30 September 2010

China: Beijing

Part Three: Beijing (北京)

2,500 years ago, China was a riot of many different small feudal kingdoms, each holding their own scrap of territory and warring for more. But things were changing. New iron weapons were replacing the old bronze ones, while at the same time new philosophies of Taoism and Confucianism were giving form to the emerging Chinese civilization. Generals like Sun Tzu began to study war as an art. Scholars like Han Fei began to craft law from principles and reason instead of whim. And in only a few decades of the 3rd century before the current era, the smallest kingdoms were swallowed up into the major powers of Han, Wei, Zhao, Qi, Chu, Qin, and Yan. The world must have seemed a new place.

The historian Sima Qian (c.145 ~ c.86 B.C.E.) tells us in his Records of the Grand Historian about a city called Ji. It was founded by the emerging Kingdom of Yan, along a trading route that wound from the central plains of China up to the high steppes. It had fresh water from the Yongding River.

Wars raged among the kingdoms, as they allied together to oppose the strongest or betrayed each other for a chance at conquest. In 232 B.C.E., the prince of Yan, Prince Dan, was taken hostage by the neighboring Kingdom of Qin. Only after many years could he escape back to his beautiful city of Ji. He huddled there, humiliated by Qin and fearful of their powerful armies.

Seeing no chance for his people in war, Prince Dan asked that his faithful retainer Jing-Ke assassinate the King of Qin. General Fan Yuqi cut his own throat, so that Jing-Ke could bring the head of a Yan general as a gift - and so get close to the King of Qin. Jing-Ke rode out of Ji with a poisoned dagger he had purchased for 100 measures of gold. As he rode, he sang:

The winds cry xiao xiao,
Yi waters are cold.
Brave men, once gone,
Never come back again.

When he reached the Kingdom of Qin and was given an audience, Jing-Ke seized the King and raised the dagger. But he hesitated. The King tore himself free - leaving his sleeve in Jing-Ke's hand - and cut down the assassin with his sword.

In his anger, the King of Qin, Qin Shi Huang, marched all his forces on the city of Ji. Its capture signaled the end of the Kingdom of Yan and indeed all the kingdoms; Qin Shi Huang crowned himself the first Emperor of China six years later. He subjugated all: the Empire of China had risen.

Ji survived.


We arrived mid-morning in Beijing. The sleeper train was strange to me - I am not a veteran of many train rides, and this one was strange, with its smooth plastic cabin, narrow bunks, and accompanying duo of Chinese mother and son. A recessed screen played American movies dubbed into useless Chinese, and metal pegs popped out from the wall when necessary so that you can climb up into your bunk and painfully rap your head on the ceiling. There was a window, though, from which we could watch as ragged dirt roads and crumbling buildings gave way to suburban apartments and finally to lofted skyscrapers.

Beijing! For many Americans like myself, it's a name filled with mystery and a definite sense of Other. Even after the better part of a week in China, there was something special about even the idea of Beijing. The capital and seat of communist power in the modern world, propping up crazed Pyongyang and weak-sauce Hanoi. Home of Mao. Monument to authoritarian collectivism. Scary stuff.

Of course, familiarity breeds contempt. When we first went to take the subway and saw the pair of guards in dress uniform, holding guns and standing stiffly, one on a little stool to make their height even - well, it was off-putting. But it wasn't long before we were wondering about whether the height-adjusting stools were custom-made to compensate for each short guard's deficiency or if there was a stack of assorted stools somewhere, with guards standing next to each other before their shifts to work out what was needed.

Beijing started out in perfect form. The weather was not only several degrees below flesh-boiling, it was actually cool enough to be only comfortably warm. The trip north and recent weather shifts meant we could walk around without feeling grimy with sweat. And what was more, we discovered our hostel was positively delightful. The Lotus Hostel was right near the thick of things, too. More on it later.

We had a loose itinerary, in the sense that we knew what we wanted to see and where those things were located, but no exact schedule. It's the best way to travel, in my opinion. Be prepared (Scouting is ingrained in me) but stay loose. The most important thing was also one of the most famous: the Forbidden City. Eager and wary of not having enough time later, we went immediately.

