BLOG: HIKING CHINA’S WILD WALL

By Logan Ma
Senior Editor

Few places are as representative of the Middle Kingdom as the Great Wall. Since its construction by the first emperor more than 2,000 years ago, it has captured the imagination of locals and foreigners alike while shielding the country from northern invaders. But like so many of the China’s cultural sites, parts of the Great Wall have fallen victim to overdevelopment. A case in point is the famous section at Badaling. Millions of tourists swarm its steps each year while dozens of hotels and restaurants dot the surrounding landscape. Having grown weary of the shops and crowds, I resolved this past summer to explore what my fellow Great Wall enthusiasts call the “wild wall,” the vast stretches of the Great Wall that are relatively untouched by tourism. The following is a brief account of the trip. Feel free to click on the images for a larger picture.

Here are some words of advice for my fellow thrill-seekers. First, never travel alone on the wild wall. I’ve already done that, and I’m not planning to do it again. The unrestored sections of the wall pass through very remote areas. If something happens, you will find it extremely difficult to get help. Based on experience, cell phone reception is terrible up there. Second, be aware of the surrounding area. The Great Wall Forum is a good place to acquire maps and have questions answered by experienced hikers. Trust me, as silly as it sounds, people do lose themselves on the Great Wall. Third, never travel on rainy days. Not only do you run the risk of slipping, but you may also find yourself in a thunderstorm. The last place you want to be with lighting striking around you is an old watchtower. Believe me, people have been killed by lighting on the wall. And last, respect the wall. It’s a national treasure as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Clean up after yourself and refrain from removing pieces of the wall please.

My journey to the wild wall began at the Mutianyu, pictured above. The Mutianyu wall is an hour and a half northeast of Beijing in Huairou County. Construction of the wall began in the mid-sixth century during the Northern Qi Dynasty, but much of its present incarnation was the result of a massive rebuilding project launched by the emperors of the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century. Like the tourist-infested Badaling, Mutianyu is largely restored. However, unlike Badaling, Mutianyu is walking distance to portions of the wild wall.

Near the western end of Mutianyu, the wall ascends in a steep incline, extending for hundreds of feet into the clouds. Most tourists choose to turn back at this point, but as an ex-varsity cross country runner, I attacked the 452 steps (yes I counted) with as much tenacity as my out-of-shape body would allow me. Huffing and puffing, I made it to the top, at times crawling on all fours.

For safety reasons, local authorities ban hiking on unrestored parts of the wall. However, the ban is rarely enforced. Only a few warning signs impeded my progress and after a hour of climbing, the wall began to take on a dilapidated form. Crumbled watchtowers and collapsed battlements punctuated the landscape, a stark contrast to the restored section that I had just come from.

Further west of Mutianyu, the wall forms a massive curve known as the Ox-Horn. During the summer, the vegetation here is so thick that hikers are forced to tread along the wall’s edge. One misstep could lead to a 10-meter fall and crippling injury. Loose stones and steep inclines make the climb even more difficult. The descent from the highest point of the Ox-Horn was so slippery that I was forced to slide down on my bottom, ruining a good pair of shorts in the process. Only on the way was I made aware of a route that bypassed the most dangerous sections of the Ox-Horn. A failure on my part to follow the second piece of advice doled out earlier.

Fallen into disrepair after hundreds of years of disuse, this ruin is almost unrecognizable as one of the Great Wall’s iconic watchtowers.

Nature advances to reclaim what was once hers. Long-abandoned by its occupants, this watchtower now plays host to plants and animals.

Years of sedimentary build-up have made it impossible to pass through this watchtower without stooping.

After hours of sliding down loose pavements and weaving through abandoned watchtowers, I reached the easternmost watchtower on the Jiankou wall, the Facing North Tower. From Mutianyu, the distance to Jiankou is approximately six miles. Here, I met an Australian couple and their local guide, the only people that I would run into on the wild wall that day.

