Tuesday, September 25th, 2001:

Today we made our pilgrimage to The Great Wall. Back in Canada I had read on the Lonely Planet site that you could scale the wall in a less-touristy spot, but I was glad that we didn’t.

There’s a parking lot for buses at the base of the mountains, where some local entrepreneurs had their camel-ride startup on display. With a photo costing twenty Chinese Yuan Remninbi ($4 Canadian), who could resist? I straddled myself between two humps and almost went airborne over the critter’s head, not anticipating that it would rise from a kneeling position hind legs first. Many a tuft of camel hair was torn off as I hung on for dear life to the moving beast. When it was all over, I dismounted with about as much grace as I got on with, which wasn’t much. Richard captured it all on my digital camera; look for photos soon.

A serene cable car ride got us to the wall itself. There was plenty of exercise to be had once we got there; after a five-minute hike at a forty-five degree angle upwards, my knees were buckling. And lets not forget the $40 show shoes… But even with the sweat and crowds of tourists, it was all right, considering that I have no other ancient wonders to compare it to. And what ancient wonder would be complete without at KFC right beside it?

One meal later Richard took us to the Wangfujing area. Four blocks real estate there have been razed, and a huge shopping centre now dominates the landscape. It felt more like a new suburban development in California than a communist capital, and that’s why this city works. To be sure there are definite signs of government oppression, like the one-child rule for families and that whole Tiananman Square thing. But there is also a massive untapped market of consumers who with every passing day are becoming more wealthy and eager to consume. This, and a Government that’s receptive to foreign businesses makes China a no-brainer for McDonald’s, Starbucks and the like.

After some decadent Peking duck it was back to The Loft, where the power had gone out. We performed a romantic show by candlelight, which went over surprisingly well.

Richard was supposed to see us off at the airport the next day, but didn’t show. If he’s reading this, consider this my tearful farewell, to the best ambassador Beijing ever had… You rock!

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