It was not easy to work out exactly how to get there and inside. We took the subway with no difficulty, but the huge breadth and width of the People's Square (aka Tienanmen) and the Forbidden City means that if you make a wrong turn, you have to walk for twenty minutes before you discover you're going the wrong way. I imagine it was much like visiting a strange planet of aliens twenty feet tall: the place just wasn't at the right scale for human beings. They say a million people can fit in the Square, and I believe it (if they crowd in a lot).

We knew we were getting close when everything opened up; the street was eight lanes across, Mao's tomb towered behind an obelisk, and the Forbidden City's gates half-emerged, screened by a milling mass of Chinese tourists posing for pictures and buying 20-cent popsicles.

Gleefully, we squirmed in through to the courtyard of the compound that had housed dozens of Chinese Emperors for hundreds of years. This was one of the places I wanted to See Before I Die: a deep breath was called for.

And there it was, the Forbidden City, built of zhennan logs, marble, gold, and hundreds of rows of carefully-crafted and baked tiles and bricks. The courtyard was huge, with large paving tiles laid down and limned with sparse grass. People crowded in at the gates, gaping at the bronze water clocks and measuring weights that had once been the standard for measurements to a nation of millions. Marble steps and decorations were kicked at by tromping feet, and some enterprising little boys took their bottles or toys and whacked at ancient carvings gleefully. In some Korean museums, the artifacts were deemed so precious that they weren't even on display, but here in Beijing we witnessed ancient architecture exposed to callous treatment that had already left it pitted and dulled.

The people swarmed to see the Palace of Heavenly Purity (the imperial audience hall) and other relics of ancient times. Just to get a look, it was necessary to crowd into a mess of tourists, all of whom held umbrellas (to shield from the sun) at just the right height to risk blinding me. Fighting the thick knots of people was getting tiring.

Now, there's a curious thing about travel (especially in Asia) that Lizzie has pointed out: if you go off the beaten path just a little, then often you'll find you've escaped the crowd. On this trip we'd already seen it with such sightseeing spots as the Shanghai World Financial Center (deserted and lovely though only fifteen yards from an hour-long line to go to an adjacent floor). And here again, the Law of Traveling Sheep proved true: after we elbowed our way through the gates of the Forbidden City and through a few masses of people, we found the Palace Museum off to the side. Not being central and not being as cinematic, it was almost deserted. It was also very cool.

I'm not a potter or a historian. I had little context or (frankly) even taste with which to judge. But the hundreds of pieces of delicate porcelain and pottery that populated the museum, spotlit in their dark cases - well, they were beautiful. They spoke of a past world of phenomenonal dedication, an imperial world where the august rulers could pay a man to spend a hundred hours crafting and painting a single intricate vase.

Two of my favorite examples:

This jar is from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 C.E.), made for use in the Palace of Earthly Tranquility, the residence of the Empress of China. The inscription on the top indicates it was used in sacrificial rites. The Qing Dynasty revived traditional Chinese shamanic worship in the Forbidden City, so perhaps this jar would have held blessed incense or ground bark used in rituals. It is decorated with Peaches of Immortality and the Chinese character for longevity.
These pieces are ancient, dating from the Shang Dynasty (1600-1100 B.C.E.) They'res not even the oldest pieces they had on exhibit - China has some of the earliest pottery known to man, including Paleolithic and Neolithic pottery. These are from the tombs of the Shang Emperors, who preferred white pottery; perhaps because of Chinese medicine - the Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon, a 2,000-year-old handbook of Chinese medicine, places the "white heaven" and "white qi" above all other colors.

After this marvelous museum, we entered the gardens (restored partially with American money) and smaller rooms of the Forbidden City. While the front half of the City is devoted to vast spaces and stand-alone palace buildings, the rear half is a dense block of small garden courtyards and narrow wooden corridors, filled with weather wooden decorations and display cases. As we reached the final few stretches, we paused to buy some Cokes and relax in a garden about the size of my classroom: a smattering of trees and artfully arranged boulders were accompanied by a graying concessionary and graying attendant as well as a huge and elegant marble table and chairs, all gathered around a central display of jade. The jade was one big piece six feet in length and four feet in height; its pale green surface had been carved in detail with a depiction of monks climbing a wooded mountain to a temple. The eyes of the monks were tiny, but had been picked out of the soft jadeite carefully.

I was glad that the jade was protected by a plexiglass case. Nearby, a fat teenage boy climbed up on a stone chair and tried to jump onto a decorative pillar, chortling as he missed.