I was greeted by a spectacular view of the Jiankou Pass from the western doorway of the Facing North Tower. Of all the sections of the Great Wall, Jiankou is considered the most dangerous. Every few years, someone falls to his/her death while attempting to navigate its jagged cliffs and steep drop-offs. But despite the inherent danger it poses, the scenic location still draws a small number of adventurous hikers and photographers. Among the highlights of the Jiankou Wall is the Eagle Flies Facing Upward Tower, visible in the distance, an imposing structure situated so high up that eagles are supposedly forced to fly face-up in order to clear the top. As I took in the view from my perch high above the pass, I could not help but think of the old words said to soldiers setting off to man the wall: 不到长城非好汉–“One who fails to reach the Great Wall cannot be called a man.”

Although I wanted to explore the rest of the Jiankou wall, fear of risking a nighttime hike convinced me to turn back. After catching my breath, I returned to civilization. A few weeks later, I grew weary of city life in Beijing and decided to hike another portion of the wild wall. While the trail between Mutianyu and Jiankou did grant a unique wild wall experience, the dense foliage and the thick fog that day prevented me from taking in the wall at its best. After doing some research, I set off for the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall.

Jinshanling is much further from Beijing than Badaling or Mutianyu. In fact, it’s not even within the boundaries of the expansive Beijing municipal area. To reach the Great Wall there, one must drive 80 miles northeast of Beijing to Luanping County in Hebei Province. Despite the long commute, it still attracts a loyal following because of its unparalleled beauty. Most visitors go to Jinshanling for its sunrise and sunset. To accommodate them, local farmers have transformed their traditional Chinese siheyuan homes into inns. Originally, I planned to stay at Old Zhou’s, but because he had no room, I was directed to his brother’s place instead. For 100 RMB, or around $16, Old Zhou’s brother provided me with a delicious meal, a clean room and a private shower.


The Jinshanling wall sits on 6.5-mile stretch bordered by the Simatai wall to the east and the Gubeikou wall to the west. Qi Jiguang, a Ming general famous for fending off the Wokou pirate fleets, oversaw the construction of this section in 1570. Sixty-seven watchtowers straddle the ridge. The Lesser Jinshan Tower is in the foreground. Ming soldiers from the southern provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang gave it its name to remind them of their hometown.

Heading west towards Gubeikou, the wall gradually deteriorates. While most watchtowers on the Great Wall have four or less windows, the Five-Eyed Tower is unique in that it has five. The tower also features barrier walls that cross half the width of the path along the top of the wall, a feature almost unique to Jinshanling. These walls provided an extra layer of defense in case enemies climbed onto the wall.

Here’s a closer look at the aforementioned barrier walls.

Upon reaching the western end of the Jinshanling wall, I ran into a group of photographers. One man, a banker by profession, had climbed the wall 50 times this year. Another, a farmer, more than 70. Although we hailed from different backgrounds, we were united by a common fascination with the Great Wall. I stayed with my newfound companions to watch the sunset. From our position, the Gubeikou section of the Great Wall could be seen winding into the distance. Eventually, it links with the wall at Mutianyu. Interestingly, it was at Gubeikou in 1933 during the Japanese invasion that the Great Wall was last used to defend China.

I woke up at 4 a.m. the next morning to catch the sunrise from the Lesser Jinshan Tower. I was not alone. Although the ascent was pitch black, some of the photographers that I met the day before were already on the wall with their tripods in place. A few had hopped over the side and were congregating on a precarious ledge to secure a good shot. For a while, we stood on the wall, waiting for the first glimmer of light. Slowly but surely, the black sky turned blue, then pink. Finally, the sun rose over the mountains in the east, eliciting loud cheers from our tireless band. When the dawn touched the wall, it basked it in a warm, golden hue. As the wall stretched into the distance, it resembled a golden stream. Looking back, it was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

With the sun rising, I headed east. Shortly after passing the Greater Jinshan Tower, the restored section ends. For safety reasons, most people turn back here. Like my last hike, I saw no one once I entered the wild wall.

This is the interior of a watchtower on the eastern route towards Simatai. In the past, wooden pillars acted as a support for the second floor. After the tower was abandoned, locals salvaged the wood for building purposes, causing it to collapse. Though it was in ruins, the watchtower gave off a venerable air.

