Slightly heroic views of The Great Wall and The Big Underpants

The one excursion from Beijing that gets the most outsized praise is a visit to the Great Wall of China. I easily overheard a dozen people around me say "bucket list" when they didn't know what else to say about the views. That's not to take anything away from the spectacle - it is a big ol' thing to behold up close and a somewhat challenging stairclimb. Chairman Mao Zedong gets consistently misquoted as having said that everyone who scales the Great Wall is a hero. Mao actually said you weren't a hero if you didn't climb it. Which is rather passive aggressive for someone who killed so many people in the camps. Anyhoo, I'm sure the term "hero" had more bite in the days before parking lots full of tour buses. As it is now, let's just say that all you prospective heroes should wear shoes for hiking and be prepared to hold your ground when the pushing begins. We picked the closest section - Juyong Guan. That section along with another nearby (Ba Da Ling), constitute the Great Wall for Dummies equivalent. The next time I go Wallin' you'll find me visiting the farther afield section (Mutianyu) where they actually have a giant metal slide coming back down. Seriously. For those day planning for Juyong Guan - expect seven towers up (that's how people measure the sections climbed) to get as far as you can go, 45 minutes each way if you're being truly heroic, save some time for pics, and you've got yourself an easy half-day excursion before heading back toward Beijing. If only Disneyland so easily minted heroes.

The remainder of our time in and around Beijing was mostly spent exploring the modern equivalent of what New York's garment district must have looked like in its heyday. Imagine men riding bikes pulling carts with huge bales of goods, while deals get done in open storefronts. At hand is the trade of goods worth oodles of "RMBs" - what everyone calls China's currency, the yuan. Beyond this life on the street somewhere north of wholesale, we also visited factories surrounded by countless brand-new high-rise apartment buildings anonymously scattered around the outer circumference of Beijing. All the energy and resources briefly re-directed to prepare for the Olympics in 2008 is now entirely focused upon building these elements of the business and residential infrastructure. I suppose it's too easy to say that if you wanted to see where jobs were being truly created in the world, look no further than these areas. But that doesn't make it feel any less true.

Tomorrow I'll move the recap beyond Beijing to Shanghai - a city with a lustier vibe for capitalism or whatever might best characterize what's going on in the business of China's daily urban and economic life. Yet I can't step away entirely from the good feeling I have for my short time in Beijing. The news isn't all good there. I was told Beijingers buy over 2000 new cars each and every day - the traffic reflects that consumption. I luckily hit a very short duration sweet spot for breathing without concern for the famously scary smog. And if you want a scary sight, just try using the public bathrooms in The Forbidden City. Still, even a few epically grumpy cab drivers couldn't take the edge off the way people welcomed me. The food came in waves of awesome, thanks mostly to our utterly fantastic tour guide (let me know if you're in the market, because my man Alan remains open for business, bright as China's future and good enough with the language to even dissect the folksiest American slang). For nerds, the history rocks. And the trajectory of Beijing is as upward and angular as the impressive CCTV Building. Which is not yet open, but does sport the single best landmark nickname in world right now - the Big Underpants.