As the sky darkened with approaching night, Lizzie and I left the Forbidden City, pausing again to look at the size of the residence of the Son of Heaven. The bloodline lives on, though no Emperor is crowned: the young man who is second in line to the throne works as an electrical engineer at an agricultural complex. His ancestral home remains as vast and glorious as it ever will.

In the evening, we ate at a Japanese restaurant that looked good. It was. We had marinated bean curd, a plate of potatoes and beans, some spinach in peanut sauce, braised mackerel perfectly cooked, and spiced cucumber in soy sauce. At the hostel, we drank Asahi beer and planned the next day, chatting about the things in the neighborhood and what we'd witnessed at the Forbidden City. This eighth day in China had been a great first day in Beijing.


After one thousand years, Ji had been renamed Youzhou, and had seen fourteen Chinese dynasties rise to the Imperium before each, in their turn, sinking into ruin. Civil wars occurred occasionally, but a strong man always rejoined the fractured parts of China within a few decades. The Empire was strong, and Youzhou grew.

In the north, though, the nomadic peoples had been stirring. A young man named Temüjin had engineered ascension to leadership of his tribe, and had then in quick succession forged an alliance among the seven horse-peoples of the plains. At the council where he was acknowledged the Khan of the steppes, he took a new name: Genghis. And Genghis Khan was hungry for conquest.

The Emperor Weishaowang of the Jin Dynasty had scoffed at the threat, once. He had said that China was the sea and Mongolia but the sand. By 1213 C.E., he was scoffing no more. He had taken up arms against the horde, marshaling the armies of China to resist the endless arrows and sharp swords of the Khan. The Chinese forces lay in wait behind the Yanshan mountains, hiding at the mouth of Badger Pass. The Emperor waited in nearby Youzhou - the city that had once been Ji.

The Chinese army had half a million in cavalry and infantry - five times the number of Mongol invaders - and the close confines of the pass would neutralize the Mongol horsemanship and superior bows.

The Mongols crushed them.

The Great Khan sent his forces over the mountains to either side of the pass, a feat thought impossible.  They swept up the pass from the rear as the main body of the Mongols attacked.  The Chinese cavalry routed, and the Mongols slaughtered the Emperor's army - almost to a man.  A handful of sand had swallowed the sea.

Genghis Khan and his descendants went on to conquer almost the whole of China, swallowing it up in great bites as they galloped south.  When the seventh Great Khan, known as Kublai Khan, came to power after killing his brother, the Mongol Empire had swelled to contain a fifth of the Earth's habitable surface.  And for the capital of this mighty empire, Kublai Khan chose Youzhou.  He renamed it again, now calling it simply the "Great Capital," or Dadu.

Dadu prospered.


Our hostel, the Lotus Hostel, was spectacular. It was located in the middle of one of the hutong, the narrow alleys of the old city. This location was both good and bad. For the good, it meant that we could walk down past old and traditional houses, some held together with baling wire and spray-on adhesive, and even see into some of the courtyards that remained into the present, even if they were now filled with old bicycles and piles of cardboard. For the bad, it meant that much of these small houses shared a public bathroom in the alley, and sometimes a rotund but ever-smiling man would stand shirtless in the alley and accost everyone who passed.

The hostel was based around a central courtyard, with rows of rooms and a long and narrow restaurant surrounding it (an antiquated bomb shelter was below). It was extremely pleasant to sit outside and have a quiet dinner there, or read over a couple of beers.

I think Lizzie's favorite things, though, were the cats. A tomcat and his mate had produced a litter of kittens, who resided with their mother in a big basket that was kept in the courtyard. Lizzie spent significant time playing with the tomcat, whom she christened Chairman Meow (we later discovered his real name actually was Meowmeow) and the big basket of kittens. They squirmed bonelessly around on their old blanket bed, gazing with unfocused eyes and kneading their siblings' backs.

It was good that the hostel was so pleasant, because the next day was rainy. It was really the first inhospitable day that China had offered so far (not counting the previous heat and a few drizzles) so it was hard to complain too much, especially after the majesty of the previous excursion. We were content to have a low-key day, and decided to just try and check out a few nearby sights.

The Geological Museum of China was just a skip and jump away from the Lotus Hostel, so that was first. We trotted over to it with our umbrellas whipping about as we tried to hold them perpendicular to the surprising winds.

