Tang Dynasty music and dance, I nearly fall asleep, but everyone else seemed to enjoy the show, the wee drummer was quite funny.

Day 8 - Xian & The Stone Sodgies

The modern city of Xian was once the site of the mighty city of Chang'an, the capital of 11 Chinese Dynasties, and was also the starting point for the great trade caravans of the Silk Road.

In the morning we were driven out to see the amazing Terracotta Army, although there is no historical record of the thousands of life sized armoured soldiers and horses, it is beleived that they were intended to serve as bodyguards for the ghost of Qin Shi Huangdi, the famous Yellow Emperor who first united China and reigned from 221 - 210 bc.

I shake the hand of the old farmer who discovered the Army, he was paid a few yuan for his land but is making more now signing autographs.

When you actually stand with the whole Terracotta Army in Front of you, it's then you realise that this is the eighth wonder of the world. The light is very poor inside the hall so it is difficult to get a good photograph, we then watch a 360 degree film.

As we leave and make our way back to the bus we come to another stall with an old man claiming that he discovered the army. Back on the bus I ask our CTS guide "which one was the original? He laughs and shrugs his shoulders.

Day 9 - Flight to Beijing

Flight to Beijing in the morning. Flight was ok, then transferred to the Exhibition Hotel for two nights. It was great travelling from the airport to our hotel actually getting our first real view of Beijing, which was a lot more modern than I thought, we did see the odd english signs.

In the afternoon we went on a rickshaw tour of of the Hutong area (ancient city alleys) and visit a typical Hutong family and finish up in the local Tea House for a cuppa. At night we go out for an italian meal.....Excellent.

Day 10 - Malky's tours

The last full day in China but the best, I decided not to take the official tour of the Forbidden City but to take Malky's Tour of Beijing (Around Beijing in 80 minutes)

We scoffed down breakfast and met in the hotel lobby, my guide for today was Malky a retired Architect and his assistant Sandy....Malky had been on a previous trip to China, so he knew the sites or so I thought...Sandy was to do the commentary (he had great difficulty remembering the names of anything!!!) A quick head count and the 3 of us are off.

First stop the Beijing Zoo, straight to the Panda House, first time I had ever seen a Panda..Malky shouts "TIME UP", and we're off again, that was some zoo, 2 Pandas, 4 Sparra's and a Magpie.

"Taxi for Tie Me Doon Square" shouts Sandy, Tian'anmen Square is huge, nothing prepares you for the experience of being in the square, the first thing that you notice is the giant portrait of Chairman Mao, this is what travelling is about, seeing all the famous sites for real, I take lots of photographs in the square.

Next it's off to the Forbidden City, what a place. It's the largest palace complex in the world with 9999 rooms (imagine keeping that place clean, and when i go home my missus will be moaning aboot keeping our wee place tidy, hehehe). For over 491 years it was the residence of 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The ordinary Chinese were barred from entering.

Another quick headcount and we're off once more, this time to Starbucks for a coffee stop, I felt strange being in a Beijing Cafe and hearing the Eagles "Hotel California" playing, after that down to Silk Alley for some serious shopping for gifts for the long suffering family back home.

We grabbed a taxi back to the hotel, for a quick shower and out for dinner, as this is the last evening in China we go for a Peking Duck Banquet......Brilliant, what a day this has been.

Day 11 - Homeward Bound

Thats it Folks, my adventure in China has come to an end, as we fly home via Amsterdam.

I'd just like to say thanks again to everyone for their help over the last year, and I hope you have enjoyed some of the events that have been arranged to help fund Aberlour's work with Scottish Kids.


Dougie Baird.

Read more and see the pics on Dougie's website

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