Wednesday, June 4, 2008

China Day 05: Weather

Someone once said, "it's more important to know weather there will be weather than what the weather will be." Yeah, right!

When we got to where the bus was supposed to drop us off, we were in a parking lot about a quarter mile from where you climb up to get on the Great Wall. Right in front of us was a two story building housing a restaurant and a Friendship Store. (Friendship Stores are state-run souvenir shops - relics of the old Communist days.) The original plan was to go up on the Wall for maybe an hour and a half, and then to eat lunch in the restaurant. Because we were so late now, that plan was reversed.

Today's restaurant was on the second floor, and we were the only people in it. (All through our trip, the tourist crowds seemed way down - I don't know why. The trouble in Tibet? The upcoming Olympics? The recent earthquake? Whatever the reason, we never felt crowded in this country of more than a billion. Weird!) Lunch was tasty, but as we looked out the window we had a sinking feeling. Dark scary clouds were rolling over the mountain peaks and heading right for us; the thunderstorm broke just as the meal-ending watermelon arrived.

Now this has been a day of bringing good out of bad. Our late shopper kept us out of an awful traffic jam, and now a different traffic jam kept us from being up on the Great Wall in a howling thunderstorm! On the other hand, for practically everybody on the tour, the Great Wall was The Thing We Came to China To Do. Like the Pyramids in Egypt, the Great Wall is the iconic representation of the entire country, at least to us Westerners. Not going up there was going to be A BIG PROBLEM.

Fred never eats with us; he is always off with the local guide planning the next phase of the day's festivities. When he rejoined us, we all asked if there was going to be a problem going up on the Wall. He lowered the boom: we couldn't go up in the rain.

People suggested alternatives. Could we wait the storm out? Fred said we had another stop on the way home: the Ming Tombs. Could we skip that? Fred seemed reluctant. Could we come back tomorrow instead of going to the karate school that was on our itinerary? No way could that happen. Could we go up anyway? He looked at us like we were dangerously crazy and said it was not safe.

There was huffing and puffing. There was grumbling and muttering. People bristled their mustaches angrily. One guy told Fred something to the effect that he had not flown 3000 miles to NOT go up on the Great Wall of China. Fred fled. No, actually he went off to consult with Lilian and consider all the options. Finally he decided to hedge his bets: we would give the rain a half hour or so to slack off, and make a final decision then. We could shorten our visit to the Ming Tombs if necessary to make up the time. Meanwhile, we were free to shop in the Friendship Store, though we should still remember the airline weight restrictions.

The Friendship Store was a trip, by the way. Dad and I wandered around trying to have fun shopping - you know, looking at the merchandise, picking it up, inspecting it, thinking about it, etc. Unfortunately we were each being followed by an individual store employee at all times, and if we displayed the tiniest bit of interest in any given object, our employee would ask us how much we'd like to pay for it. Aargh!

Fortunately for Fred, by the stipulated time the rain had slacked off and [wonder of wonders] the sun came out! (in more ways than one; the mood of the group improved substantially, too.) We headed out for a short walk uphill to the ticket gate giving access to the Great Wall.


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