We were expecting to be amused, and frequently we were. A chart showed man's evolution from ape into Spanish dandy, and their huge globe had suffered some damage and seen a large section of landmasses replaced with water (cheaper to paint). The paleontology section, on the other hand, was a little creepy: the large display of replica dinosaur bones was collapsing, leaving velociraptor legs without a torso and a suspended tyrannosaur head.

Strangely, one of the visiting exhibits had almost nothing to do with geology or the earth sciences at all. It was instead a display of artifacts from the Cultural Revolution and associated events, such as the rifle of one of Mao's lieutenants. Nearby pictures appeared to show some soldiers near a large hole, but I can't vouch that it really had anything to do with the study of rocks.

The museum displays were usually accompanied by an English translation, except for a few obscure blocks of text that were probably just descriptions of cobalt or something. One security guard helpfully followed us around at a distant of five paces, perhaps just in case we came up with any urgent questions or decided to steal their prized cinnabar crystal, "The King of Cinnabar."

Lizzie and I each made building-block structures, to see whose edifice would be more resistant to an imitation earthquake. As it turns out, neither of us should be seeking a career in architecture.

Near the Geological Museum was a pearl and jade emporium. It was much nicer than the other markets we'd visited in China, and stocked hundreds of jade bracelets and necklaces of varying quality. Interestingly, it seems that in order to store and display jade, it is necessary to keep a container of water nearby to maintain humidity. Without moisture in the air, jade may crack, warp, or discolor.

The evening was devoted to kittens and reading and beer, with great success on all fronts.


Eventually, of course, the Chinese recaptured their own country, and a Chinese Emperor ruled once more. The north was reconquered and the Mongols fled, and the Ming Dynasty was followed by the Qing Dynasty. Dadu was renamed after the Mongol palace was razed. It would be known as Beijing, the "Capital of the North."

In this new Beijing, center of the country, great things were done. Amazing buildings rose into the sky on the backs of peasants: the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, Yuyuan Gardens, the Summer Palace. To stop any future Khans, a Great Wall burst into being in long stretches - one in particular followed the lines of the mountains where Genghis had attacked, once upon a time.

And even as the city and country were redone with beauty, so too was China dealing with serious threats. Western powers began trading, then began controlling, and finally began warring. And the people of China, who for so many years had labored uncomplainingly in obedience to Confucian ideals... well, at first there were just murmurs.

China has long prized collective thinking and action. An old saying has it, "無重至禍不單行" - "a single day of winter will not make three feet of ice." But it had been cold for so many years in China. People had starved, people had gone homeless, people had died. There was a great deal of ice.

In 1911, the people rose. They rose with many voices and in conflict, as Nationalist forces and Communist forces began to conflict. And in a few years, the Japanese had begun attacking and had imposed a puppet government on the northern section of China called Manchuria. Everyone fought with everyone. Nationalists and Communists cooperated to attack the Japanese puppets, and then betrayed each other. When the war ended and the Japanese and puppets were gone, there was a full war in a way that had not been seen in China for many centuries.

The conflict ended in 1949, finally, when Chiang Kai-shek fled with the remains of his Nationalist forces. Mao Zedong, head of the Communist Party of China, took control, and the People's Republic of China coalesced. The capital was Beijing, and it was stripped of ancient things and false things and filled with monuments to new leaders and new ideals and new lies.

The last Emperor of China, the reigning ruler Aisin-Gioro Pu yi of the Qing Dynasty, was humbled by the changes. His Empire fell, was torn, was attacked, and finally wholly remade. He had been seized by the revolutionaries and the Japanese and the Russian Communists and then finally his own people. He was set to work in a university's botanical garden, turning the earth slowly with a spade. Mao rose like a dragon, and all of China was reshaped to his desires. Mao was China.

Beijing flourished.


And so on the tenth day: the Great Wall of China.

It's something like 5,000 miles long - in several sections - built between the fifth and second centuries B.C.E. Millions labored to build it. Hundreds of thousands died in the process. When it comes to world monuments, it stands almost alone in fame and prestige and grandeur.

