I had two lectures to give: one on the Wednesday after I arrived, the other on the Wednesday I left. For the most part, the time in-between was free for sightseeing or "Academic exchange" (i.e. talking to colleagues about this and that).
I found that the one thing I was determined to do was to see the Great Wall. Admittedly there's a lot of it to be seen, but just one of the sections open to tourists would be enough for me. I've dreamed for so long of walking along it, from fort to fort.
Apparently there's a Chinese proverb that claims that "He who does not reach the Great Wall is not a true man." So, yes, I'm afraid that I did fork out for a certificate to that effect, counter-signed by my guide Zhang Ping, together with an "official" photo of the event (which looks a bit better in its original frame, without the camera flash at the bottom.
It was rather a foggy day, as you can see from the greyness of many of the pictures, but given my general lack of fitness, that might have been just as well. I was certainly sweating after scaling some of these slopes!
There's a lot of graffiti written up here and there, despite all the signs warning you of dire penalties if you disrespect the rules. There are a lot of them:
I presume these padlocks are left here by couples as proofs of eternal fidelity, just like the ones on the Pont Neuf in Paris.
I'm afraid I couldn't resist adding a New Zealand twenty-cent piece to the ones in this little wishing pool. Hopefully it will bring me good luck.
A long time back - twenty years ago, in fact - I wrote a poem called "Journey to the West," inspired by repeated readings of the four classic Chinese novels: The Three Kingdoms, The Water Margin, Journey to the West, and The Red Chamber Dream.
The last part of that poem runs as follows. It seems appropriate, somehow:
Is it high?
It touches heaven.
It reaches hell.
White clouds surround the mountain
black mists swim
red-blushing plums / jade bamboo
dark-green cypresses / blue pines
Ten-mile pavilion: no travellers leave
nine-faced heaven: stars have set
on eight harbours: boats are docked
in seven thousand cities: gates shut
six palaces: officials gone
five departments: ledgers closed
four seas: fishing lines sink
three rivers: waves subside
two towers: bells resound
one moon lights earth and sky