CHINA’S Great Wall
Just the idea of a brand new, entirely fake replica of an ancient Chinese water town, built with the sole purpose of attracting tourists, could put some people off. At best it sounds kitsch and Vegas-like, at worst a tacky, misguided blight on an otherwise quiet and wonderfully ragged section of the Great Wall of China. By the time you add an enormous five-star hotel across the street designed to vaguely resemble a European castle and any notion of this being an authentic Chinese experience seemed more an impossibility than an improbability… I loved it.
Shamelessly, I loved virtually everything about the Gubei Water Town in Gubeikou – a settlement at the foot of the Great Wall, about a two-hour drive from Beijing. As part of a Wendy Wu Tours travel party, we’d already sipped champagne that evening in the setting sun at a restored watchtower on the nearby Jinshanling portion of the Great Wall. Our guide, Ray, had marched us from the carpark and up a decent hill, chilly-bins in hand, to get us to this lookout point in time for sunset. Any complaints of “why do we have to walk so fast?” were soon forgotten when 20-minutes later we arrived with the sun not quite yet swallowed by the horizon.
It’s a surreal feeling being somewhere so famous, somewhere you’ve known about for as long as you can remember. Like the first time clambering around Angkor Wat, or when I poked my camera through the fence at the White House, it takes a bit of concerted mind de-cluttering to just pause and be in the moment.
So the sun went down, we drank champagne, posed for photos, attempted to gaze thoughtfully into the distance and headed back down the hill. After a quick freshen up at our gold and marble castle/hotel (with its Cinderella-inspired carriage in the lobby, colossal grand staircase and private karaoke rooms that look like something out of Alice In Wonderland crossed with the inside of the genie bottle from I Dream Of Jeannie) it was time to meet for dinner.
Ray was taking the group to the Gubei Water Town directly across the street (as well as across the moat) from our hotel. At first it seemed like he was leading us away from some attractive made-tolook-old structures and into some sort of banal foodcourt. Why were we going inside? Why were we lining up at what appeared to be a shopping mall in a subway? Right as we were about to launch a mutiny against our chirpy guide, Ray presented us with tickets and instructions to walk through some turnstiles.
Incredible. We’d had a brief taster of the beauty of ancient Chinese architecture, albeit of the brand new variety, in the stroll from the hotel. Our disappointment at being led away from that architecture and inside to what we’d mistaken as a bland mall was now the embarrassment of how we’d ever doubted sweet Ray.
A #casuallean on The Great Wall