While there are many accessible areas, the most frequented is the Badaling section just to the north of Beijing. This area is almost completely rebuilt and refurbished, and has lines and crowds and whatever else. Unwilling to go to DisneyWall, Lizzie and I instead hired a van to drop us off at the Jinshanling ( 金山岭) portion of the Wall. This turned out to be the best decision we could have made: Jinshanling has both rebuilt and original sections, only a sparse handful of tourists, and it runs over an achingly beautiful tract of land.

Even this distant section still had amenities. A small cluster of buildings sat at the foot of the main trail: a restaurant, a small hotel, a tourism center, and a long shed-like building where vendors sold overpriced water and mementos. And only five minutes up the trail was a clattering old cable car, saving us the exertion of climbing to the top of the mountain in exchange for a mild risk of death. Its thick windows were scratched and the metal walls were battered and dented in a distinctly dangerous-looking way. Also, I swear I heard a bolt pry itself loose and fall free, just because it was a jerk.

The Great Wall of China was unlike anything I had ever seen in my life. It ran across mountaintops and ridges, dipping and rising. The air was cool and clear and I could see far, but the loops and towers of the Wall danced off far beyond the limits of my vision. We were well away from any human development except for one or two roads that ran north, and even they were so distant they just looked like a thread of asphalt peopled with ants. The hills and mountains were thick with bushes and trees, and the sky was so very blue - streaked with cirrus. I felt a deep awe of the majesty of nature and a burst of pride: man can build such things!

The large stones were neatly-cut where we first ascended, but as we moved to the unmaintained portions they became rough and rounded. The mortared towers became ruinous, yielding to only the remains of walls and large stacks of fallen stones. Eventually, we got to points where the wind-borne dirt had accumulated over the years and become carpeted with green grass. I plucked a yellow flower from the top of the Great Wall.

Our route on Jinshanling (map) was east from the cable car, towards the Simatai portion of the Great Wall (currently closed to visitors). We hiked along the top to Zhandoukou Pass, moved on a little further to the collapsed West Five-Eye Tower, and then doubled back to the pass where we went off the Wall and back to the parking lot. We went about six kilometers, all in all. We stopped repeatedly to take pictures, eat snacks, or just plain marvel.

After about twenty minutes, Lizzie and I noticed we had company. There were a few groups of people near the top of the cable car, but once we were a kilometer away there were only a handful of other people in sight... yet two of them kept pace with us. They were both middle-aged Chinese women with bags in hands. They paused to scoop up the one or two discarded bottles we encountered, but then would catch up with us. If we stopped to drink some water or eat a dumpling, they stopped. Always smiling, always smiling.

Were they just overly friendly? They seemed to be trying to be helpful. They told us how old the Wall was, what this particular section was for, what the names of the towers were. They even tried to take a picture of Lizzie and I (tried being the operative word). But no matter how much we made haste or tarried, they stuck with us.

The other shoe dropped when we finally stopped at a platform and waved them on. We ignored their protests, and with as polite a manner as possible, in our best pleasantly firm voices, told them they could go on without us. Immediately they began telling us how they didn't have jobs and didn't have farms and would we please give them some money?

Lizzie gave me a wry look. She had understood what was going on long before I did. She is gifted in such matters.

We waited awkwardly and with broad fake smiles until we were left alone. The panhandlers went in search of better prey. To their credit, they were still in good humors.

In the third century C.E., Chen Lin wrote a poem.

A drinking horse at the foot of the Great Wall,
The chill of the water hurts its bones.
Go talk to the local officer,
Stay not, young man, is all his advice.
The authority follows only its own schedule,
Hounding more and more countrymen into the project.
Who should have died in the battlefield,
Rather than labouring gloomily here day and night.
The Great Wall is extending all the time,
Well exceeding three thousand miles in length.
At the construction sites many men, young and healthy,
Only widows stay behind thousand miles away at home.
Some were clever and wrote, telling their wives:
Marry soon and wait no more. Take good care
Of your new family and remember
Your lost husband once in a while.

Exhausted, we dozed in the van ride back to the hostel. When I woke with the van still humming along the highway, I flipped through the pictures on my camera, already remembering.

We rested the remainder of the day, until the evening, when we decided to go out to see something I'd heard about with glee: the night market and snack street of Wanfujing (王府井).

This is one of the bigger shopping districts. On that evening, it was crammed with people. They went in and out of the stores, which ranged from silk warehouses to haberdasheries to tea sellers. Most famous western brands were represented with huge signs and tall shopfronts. And neon: everywhere, neon. Under the brunt of streetlights and advertising, there were barely even any shadows underfoot.

