When I spoke to Jim, my local contact, last night, he said that with a 7 AM arrival, I might have the Wall all to myself. I thought it was just a turn-of-phrase to represent that there would be few people.... I didn't realize that it meant that I would be the very first tourist there today. Which remained the case for almost an hour.

Honestly, I freaked out. We pulled up to the big sign which said "Great Wall entrance" and there were no other cars, and very few people, around. It took a few minutes for me to figure out where the actual "entrance" is -- there's so much other schlock around there, it's easy to miss the ticket gate. At 7 AM, none of the hawkers were in their booths yet, nor were any of the shops open. But when I found it, there was one lonely woman in the ticket booth -- I paid her my RMB40 and was on my way.

I had barely made it up the stairs when a young man came running at me, saying "ticket ticket ticket". Apparently, I had forgotten to swipe my ticket card through the reader before entering. So he took my ticket and ran off to get it counted.

The weather this morning was completely unexpected. I guess I should have known that the Wall is located in a hill/mountain range...but Beijing itself is so flat, I had been fooled. So in the upper elevations, it was snowing. I was wearing walking, not hiking shoes.

With the snow coming down, and the outside temperature about -2c, I set off to climb the wall. The snow-covered surface was a challenge, and where there are steps, it's really steep. Still, it was truely amazing to be walking along a major tourist attraction, one of the wonders of the world, with nobody else around. I took pictures of my footprints in the snow, to prove I was really the only one there. I had to set my camera on the wall and set the timer to get a picture with myself in it, since nobody else was around.

Anyway, with so few people around, I was able to cover a lot of ground in a short time. I arrived at the "go no further" sign rather unexpectedly...honestly, not sure why it was there, since the wall beyond was clearly "tourist-ready", with trashcans, handrails, etc. This point overlooked the cablecar station -- with no cars running. It was really eerie to be all alone at the top of the wall.

As I headed back down, I finally encountered two other tourists. And once I exited the wall, there were hundreds of people arriving -- most appeared to be the hawkers and shopkeepers, rather than tourists. I saw one man dressed in a sportcoat, slacks, and dress shoes -- hope he didn't think he was going climing in that. Oh, and I was the only caucasian around -- so I got lots of "hello, take a look" shouts as I walked back to the car. Most shops weren't open yet, thankfully...otherwise, that probably would have been like walking a gauntlet. OTOH, I was glad the KFC wasn't open yet -- sad to see this American institution at such a historic place.

The return trip to Beijing was rather extended...a lot more traffic, and it took almost double the outbound trip. When it was open road, we kept getting passed by Volkswagen Santana 2000s...seems to be the car of choice in Beijing.

So that was my morning. As for my afternoon and the press conference, I'll cover that on lotus.com/weblog.... later. time for bed.

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