Beidaihe and Laolongtou

In June 2005 we visited Beidaihe.  This seaside resort is in the Hebei province on the Bohai Sea coast.  Sea resorts are a bit different in China.  In some ways, the Chinese beach experience is always surprising.  As a personal tribute to my 80s upbringing, I can’t help lying out in the sun.  I do wear sunscreen now, and hats.  In China, no one lays in the sun.  Basically the beach or hotel pool is deserted until around 4:30 when big groups come out to use the facilities.

Women are generally dressed in serious Olympic styled Speedos.  Men too.  Unfortunately this doesn’t bring out the best in either sex at least not to my western sensibilities.  Both men and women may come out with either a swim cap or goggles or both on.  Clothes or a hotel bathrobe may be worn over top along with hotel slippers.  A paper shopping bag, also provided by the hotel may be carried along, I’d seen these bags in the hotel many times and never known what they were for, so that was one mystery solved.

It seems like anyone in a Speedo with get into the water and swim a lap with beautiful strokes then get out of the water to smoke.  This is a stereotype but it is also convenient for us.  We can always get chairs by the pool and generally have a nice quiet beach day.  Around the time Chinese tourists come out, we are ready for cocktails and the bar is conveniently empty.

This resort area was popular for Communist Party summer retreats.  Interestingly signs are in Chinese, Russian, Korean and English.  Apparently even Chairman Mao had a summer resort in the here.  Beidaihe became popular in the 1950s but was generally abandoned by the party in the early 21st century as they worked to establish a more frugal identity.  According the Wikipedia , source of all things, this was also the era when  the the party was working to move away from informal gatherings and more directly to official meetings.

We stayed at the Beidaihe Guesthouse for Diplomatic Missions.  Frankly, the name was the best part of the resort, the name and the fact that is was basically built by edict of Zhao Enlai in 1950.  I guess edicts aren’t the best from a maintenance standpoint.  There was also a strange panda statue in the courtyard. I can’t imagine why I didn’t take a picture of it.

In the way of old Chinese resorts and hotels, the rooms were small and a bit ulitarian but certainly got the job done.  We had an outdoor area where the three of us sat drinking cans of beer and enjoying the seaside air.  It really didn’t seem like anyone else was staying in this resort.

Dean wanted to visit this seaside town.  I wanted to see the end of the Great Wall.  I’m not sure my poor sister was looking forward to this trip, but she went along with it.

It did not begin particularly auspiciously as she and I came to Beijing from Xi’an.  My sister bought almost all mini terracotta warriors produced that year in Xi’an.  I think the actual number was around 50 but the weight of her suitcase suggested more like a thousand.  We struggled with the bag onto the Beidaihe train.  The Beijing train station was always a challenge for us.  Even with assigned seats on the train, the lines are still completely crazy.  I’m certain several people were knocked to the ground by the warrior suitcase.  Finally when we got to the the train someone stepped on my sister’s shoe and it flew under the train.  A tiny man jumped under the train to rescue the show.  My sisters red hair was a real asset, all over China.  I’m pretty sure he would have carried her suitcase if only we had known how to ask.

The train ride was uneventful once we made it out of the station.  Ironically I can really only remember one meal during the whole trip.  One of the streets in the resort area was full of fish shops and restaurants so we decided to stop for lunch.  We picked some shrimp by weight and a few other dishes.  Dean and I felt comfortable with this style since we had done it before in Quingdao and Xiamen.  Since there were three of us we decided to order a large fish.  Once we pointed out the one we wanted, our server literally reached into the tank and pulled it out.  He put it on the scale to be weighed but it was wiggling so much he couldn’t get an accurate weight.

This caused him a bit of distress so he grabbed the fish and threw it to the ground in a great dramatic gesture.  This was a bit surprisng and my sister squawked loudly.  Such squeeling from foreign women led to a bit of a crowd so I was glad when we got back into the restaurant.  The fish was quite a production and we didn’t even like it very much.

From Beidaihe we took a taxi to the great wall site.  Conceptionally, the Ming Dynasty Wall was designed to go from the seashore all the way to the Beijing area.  While it didn’t actually end of working as protection from the Manchurians and Mongolians it is still one of the most amazing sites I’ve ever seen.  I never get tired ot it.  I’ve visited three different Great Wall sites, and made four trips to the Mutianyu section.

Laolongtou is such an interesting section.  In my imagination, I can see the Genghis Kahn’s forces and their horses swimming around the dragon head section of the wall.  It really doesn’t seem like such a hard swim.  Pollution might make it more dangerous now.

This interesting section of the wall was built around 1579.  It was completely destroyed by the Japanese in 1904.  It was rebuilt in the 1980s.  The statues are designed to look like Ming dynasty warriors even though I think they look just like Manchus.

This is a unique and fascinating site.  It shouldn’t be the only part of the wall you visit since an important part of the wall experience is also the dramatic mountain vistas generally viewed from the more traditional tourist spots.  Bedaihe is not China’s best beach town either, but this site is interesting, close to Beijing and very different from other places we traveled.

The thing for me, about this spot is that it is the end of the wall.  You could start a wall walk at this spot and follow it along a map.  The wall doesn’t actually go straight along thousands of miles, and or I might actually try.  But you can start at the very end and walk for a few yards imagining it.


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