Exactly 100 steep steps lead to the top of what is known as the General’s Tower. Situated near the highest point in Jinshanling, the General’s Tower served as a command center and occupied a position of great strategic importance.

The General’s Tower sits in the foreground of this westerly view of the Jinshanling wall. From here, the wall runs into the mountains near Mutianyu, extending as far as the eye can see. Any invaders would be hard-pressed to avoid detection from this vantage point.

These are the last towers on the eastern end of Jinshanling Great Wall. Further down, the wall dips into a reservoir before ascending the Simatai ridge, which is visible in the background. Some say that the lights of Beijing can be seen from the highest watchtower at Simatai, but sadly, that was a journey for another time. A guard stopped me from entering once I reached the bridge that spanned the reservoir. Apparently, Simatai had been closed since 2010 for restoration purposes by the local goverment. Although I was disappointed that I could not press on with my hike, my experiences on the wild wall were more than fulfilling.

 

All images by Logan Ma, Prospect Senior Editor

PEARL MILK TEA AND PIG FEET: TRAVERSING TAIWAN THROUGH ITS CUISINE

By Kirstie Yu
Staff Writer

Every summer for as long as I can remember, I visit my family and relatives in Taiwan for up to a month. Late last year, Taiwan became only the 37th nation to be included in the United States’ visa-waiver program, so for the first time I was able to stay for a little over 45 days this year.

What made this year’s trip special was that I was extremely blessed to have my uncle and aunt take me to see so many new cities and to have my dad introduce my brother and me to the city of Tainan, where he works. Every city I traveled to has a distinct flavor that really defines both the region and Taiwanese culture as a whole.

Taipei

When I visit Taiwan, I always stay with my grandmother and aunt in Taipei (台北), the capital of Taiwan. Taipei is in northern Taiwan. My absolute favorite pearl milk tea (珍珠奶茶) in the entire world is from Chen San Ding (陳三鼎), a local shop in a Taipei shopping district called Gongguan (公館), right across the street from National Taiwan University (台大).

Chen San Ding originated the use of brown sugar pearls in their milk tea, but had to change the name of their place after several knockoff shops began to pop up. They coined the name “Frog Hits the Milk” (青蛙撞奶) for their pearl milk tea, which alludes to how the pearls look like frog eggs.

Every night and even sometimes during the day, locals and foreigners alike will line up and wait for as long as 20 to 30 minutes just for their $1 cup of milk tea.

Another of my favorite restaurants is Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐), known worldwide for its Xiao Long Bao (or small steamed buns, 小籠包). The buns here are unique because soup runs out when you take a small bite of one, making them more special than regular dumplings and steamed buns.

Since their first restaurant opened in Taipei in the 1980s, Din Tai Fung has opened new branches in the United States, Japan, Hong Kong and elsewhere. However, having been to a branch in Arcadia before, I can say that the American branch just does not taste quite the same as the real deal in Taipei.

There is a window there where you can watch chefs make the Xiao Long Bao with precision.

Kenting

The first city that my uncle and aunt took us to was Kenting (墾丁), in the southernmost part of Taiwan. We went to a restaurant called Xiong Jia (or Bear Family, 熊家) that is famous for its stewed pig feet or knuckle (滷豬腳). The restaurant was in a large warehouse-like building that could seat up to 200 people.

Stewed pig feet is a traditional Taiwanese dish that I grew up with, but I had never before had it the way Xiong Jia makes it. The meat was extremely tender and their special garlic sauce was exquisite as well.

The next stop on this culinary trek across Taiwan was Houbihu Marina (後壁湖). We went to a seafood restaurant at a local fish market that was right by the pier.

It was here that I had the most delicious platter of sashimi (生魚片) I have ever tried. Prior to having this specific plate, I was not a big fan of sashimi because of the fishy aftertaste that is common at many Japanese restaurants in America. However, with the fish being so fresh here, the aftertaste was not as strong, and I quickly became hooked.