I bought a jar of honey yogurt, mostly for the jar itself. But the saleswoman made me return the jar, which I guess they reuse.

I was really there for more interesting fare, though. I wanted to try some weird things.

The snack street is a long alley that sprouts off of Wanfujing. A thousand card tables are arranged in sequential U-shapes, and then stacked with big stoves and mini-fridges and cutlery other - stranger - paraphernalia. Above are hung signs advertising their wares.

Here were some offerings: Candied fruit. Veggie pancakes. Lamb kebabs. Grasshoppers. Beef noodles. Rat. Snake. Sheep testicles. Centipedes. Seahorses. Lamb intestine. Scorpions.

I have always been an adventurous eater. I ate a snake, some seahorses, and some scorpions.

The snake was tough and unpleasant. It was overcooked. I ate a snake at high adventure camp in Scouts once, and it was much better then (chopped and stewed). This snake was gritty, and after five solids minutes of chewing I had barely made any headway. I gave up on it, and regretfully tossed the rest of it in the trash. I didn't have all night to gnaw charcoal.

The seahorses were much easier to eat. They didn't taste much of the sea, and instead tasted like what they were: twisted bits of gristle and cartilage, greasy with over-used cooking oil. I understand seahorses can be palatable, if not delicious, if cooked in soup. I have my doubts.

I was zero for two at this point. But I was not discouraged, even if I didn't feel hungry enough to tackle a starfish (they looked pretty big).

I ate some scorpions.

The vendor had a big bin of them to one side. He'd pick them up and then slide a thin wooden skewer along under the carapace on their back. Three to a skewer. Then the vendor would put them to one side until someone ordered them. They hung there, legs moving gently and their stinger coming down listlessly on the skewer.

I ordered two skewers. They were very cheap. The vendor tossed them in oil with salt and pepper for a few seconds, then handed them to me. They were still steaming. I dragged one off the skewer with my teeth. It was tasty! Crispy and salty and peppery, but underneath that a definite and distinct flavor - earthiness. I ate the rest happily and eagerly.

The next day was our last day in China. With only a few items remaining on our list of things to see, we packed our backpacks and left them at the hostel's front desk, then got on the subway. We went to the Temple of Heaven (天坛) where the Emperor had once been responsible for the sacred rites that would ensure a good harvest. The central building is made completely from wood. It's very pretty, to be sure. But the real show was... well, everything else at the park surrounding the temple.

It seems that this was where the citizens of Beijing went to spend much of their leisure time. The pavements were filled with two separate dance classes, whose members (fifty people? a hundred?) bopped to the swing music spewing from battery-powered speakers or sashayed to ballroom dance. Several groups of musicians practiced their art; most of them were proficient, but one brass band appeared to be for beginners and its discordant warblings were audible for far too long. Chinese men played an interesting game where they threw two-foot wooden rings at each other from twenty yards in turns, then ducked and jumped to try to catch the rings around their necks. It was amazing.


Mao died in 1976. His mausoleum is of granite and pine and porcelain, and his body is displayed under sheets of crystal.

Deng Xiaoping took power of the Communist Party of China through a complicated series of political ploys and treachery. During the eighties, the rising banking system and market entrepreneurs helped spur on agitators for democracy, leading to brutal repression by the Deng and the Party. As he faded into the background, power began to slip away from the strong men at the center, even as they fight to succeed to a position of lessening authority. Jiang Zemin found himself unable to be absolute. Hu Jintao has had to bargain with leaders of the market. There is talk of unions.

The latest edition of high school history textbooks in Shanghai devote only one chapter to socialism and dedicate only one sentence to Chinese communism before 1979. There is only a single mention of Chairman Mao. It is in a chapter on etiquette.

Once again, China is changing.


Lizzie and I left China after ten nights and eleven days.

In Shanghai we saw the city laid out like a toy and the nations of the world made into commercials and a market that not only sold but also produced antiques.

In Hangzhou we saw a lake that was nearly a poem of beauty and three mirrors for the moon and a camphor tree that scraped the sky.

And here in Beijing we'd seen a City and a Wall and a metropolis that was bursting with history even as it bustled into the future.

Well worth the trip.

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