Friday, May 8, 2009

Driving to the Dragon's Head

The reason I chose Shanhaiguan as the place to first experience the Great Wall is that it is the location of Laolongtou, the "Dragon's Head" — where the Great Wall meets the sea. (It's sometimes described as the easternmost part of the Great Wall of China, but that's not precise. There are other walls, older, I think, that stretch as far as North Korea. But Laolongtou is the easternmost part of the Ming Dynasty wall that is our standard picture of the Great Wall of China.)

By pointing at the glossy tourist brochure, speaking pointlessly in English, and nodding my head emphatically, while  waving off other suggestions, I managed to communicate that I wanted to see Laolongtuo. It's about 20 minutes of rather harrowing driving from the First Pass, where I was staying. 

Shenhaiguan/Qinhuangdao is a beach resort area, and I could see the hotels and apartment buildings getting fancier and pricier the closer we got to the beach.

We drove past the beach and through a gate in the Wall, up a hill that was much too steep for Driver's little three-wheeled taxi. In the chaotic rush that is Chinese traffic, hand-drawn carts, motor scooters, bicycles, city buses, all rushed around each other and attempted to slither through tiny gaps and spaces in the traffic — with one undersized, underpowered cab lugging an oversized an American through it all. With that stolid resolution which is the unique province of the Chinese man, Driver laid on his horn and shoved aside lorries and bicyclists alike. When their resolution bested his and he was forced to slow or stop, the car always risked stalling.

Just on the other side of the wall, there was a gentle decline past a public beach. Improbably enough, a herd of cows was 
grazing in the thin strip of grass between the road and the beach.

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