Sunday, December 7, 2014

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 33

Big Time Bucket List Cross Off

I last left you as we were leaving Beijing.  We had a driver, who spoke no English but smiled a lot, who took us to our next destination, Mutianyu, which is an area out in the Chinese countryside about 2 hours away from Beijing.  This is, as far as I know, the closest place to access the Great Wall if you are in Beijing.  The Great Wall is really, really long and there are loads of other places that you can go hike along it, but we only had two days before we left for Cambodia, so Mutianyu it was.

On the way, just outside of Beijing, we had the driver stop for a quick detour so that we could see the Olympic Village.  The Chinese really went all out on this—it was very upscale and modern.  Remember the swimming venue that looked like a big clump of bubbles that the commentators called the Water Cube?  Well, it’s now an indoor water park.  Here is a poster on the outside of the building promoting the wave pool inside.  Please note how many people are in the pool.  Never in a million years would I get in that.  Hello, Ebola!

Mutianyu is a village surrounded by four or five other teeny, tiny villages all connected by a series of windy, skinny roads.  Our “hotel”, (16 rooms—only hotel around for miles), was called the Brickyard.  In English.  Our poor driver, who was from the big city, was utterly and completely lost and we, of course, were absolutely no help.  Picture driving around the same 20 back roads over and over and over again for 90 minutes.  Like a Nascar race.  Around and around and around with Mr. Big getting more and more and more pissed off every time we passed the same landmarks.

It was like the Perfect Storm of problems.  First, Mr. Big was not completely clear as to the exact NAME of the hotel.  (I know, kind of important, right?)  He thought it was “The Brickyard” which was a part of a complex known as “The SchoolHouse”.  He had no address and he did not think this was important because it is the only hotel with indoor plumbing within 10 miles of Mutianyu.

Second, whenever our driver tried to translate “schoolhouse” and “brickyard” to the locals that he was stopping to ask every 5 meters, they kept trying to send him to a school or an actual brickyard.

Third, and at the same time as the driver was interrogating/terrorizing the locals, Mr. Big was on the phone with the real Brickyard trying to explain to them where in the Sam Hill we were BY USING ONLY VISUALS BECAUSE HE COULD NOT READ ONE WORD ON ANY SIGN.

“Uh, yeah, this is Mr. Big again.  OK, now we are sitting in a tiny car park in the middle of a village.  There’s, um, a bus stop and a statue of some guy with a funny hat on.  There’s a bench and a man leading a donkey.  Which way do we turn?”

After an hour and a half of this jolliness, some random old man on the street told our driver to proceed down an alley, (which was clearly marked “Do Not Enter” in Chinese by the way that our driver was throwing his hands up in the air and arguing with our new friend), and continue on a dirt path which cut across some farmer’s sheep field which led to another road that we had already traveled on 6 times.  Y’all, the sign for the “hotel” was a little brass plaque embedded in a brick gate post, about 6 inches by 10 inches.  That’s it.  That was the only indication that, behind a nondescript brick wall, lay a hotel.  Yeah, sure, once you get behind the brick wall, there is a bigger sign THAT YOU CANNOT SEE FROM THE ROAD.  I’m just saying.

So, if you are going some day, here is the real scoop.  A British guy and his Chinese wife bought an old school house in Mutianyu and renovated it.  Associated with this property but not actually at that physical location are 8 individual guest houses where you can stay.  At the actual school house is a restaurant, a bar and a gift shop/art gallery.

In another village altogether called Beigou, this Brit bought an old, you guessed it, brickyard and turned it into a small, trendy, boutique hotel.  It turned out to be awesome and I highly recommend it, if you can find it.  Tell your driver Beigou, not Mutianyu.  Very important.   As for GPS, the only address for The Brickyard is Beigou Village.  That’s it.  Good luck.  Look for a brick post and a small brass plaque.