Kaohsiung

Kaohsiung (高雄) is a little northwest of Kenting, so this was the next stop on our trip. My cousins both went to university in Kaohsiung, so my uncle and aunt were relatively familiar with the city. There was a famous shaved ice (剉冰) shop right near our hotel. I am not a huge fan of the traditional Taiwanese shaved ice which has taro, red beans, etc., so I ordered a fruit one that had watermelon, banana, pineapple, mango and guava chunks in strawberry shaved milk ice.

Jiaosi

After our trip to Kenting and Kaohsiung, we went to Jiaosi (礁溪) and Yilan (宜蘭), both of which are in the northeastern part of Taiwan. Jiaosi is known for its hot springs and Yilan is known for its summer concerts and surfing. On the way there, we stopped by an attraction called Nanya Peculiar Stone (南雅奇岩).

Under a highway bridge, some local scuba divers were cooking some sea urchins (海膽) that they had found on a small pit, as well as some chicken that they had brought from home.

They were also stewing some fish soup in a large pot. Although we did not try any of their food, it was an intriguing sight that I had never seen before.

Ali Mountain

The most famous tourist attraction in Taiwan apart from Taipei is Ali Mountain (阿里山) in central Taiwan. Tourists from China and Japan flock here in hordes just to see the elusive but captivating sunrise. We went to a traditional restaurant near our hotel.

Many aborigines live in this region. In this particular restaurant, they use bamboo everywhere in the construction and decoration of the restaurant.

Starting from the upper left in the image below, we had some spicy tofu, veggies, bamboo shoots, chicken (traditionally served cold), fish and a mushroom soup.

Fenqihu

Ali Mountain is famous for the train that can take you from the base of the mountain to near the top. Since a typhoon had just hit before our visit, the train was closed. Despite that, we still decided to visit Fenqihu (奮起湖), a small town that marks the midway point to the top of Ali Mountain. We went to a restaurant in a hotel known for its boxed meals, or bento 便當.

The restaurant had wooden stumps for seats and beautifully carved wooden tables.

The boxed meal itself is typical of the kind that many businesspeople or tourists would buy and take with them to eat on the train. For a little over $3 per box, this specific meal had a nice chunk of grilled pork, a chicken drumstick, and other veggies (小菜) inside, all over a big scoop of rice.

Xitou

Xitou (溪頭) is a city that is also in central Taiwan. Its Forest Recreation Park (森林遊樂區) is an area of 2,500 hectares where we saw many indigenous trees, bamboo forests, waterfalls and the famous bridge at University Pond (大學池) where Chiang Kai-Shek posed for pictures with a group of college students in 1960. The food that most represents this region is rice cooked in a bamboo tube (竹筒飯). Originated by Taiwanese aborigines, rice is placed inside a bamboo tube and steamed until fully cooked, which infuses the flavor of the bamboo into the rice.

Tainan

My brother and I visited Tainan (台南), where my dad works for a high-tech company. Tainan is a city in southern Taiwan, right above Kaohsiung, which used to be a Dutch colonial settlement. We went to one of his favorite restaurants, a Japanese-inspired seafood restaurant called Shan Ji Fish Shop(山記魚仔店).

Local fishermen catch the fresh fish they use every morning, which provides a succulent flavor in all of their dishes. Here is a platter of yellowtail tuna sashimi.

My dad loves their fish soup. When the fish used is fresh and the soup is cooked just right, the soup has a sweet flavor to it.

Sardines are also a local delicacy, flavored here with some onions.

Jiufen

Our final destination on this culinary tour of Taiwan is Jiufen (九份), a beautiful town in northern Taiwan that served as the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s film “Spirited Away.” With architecture strongly influenced by Japanese colonization, Jiufen was a prosperous gold mining town but is now predominantly a tourist attraction.

No meal is complete without dessert, and we had a Japanese-inspired dessert, commonly known as dorayaki (or red bean pancake, 銅鑼焼). It is the favorite snack of the cartoon character Doraemon (小叮噹), which I grew up watching. Instead of using red bean paste, the owner of this shop uses ice cream, and I chose a simple yet heavenly dorayaki with vanilla ice cream.

