GSO in China, Day 3: The Great Wall Posted on January 22nd, 2008 by

gso_grtwall.jpgFollowing last night’s opening concert of the tour, today the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra spent a day taking in a few things that might sound familiar: The Great Wall, Ming Tombs, and Peking duck. We visited the Great Wall at Ju Yong Pass, where the GSO offered a spirited performance of the Gustie Rouser. The weather smiled on us and betrayed China’s meteorologists, offering sunshine instead of the forecasted snow. But the wind was bitter. Many braved both cold and gravity, climbing to the top of the hill and living to tell about it.

grtwall2.jpgAt Ju Yong Pass, the wall loops around a central valley surrounded by high, rocky hills textured with abandoned wheat terraces (the central government banned agriculture in areas close to the wall for environmental conservation). The wall itself has been built, patched, and rebuilt for thousands of years. The steps have apparently been resurfaced several times, and the most recent stones show heavy wear from visitors, mostly along the edges where one can cling to iron rails. Official estimates place the human toll of building the wall at 10,000 lives, one for each kilometer of wall. A large memorial to the laborers who died building it stands in the access complex. The wall in its current iteration is 3,300 miles long—not all contiguous—but at one point it was much longer. Starting in Qinhuangdao, at the Dragon Head, the wall rises out of the sea and meanders across northern China to its tail in the Gobi Desert. FYI, the wall cannot be seen from space, contrary to popular belief. After all, it is only 50 feet or so at its widest, and is the same color as the local landscape (locally sourced materials, after all).

En route to the Great Wall, we stopped at China Beijing RunDe-Jade Garden, a jade-carving factory, where we received a brisk education on the various kinds and qualities of jade. We also learned the significance of various traditional carved forms such as dragons, happiness balls, and Smiling Buddha. Maestro Friesen was favorably compared with Smiling Buddha, which means we will have a successful and happy tour. Retail opportunities ensued. By the way, it now will run you $5 to rub the maestro’s belly.

cloisonne.jpgAfter leaving the wall, we visited the Beijing Cloisonné Factory, where we received another education (brief but not brisk) in the art and craft of cloisonné. We then had lunch in the factory’s restaurant, followed by another retail opportunity.

mingtombanimals.jpgFrom lunch we traveled to the Sacred Road of Ming Tombs. 16 Ming dynasty emperors ruled China, and 13 of them are buried in tombs in a valley north of Beijing. China’s governments preserved the area with enough care to earn it a listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The road we traveled led toward the valley, and is basically a long walkway flanked by gardens and stone statues. We were nearly the only ones there today, so, after precarious ramblings at the wall and enduring Beijing rush hour (which lasts, well, all day), the GSO cut loose with some well-deserved giddiness. Surly retail opportunity at the end was mostly avoided.

Then back into the heart of the city, with a swing past the Olympic Village and the way cool new Olympic aquatic center and main stadium. Okay, it was more of a crawl past, since traffic is truly awful. And scary. It seems like there may be some basic driving conventions (nothing as formal as rules), one of which seems to be to just keep moving regardless of who pulls/rides/steps in front of you. Beijing’s street system traditionally accommodated millions of bicycles, but now the main mode of getting around is cars. With 2,000 additional cars registered every day, it just isn’t working.

pekingduck.jpgEventually we arrived at a popular Peking duck restaurant. Birds were carved tableside and duly consumed in what some described as duck tacos, utilizing rice wrappers. Then back into the vehicular fray to our hotel, followed by a variety of nearby entertainments.

Tomorrow we will once again brave the morning commute to stop by the Olympic structures, then visit the Summer Palace, with lunch at a silk factory restaurant (retail opportunity to follow?). Afternoon promises a visit to the Panda Zoo. Don’t forget your bamboo.



  1. Kristen Loken says:

    This blog is great! It is so amazing to be able to read about the days’ events and to see pictures and videos almost real time. I feel like I’m there with the students. The Great Wall looks awesome! It looks like it’s a great trip so far. Hi, to Laura Dummer! 🙂

  2. Ron Malles says:

    I really enjoy the pictures and information on China.
    Thank you for having a current blog which allows me to feel like I am on the trip with you.

    Ron Malles

    PS Say Hi to Kori Malles

  3. Jill Westphal says:

    Hello to Lisa Westphal!
    China looks AMAZING! Take it all in so you can give me a mental tour when you return.
    Be safe, have fun!

  4. Judy Plucker says:

    Thanks Sharon for doing the blog, we are really enjoying it and sharing it with family and co-workers. Very informative and photos are great! Can’t wait to hear the stories, take care and say hi to Kelsey!

  5. Gayle Petersen says:

    Thank you for the time and effort in doing this blog! It is incredible to already have a glimpse of your adventure. The blog makes it seem as though you guys aren’t half a world away.

    Hi and love to Caitlin!!

  6. Karen Marcotte says:

    Thanks so much for the great information and photos and videos – I feel like I’m with you in China. Special hi to Meredythe.


  7. Kathy Mason-Clair says:

    The blog is fantastic! Thanks for sharing your trip with us. The YouTube footage of the Great Wall is stunning. I’m really envious of the retail “opportunities!” A BIG hello to Katie & Leigh Ann!!

  8. E.J. and Terry Hollinger says:

    Hi’ We are so enjoying the pictures and geography lesson here in ND.Please say HI to our twin granddaughters, Marissa and Moriah Brown.

  9. Hi all from Florida, Looks like a GREAT trip, wish we were there but it looks cold. Have fun, be safe. Love, Blakes Grandpa and Grandma, Bernie too.