Anyway, now for my Hallelujah moment.  Stumbling into the lobby, lugging our bags and badly
needing a stiff drink, Mr. Big and I were stopped in our tracks by the sight of what these Brickyard people had decorating their lobby.  Roof tiles!  Oh, my God!  Look at them in all of their shining gloriousness!  You will remember that when I asked Cherry where to find them, she told me that since I lacked Emperor status I was shit out of luck, right?  Now the question became, were these Brickyard folks going to sell me their lobby d├ęcor or was I going to try my hand at thievery?

 I promise you, I was not leaving that badly-signed hotel without those little roof animals.  They even had the dragon!  And the little man riding the chicken!  Be still my heart.

Since we had squandered so much time being lost, there was not time to go up to the wall that afternoon.  Instead, we hiked to Mutianyu, (we already knew the way quite well, thank you, no map necessary), had a drink at the SchoolHouse and checked out the gondola complex that would take us up the mountain to the wall the next day.  All the while, I was planning my approach to finagle the people at the hotel out of their tschotskes.

After a dip in the hot tub with a view of the Great Wall, which didn’t suck, I was ready for battle.  I had already decided that I was going to plead that I was a descendant of one of the concubines, who had somehow moved to America at some point.  I had convinced myself that this was feasible.  I told none of this to Mr. Big.  Later:

Me:  Hello, I was wondering about the availability of the roof tiles there on the bookshelf?

Them:  Availability?

Me:  Er, yes.  I would like to buy one.  Or five.

Them:  Five?

Me:  Yes.  And the dragon.  And the chicken man.

After checking with the owner, the gal in the lobby told me the whole story.  The Brit bought the brickyard specifically because it was the old, actual brickyard that supplied ancient Beijing and the Emperor with bricks and roofing tiles.  When the Brit acquired the property, he also acquired all of the stock that had been sitting around for decades.  There were SO MANY old roof tiles, (not the animal kind, the plain kind), they broke them all up into mosaic pieces and tiled the floors, hallways, walkways, walls, etc. of the new hotel with the old tiles.  They saved all of the existing animal tiles.  Since they only had three dragons and they suspected that these were the last three dragons left “in the wild” that were not already ensconced on somebody’s roof, they would not sell me a dragon.  Greedy bastards.

BUT!  They let me buy three animals and one chicken man with no head.  Why no head?  Because the heads were subcontracted out, back in the day, to some artist.  The brickyard just made the phoenix.  (It’s actually a phoenix, but it looks like a really big chicken.)  So, today, in Lausanne, perched upon a Chinese bench that I already owned, I have my string of roof tiles, sans dragon and sans head.  They are awesome and they make me happy every time I look at them.  I should send a picture of them to Cherry and be like “nyah, nyah, nyah”.

Anticlimactically, we went to the Great Wall the next morning.  We took hundreds of pictures but I
am only including pictures of girls in party dresses and Easter hats just to prove to you that I was not lying in the previous post.  Please understand, these are all different people taken at different times throughout the day doing various activities at the Great Wall, where Mr. Big and I were wearing serious hiking clothes and sweating our butts off.

The way this wall thing works is you take the cable car up the mountain, hike along the wall for however long you want and go back down via a bob-sled ride.  The translations of the rules and regulations posted inside the gondola were hilarious.  For example, the first one was “Passengers:  Hanging chair smoking.”  Well, I hope not!

The rules for the bob-sled on the way down were printed on everyone’s ticket.  They were called

“Stipulations for Skidding”.

Rule #1:  Patients with heart disease, hypertension, dizziness or those on whom medicines have effects can not ride the skid.

Rule #5:  Riders riding behind should be responsible for the accident when an accident collision

Rule #6:  You must obey the instructions of the safe workers.  Don’t touch the skid.

Wouldn’t lawyers have a field day with these “stipulations”?  I mean, don’t medicines have effects on everybody, i.e. no one should be riding these skids?  Rest assured that I obeyed the instructions of all of the safe workers.  The unsafe workers, however, I completely ignored as per Rule #6.

We flew out of Beijing the next morning, destination:  Siem Reap, Cambodia and the Angor Wat temples.  And Google.  And Facebook.  Yay!  Talk soon, enjoy the pix.