With such a wide variety of food everywhere I went, it was hard to choose just a few of my favorite meals to show. However, I can definitely say that my time in Taiwan this summer traveling to so many new cities was very well spent. I hope I can continue to explore more of Taiwan’s incredible cuisine next summer!

All images by Kirstie Yu, Prospect Staff Writer

MODERNITY AT LARGE IN PERU

This week Prospect Journal is publishing a series of photo journals about international travel – join us as we explore a diverse set of countries by reading our “Changing Perspectives: Journalism Through an International Lens” series!

By Joe Armenta
Staff Writer

Peru is among the fastest growing economies in Latin America as a result of export-oriented policy and an expansion of foreign direct investment. Increased growth has led to greater prosperity among many Peruvians; however, it has also run into some new and existing challenges. This photo journal provides a brief look into these issues.

The municipality of Miraflores serves as the financial hub of the country, and is perhaps the most prominent emblem of Peru’s economic success. An expanding middle-class has created a housing boom, leading to the development of residential skyscrapers that tower over public spaces. As population density explodes in these highly concentrated urban zones, the need for central planning for utilities and infrastructure is crucial for residents.

One of the key components to the Peru’s 21st-century economic strategy is foreign direct investment brought about by international tourism. Machu Picchu, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, is at the forefront of this surge. The site attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors per year, the majority of whom spread their foreign currencies throughout the country creating a large tourist industry.

Snowy peaks provide ample environment for backpackers seeking adventure, but also provide a challenging environment for the development of small communities in the highlands. The Peruvian Andes stretch down the middle of the country separating the desert coast from the lush Amazonian rainforest. Few roads exist that wind up the peaks of these mountains, which reach more than 21,000 feet in altitude.

Loreto is the largest region in Peru land-wise, and also harnesses some of the biggest opportunities for growth in the nation. The Amazon rainforest possesses a wide variety of natural resources that can be used for food and pharmaceuticals. However, much of the development of the region is hindered by the lack of infrastructure. Outsiders can access this area only by plane or boat. While rivers are often referred to as the highway of the rainforest, it often takes days to reach desired destinations using boats.

Protests are a common occurrence throughout Peru. As the highly centralized country continually grows, public servants regularly go on strike demanding higher wages. Public gatherings can be small, as is the case for this photo, or large collections of people halt the streets of the capital, Lima.

The success of the Peruvian economy should not overshadow one of the country’s most dire problems: inequality. On the outskirts of Lima, the slums of San Juan de Lurigancho house thousands of people who live in destitution. Poor living conditions are coupled with public health problems as well as the lack of basic necessities such as running water and adequate electricity. Houses are usually constructed with scrap material from industrial zones.

This is Patty’s house. Slum life is accompanied by many uncertainties. Access to quality education and healthcare is limited, as is the security of a long-term, well-paying job.

The urban explosion of Cusco, shown in the background, has pushed many residents higher into the mountainsides where utilities such as running water, sewage, and electricity are scarce. Residents often rely on traditional means to survive and build such things as terraces and llama corrals out of loose rock found nearby their homes. This creates a problem for archeologist studying the area, as many of these modern constructions are built upon centuries-old remains of the Inca civilization.

While Western culture has seeped into the country in the recent years, Peruvians still devote a great deal of energy to celebrating local festivities. In October, thousands of limeños turn out to celebrate the final days of a procession paying tribute to “Nuesto Señor de los Milargos.” This is a tradition that began during the colonial days and combines Catholic, African slave, and indigenous histories.

The presence of Catholicism is largely felt in Peru. During the colonial days, Catholicism was used as a form of recognizing administrative legitimacy and establishing control. Today, the religion plays more into the everyday lives of Peruvians and the decisions that they make.

Adding to the land of ruins that makes up Peru is a boat that rests on the beach of Chiclayo. The rusty marine craft is a by-product of the fishing industry of the late 20th century. A once dominant trade, the profession has since been replaced due to several factors including a territorial dispute with Chile and the loss of government protection. As the ship slowly deteriorates, a new country is emerging with the help of a boom in economic activity. While growth has bettered the lives of many Peruvians, there is still much work to be done both in terms of social and technological advancement.