Apr 21

Beijing, The Forbidden City and Falling on the Great Wall.

Beijing, a city of more than 19 million (+or – a few million depending on how you count), is the seat of China’s national government and home to many famous ancient cultural attractions

The vibe of this city is busy, bustling, crowded and everyone is in a huge hurry. The fast pace is typical of city life and this is a very big city! I arrived mid-day, April first and the temperature was mild compared to home. There was a gray and hazy cover lingering over the city and the air is heavy. It was a good day with respect to air quality, but still noticeably smoggy.

One of my dear students was at the arrival gate when I landed. It was nice to see a familiar face in this far away land. She assisted me with navigating the extensive subway and finding my hotel. After I had checked-in we set out for dinner – Peking Duck was on my mind and the choice was a place called Da Dong, (review here) offering world famous preparation of the dish along with a number of very modern and creatively presented culinary delights.

grille Brussels sprouts with asparagus and fresh spring peas.

Grilled Brussels sprouts with asparagus and fresh spring pea

It is always great to see my friends, Patrick and Vivian and their little boy Thomas. They were guests in my home in 2012 and we spent a day sight-seeing in NYC. Together they own and operate a very successful advertising and marketing firm. Vivian has been a student of mine for a few years and this summer she plans to further her education and obtain an International MBA through the famous Renmin University in Beijing. We shared a lovely dinner in a restaurant located in the foreign embassy district. If you have a chance to go there I recommend their Peking Duck as well as many other items on the menu. The restaurant name is; XiHe YaJu. Here is a review from The Beijinger.


This dish on the left was a very creative combination of duck liver and eggplant, battered and fried...delicious modern Chinese cuisine.

This dish on the left was a very creative combination of duck liver and eggplant, battered and fried…delicious modern Chinese cuisine.

In addition to the food pictured above, Vivian ordered a squirrel fish and we had a quail egg soup with a very interesting bamboo fungus. It was a new food for me and I enjoyed the delicate flavor.


A former student, Amy Meng said she did not enjoy hiking when I asked if she wished to join me on my day trip to the Great Wall….though it was funny that we did quite a bit of “hiking” when she guided me through the Forbidden City. Hahaha!


Amy touching the lions head -said to be good luck.

Amy– touching the lion’s head is said to be good luck.

Amy and I had an enjoyable afternoon inside this amazing fortress, but did not have time to delve into the museum or other more detailed areas. I knew the place was big but I had no idea how big. The place is huge!! In about 2 hours we reached the 4th gate inside the city and then the announcement came over the public address system that closing time would be in 15 minutes.



Surprisingly the place emptied out quickly and it was almost like we were alone as we crossed the expansive courtyards on the way back out.

Where did everybody go?

Where did everybody go?

This view on the way up to the wall from the parking area.

This view on the way up to the wall from the parking area.


My adventure on the Great Wall was a little more exciting than I had hoped for. It was a mix of good and not so good. The good was that the company I researched was an excellent choice. Here is a link to their site; greatwallhiking.com

The day before my reservation for a guided hike on the Great Wall, the company called to inform that no one else had made a reservation for that Friday. More good news! So, I had the pleasure of a private guided hike in the Jin Shan Ling section about 2 hours out of Beijing proper.

Along the drive I noticed many small scale farming operations with greenhouses and terraced orchards of apricots and plums. There were an abundance of magpie nests, but seemed to be no other types of birds. My guide, Cheney Wu was very knowledgeable and shared with me that he has guided more than 500 hikes of the wall in the past several years. His English language skills are very good and he imparted a depth of knowledge that revealed his love for this ancient place. On the first half of the hike we were joined by a local woman whose family works a farm in the neighboring village. She supplements her earnings with sale of souvenirs to tourists. I purchased a couple of books from her.

The weather was perfect for a hike. It was a comfortably cool spring day and the sky was clear when we arrived at the parking area. The arrangement is that the driver will drop off hikers at the start point and then pick up at the point where you come down off the wall.


The not so good part of this hike happened when I took a surprise fall. While walking down a very steep slope my feet went completely out from under me in a flash! Caused by the fact that the stones were a bit slick with morning dew. I landed hard on my shoulder. Fortunately, I did not break the camera or any of my bones, but I was quite sore from the fall. Not to worry. This provided an excellent opportunity to investigate traditional Chinese massage and acupuncture.

