Badaling, Badaling: The Great Wall of China

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A trip to China often includes a visit to The Great Wall of China, to some part of the 5500 to 13,000 mile collection of fortifications (depending on whether various branches are included).   So, I set out for the Great Wall with my guide Nina during my trip to the Beijing Botanic Gardens for their Crabapple Conference. Nina gassed up a Hyundai and we headed 50 miles northwest and over a half mile in elevation to Badaling (八达岭), the most visited section of the Wall and the first opened to tourists in 1957. From Nixon to Obama, to Nina and me.  


Lilac on Great Wall
Lilac blooms along the Great Wall


Badaling provides sweeping views of valleys and hillsides filled with yellow-flowered maples (Acer mono), lilacs, and all of us tiny human figures arrayed throughout the winding stone paths.  Ascending to and descending from the apex at Badaling is quite an experience. The crowd moves you along at a good pace, there are uneven tall stone steps, truly steep at times, so much so that yours truly feared creating a bowling ball, domino-esque international incident at times if I faltered.


The path is steep at the apex of Great Wall
The steep apex at Badaling.  Don't fall!

All is capped off by – I kid you not – just feet from the Wall: sliding cars, a sort of “old”-fashioned Great Wall rollercoaster! A sign going around one corner – “Don’t Race”. If I could, I would – not.


Sliding cars along the Great Wall
No Racing... 

I cannot let this tale of travel to China end without a note about the unusual foods tried when overseas. In this case the unexpected delicacies were plant-based.  After descending the last part of the Great Wall at Badaling on those sliding cars we were hungry (we decided against Subway!), and in addition to a wide range of more familiar dishes , we ate willow leaves and flowers in a delightful vinaigrette.

Subway along the Great Wall. Not
Out of context along the Great Wall.  Not


Willow viniagrette
Willow viniagrette

Later, never have I expected to eat any part of a goldenraintree, but at the Conference banquet, along with an endless rotation of savory foods that included delectable wood ear fungi – there it was, a dish of bright green goldenraintree shoots.


Goldenraintree shoots
Goldenraintree shoots

There was a syrupy hot pear tea one night and a friend’s description of young elm fruits often eaten in early spring, but the coup de grace for me was – jujube juice. In Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, there it is, the very last tree description in the book, date palm. I had always thought it has the most exotic Latin name for a plant:  Ziziphus jujube. And for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I would eat a few of the oval fruits and drink cold jujube juice. Both earthy and heavenly.

Elm fruits for dinner
Elm fruits for dinner


Zizyphus jujube juice
Delicious Ziziphus jujube juice!

All of this inspired me to mention our ArborEatum edible plant landscape feasts we have at Secrest Arboreatum in Fall (Lois Rose of Cleveland once brought over 30 items). Now they plan one at Beijing Botanic Gardens.  If you cannot make theirs, Secrest’s will be on October 24 this year.   

Final Note: The Badaling Badaling title and actua location name for this alert was a little play on the Sopranos. I had only a vague sense of the source of the reference, but it turns out that Bada Bing was the name of the strip club in the television series. Oops. As I delved deeper into the many iterations of the name, though, the plot thickened.

“bada bing bada boom” is defined as “an exclamation to emphasize that something will happen effortlessly and predictably…as in “bada bing, bada boom... the cake is done.” And of course there is the Baidu Bing collaboration between Google and Chinese Internet engines. And so on.


The Sopranos
The Sopranos