Miners accused of destroying part of Great Wall of China

It was built to keep out foreign invaders, but apparently the Great Wall of China can’t protect itself from the greed of Chinese corporations.

The Hohhot Kekao Mining Co. is accused of destroying 330 ft (100 m) of China’s most famous structure while prospecting for gold. The damage occurred in Inner Mongolia, where the company is prospecting. This stretch of the wall is one of the oldest, dating to the Qin Dynasty (221-207 B.C.).

This isn’t the first time the Wall has been damaged. Local farmers often steal stones for building materials, much like what happened to parts of Hadrian’s Wall in England, and last year five miners were sentenced to up to three years in jail for damaging the Wall while operating heavy machinery nearby. Officials said those responsible for the new damage could face up to ten years because of the greater amount of destruction.

As China goes through its Industrial Revolution, its cultural heritage faces greater threats. The Industrial Revolution in England destroyed many of that country’s ancient buildings and stone circles, and the expansion of St. Louis, Missouri, in the nineteenth century destroyed virtually all trace of a prehistoric Native American town. St. Louis used to be called “Mound City” because of the numerous prehistoric earthen mounds there, but now only one survives. it would be nice if China could learn from other countries’ mistakes.


Dive the Great Wall of China with Urbane Nomads

Did you know that parts of the Great Wall of China are underwater? Yeah, me neither. But according to Urban Daddy, one particular section of the wall has been submerged under a lake since the 1980’s. And now a luxury tour company called Urbane Nomads is offering the first-ever guided diving trips to the hard-to-reach spot.

Guides will carry your gear to the submerged portion of the Wall and direct you to the coolest underwater spots, where you’ll see “Ming-era stone carvings, some intricate tunnels and a tight-squeeze guard tower”. The “Diving the Great Wall” package includes two dives at the site plus more exclusive activities like a guided tour to the unrestored parts of the Forbidden City, usually off-limits to tourists.

The group at Urbane Nomads calls themselves “travel mixologists” creating unique itineraries that customers can tweak according to their preferences while still keeping the main ingredients. There’s definitely an emphasis on luxury here, though the company claims that, unlike other high-end tour operators, their tours seek to connect visitors with the local culture (in a way that is not staged or touristy) rather than isolating them from it. In addition to China, they offer tours to over 30 destinations, including Spain, South Africa, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Oman, Thailand, Turkey, Laos, Morocco, and Argentina.

How great is the Great Wall of China? Very!

I bet you thought the name said it all. A recent survey by of this World Heritage site – billed as “technologically advanced” – puts the original length of the wall at 5,500 miles, much further than the previous estimate of 3,700 miles. That’s a difference of almost 50 percent!

This effort took more than two years of surveying with GPS tools, infrared technology and other mapping techniques, and the outcome is the most complete view of the wall ever seen. Since perfectly restored pieces comprise no more than 20 percent of the original wall, this new perspective will help with efforts at conservation.

Erosion and war impeded protection in the past, but the current threat is construction, as China embraces (parts of) a capitalist economy. In some cases, roads exist in places once occupied by the Great Wall of China. Almost a third of the structure has disappeared completely.

More research is on the agenda, with completion expected to come in 2010.


5 Non-Tourist Destinations in Beijing

Everyone is looking forward to the Olympics. It is expected that well over half-a-million visitors will descend on Beijing during the Games. While all those people will probably contribute to the excitement and energy of the event, it going to be crowded. Imagine trying to visit The Great Wall of China or the Forbidden City in mid-August. The crowds will make a packed weekend at Disney World look like a trip to one of the monasteries where the monks aren’t allowed to speak.

True, many touristy sites will be engorged with sightseers, but Beijing is a huge and wide-ranging city with plenty of corners that will go unnoticed by the visiting masses.

Here are a few places that are well worth visiting but will most likely end up under the radar of the average Olympic tourist.

1. Dashanzi Art District (a.k.a. 798 Art Zone) is the epicenter of Beijing’s independent arts scene. The area is made up of converted factory buildings that now act as art galleries for some of China’s most noteworthy talents. Not an art fan? Dashanzi is still worth a visit for its cafes, tailors, and restaurants. Though the neighborhood has recently gone through a period of gentrification, the arts scene is alive and well and worth a look.

2. The Golden Resources Shopping Mall is located in Haidian District. Yes, it’s in the guidebooks, so it’s not much of a secret, but it’s easy to get lost in. Or rather, it’s easy to lose the crowds by wandering through the twisting passages and multiple levels. There are surprises and bargains all over the place. Even if you are not a hardcore shopper, this is a great place to browse, snap some pictures, and maybe get a souvenir.

3. If you must visit the Great Wall, know that there are other options besides the popular spots at Badaling and Juyongguan. Though it is a little further afield, Simatai is one of the better Wall sites for more than one reason. Unlike the sections nearer the city, Simatai has not been completely rebuilt, meaning you are actually seeing some of the original structures. It is a bonus that it is much less crowded than other sites and boasts some magnificent scenery.

4. Lianhuachi Park has many of the attractions found in the more popular Beihai Park. The pavilions, ponds, rock gardens, and flowers (including thousands of lotuses) are straight out of a classical Chinese painting. Though it is a popular spot for Beijingers, most tourists will probably opt for the more famous Beihai, leaving you in Lianhuachi to snap photos of the ponds and practice tai chi with the locals.

5. Longfusi Snack Street (Dongcheng District) is the place to go for authentic Beijing eats. Restaurants line both sides of the street and there are plenty of vendors as well. Those who want to wander the city guided by their stomachs might also want to try some of the mom-and-pop joints located in the city’s many (but fast disappearing) alleyways (hutong).

Dashanzi gallery by pmorgan
Simatai Great Wall by +Rachel

Knitting public art

I don’t knit. I’ve tried, but even when I’ve attempted a scarf, it ends up weird shaped. Anna knits. She’s waxed poetic about it in a post about the pleasures of knitting and travel. Here’s another reason to grab some knitting needles and yarn.

While leafing through a back copy of Reader’s Digest at my in-laws this weekend, I saw a snippet on women in Houston, Texas who are turning their scraps of unfinished scarves and other knitted items into public art. They are wrapping park benches, fire hydrants, bike racks–anything that can use a bit of color and dressing up. The group is called Knitta and has been doing their thing since 2005.

They aren’t the only ones. Knitters in the Midwest are also prettying up the world with their craft. There’s a woman in Yellow Springs, Ohio, one of those incredibly artsy, literary towns that I adore, who has dressed a tree with help from others. With as gloomy as Ohio can look in the winter, what a great idea for making folks smile.

If you happen to pass by some knitted art, and you might–the women in Houston have knitted art in El Salvador, Paris and at the Great Wall of China– maybe you’ll get some inspiration to knit some art yourself.