The incident also gave me pause to remember that I am not in my twenties or even my 30’s or 40’s anymore. Caution is always a good thing especially so as we get older. There are risks in every thing we do and we should like to minimize those risks, but sometimes surprises can knock us off our feet!

As part of the guided hike the package included lunch at a restaurant owned by a local farmer. The food was freshly prepared and delicious. Fresh greens with garlic, rice, a battered and fried chicken dish with a tangy sauce, tomato and scrambled egg, and a chicken+dofu dish with ginger and carrots. Along with a Mons beer, I was prepared for a nap on the drive back to the city.


On the last day of my Beijing visit, I was pleased to catch up with Julia and family for lunch. We shared a traditional Beijing hot-pot. This style of hot-pot included two cuts of lamb, beef, enoki mushrooms, dofu, spinach and noodle made from soy beans. Julia and her daughter Vickie visited my home a little over a year ago, while Julia was doing research at Penn State University. Many thanks for their help getting me to the train station and onto the correct train. The Chinese Tomb Sweeping Holiday was cause for a real crunch at the station! It was very helpful to receive that heads-up in advance, but without Julia and her husband helping to guide me I am certain I would have missed my train. Sadly, I also forgot to bring my camera to lunch so I haven’t any pictures of the hot-pot feast. …next time.

The Summer Palace (north of Beijing) is a place I intended to visit this trip, but will be put off until another visit sometime in the future.

On the train to Jinan. The next article will focus on all of the activities I did in the city where many of my students live and work.

You may also check out several other blog-posts to learn more about my travels in China; Shanghai, and Qufu (birthplace of Confucius), the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an was perhaps one of the most interesting sites in terms of ancient history, Jinan – my second city, and here and this post wherein a share some of my experience with Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Taiwan and here…and Hong Kong here. Also this post about celebrating the Spring Festival and this one about China at the end of summer and visiting the Temple of Heaven. And the Summer Palace.

Permanent link to this article: http://english-speak-english.com/beijing-the-forbidden-city-and-falling-on-the-great-wall/


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    • Summer on April 28, 2015 at 6:03 am
    • Reply

    There is a saying: who doesn’t reach the Great Wall is not a real man.
    Very happy you have been there and had a private guided hike.
    I am sorry you fell on the Great Wall. Hoping you will feel better soon.
    Like you say: Caution is always a good thing especially so as we get older. Next time you come here, be careful. And enjoy more delicious food,seeing more beautiful views and the great people.

    1. My next trip will be a much slower pace and less running to the next appointment. Thanks for your warm wishes.

    • Amy Meng on April 29, 2015 at 2:55 am
    • Reply

    Happy to see you enjoyed your trip. Maybe next time, when you plan to go to Australia, I can also play with you and play a role as a tour guide. Best wishes for you .

    1. I had a great time “hiking” with you in the forbidden city! Too bad we started so late. I have to go back again to see the museum. Thanks for that gracious offer to be my tour guide in Australia! I may get there in a few years and will look you up.
      Best to you in your post-graduate studies.

    • Vivian Yao on May 10, 2015 at 8:47 am
    • Reply

    Hi Kevin, glad to see your blog and find the picture of your favorite food. Fantastic!

    It was a long time since you left Beijing, but thinking of our meeting, it’s just like yesterday.

    I remember you mentioned you wanted to go to China two years ago. Congratulations, you got your goal!

    1. Always happy to see you and your family, Vivian!
      I know you are busy and have little time to read, but it is great to receive your comment. Yes! One more goal achieved, and…..

      I am already planning my next visit!

    • Morning on May 15, 2015 at 4:35 am
    • Reply

    Your amazing pictures and words brought back fond memory for Beijing.
    Yes,as our capital, Beijing is a great place worth touring.
    Its traditional buildings have been integrated with modern breath.
    Your adventure on the Great wall let me have a kind of impulse to climb it someday!!
    Planning my next visit now!
    Compared to you,it is much easier for me,haha!

    1. A trip to the great Wall for you is easy. Just hop on the train to Beijing and then a drive out to Jin Shan Ling! I would like to return and hike that section of the Great Wall in autumn when there is more color.

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