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August 31, 2010

China: Climbing the Juyongguan section of the Great Wall

After sampling the firearms of the People’s Liberation Army, I was off to climb the Great Wall of China.

I visited the Juyong Pass section which was first built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Located approximately 60 kilometers from Beijing, it played a vital role in the city’s defenses. I would have liked to have visited a remote, unrenovated section of the wall, but unfortunately my time in Beijing was limited.

When we arrived at Juyongguan, my guide asked me if I wanted to walk the easy part of the wall, or climb the “hard” part that snakes up Jinju Mountain. Still jet-lagged and stuffed full of greasy Chinese food from lunch, I of course chose the “hard” climb. It did not disappoint. There are 1,700 uneven, slippery steps to the top of the mountain – nearly twice the amount contained in the Washington Monument. Thankfully, the unbearable heat and smog from the previous day had been replaced by cool temperatures and a slight drizzle. I’m not sure where my sudden burst of energy came from (the greasy lunch, perhaps?) but I climbed the wall rather quickly. In fact, I totally smoked by guide (it didn’t help that she was wearing completely impractical shoes). At one point I stopped to wait for her, and when she caught up she was incredulous.

“Lindsay, I climb this several times a week, and yet you are much faster. Do you have many mountains where you live?”

“Well, not where I live now, but where I grew up, yeah.”

The start of the climb. This stone is inscribed with the famous quote by Mao Zedong: “If we fail to reach the Great Wall we are not men.”

Getting higher

View from a watchtower

American pose at the top of the Great Wall

Locks of love on the Great Wall

More photos here.

May 5, 2010

Beijing: Sampling the firearms of the People’s Liberation Army at the China North International Shooting Range

I had a few days to kill in Beijing prior to my trip to North Korea, so before leaving the United States I started researching some of the sites I wanted to visit. I knew that I couldn’t miss the typical Beijing tourist attractions such as Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, but I also wanted to get out of the city and see the Great Wall, so I began perusing the websites of travel agencies that offered excursions to various sections of the Great Wall. Most of the tours consisted of a half day trip to a section of the Great Wall followed by a tour of the Ming Tombs or Summer Palace. Now, no offense to anyone who is a diehard fan of Chinese history, but neither of those sites sounded particularly appealing to me. After further searching, however, I came across a tour that was well-suited to my interests: The Beijing Target Shooting & Great Wall Day Tour. A full day of history and firearms. How brilliant is that? Now, some people might scoff at my choice of visiting a shooting range in China when we have multitudes of them in the U.S., but as you will see, this is not your typical shooting range.

My guide and driver picked me up from my hotel on a chilly and damp morning in September. Since my flight had only just arrived in Beijing the prior afternoon, I was still a bit jet-lagged and groggy, which is the ideal condition when handling firearms or attempting a very steep hike. My guide, however, was very talkative and prevented me from drifting off to sleep as we sat in the infamous Beijing traffic.

“So,” I asked her, “do you often take tourists to the shooting range?”

“Yes,” she replied “but they are usually men.”


I soon realized that I was probably the first solo female that she had taken out to the shooting range, because she seemed totally puzzled as to why I would want to go there.

“Lindsay, do you shoot guns in the U.S.?”

“Yeah, I shoot a few times a month.”

“Do many girls shoot guns in the U.S.?”

“Sure. I know a lot of girls that like to shoot.”

“Do you have guns in your home?”

“Yeah, I’ve got a few.”

Each answer was met with a look of bewilderment. China has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world. Private ownership is banned, and the few public shooting ranges are prohibitively expensive for the average Chinese citizen. The idea of owning a firearm and taking it out to the range on a beautiful weekend day to shoot targets with friends is something that is completely alien to my guide and driver.

We finally arrived at the “Small Arms Mobilization Center”, a decrepit military facility an hour’s drive from Beijing, and after a rail-thin soldier in crisp military attire performed a quick ID check, we proceeded onward to the shooting range.

The People’s Liberation Army welcomes you!

Mao loves guns

One of the range employees led me into a room lined with glass display cases full of rifles and handguns. In the center of the room was a display of various machine guns, rocket propelled grenade launchers, and mortars. She followed me as I walked around the room, noting my weapons preferences on a sheet of paper.

“I’ll take 30 rounds on this…and 30 rounds on this.”

I felt like a kid in a candy store.

You can shoot any of these. Some can be rather expensive.

After choosing my sample of firearms, we hopped in an old army jeep and headed out to the firing line. Unfortunately, cameras were prohibited out there so I was unable to take any photos of the range or myself handling the firearms. Disappointing, yes, but I’m not one to argue with Chinese army policy.

Surprisingly, I was the only foreigner there. I thought there would at least be a handful of us, but the only other customers were some wealthy Chinese tourists. They entertained themselves with shooting trap and handguns; I had the entire rifle section to myself. I thought it was a bit odd. Why limit yourself to the dainty little pistols when you have so many powerful firearms to choose from?

The range staff consisted of young guys dressed in olive drab fatigues. Bizarrely, their uniforms had an American flag patch sewn on the shoulder. They handed me eye/ear protection, loaded each firearm, placed it on the table in front of me, and provided a running commentary on my shooting skills. “Too high. Good. Good.” I shot an AK-47, Type 81 light machine gun, and the QBZ-95. The QBZ-95 was an interesting gun. It’s the standard assault rifle for the People’s Liberation Army, and was incredibly light with very little recoil. My favorite, however, was the light machine gun. The 30 rounds in the magazine went quickly, and when I turned around I was surprised to see 20 Chinese tourists standing behind me. Apparently they found a Yankee girl blasting away with a Chinese machine gun to be quite amusing. Glad I could provide them with some entertainment.

As I was leaving, one of the staff members lifted up a corner of a tarp covering a large, bulky object.

”Do you want to try the tank?”

As exciting as that sounded, it would set me back over a hundred bucks.

”Maybe next time, dude.”

My accuracy with the AK-47 needs a bit of work.

The rest of the photos are here. If you’re headed to Beijing and are interested in the Great Wall/Shooting Range excursion, you can book it through

January 12, 2010

China photos

Prior to heading to North Korea, I spent a few days in Beijing. Here are photos from my visits to Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall (Juyongguan section), and the China North International Shooting Range. Separate posts for each of those once I finish writing about North Korea in five years or so.

September 14, 2009

I have returned from the People’s Republics

I arrived back in Arlington last night (and two hours early, thanks to a very nice Continental Airlines representative) from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the People’s Republic of China. I’m still trying to process everything, but this was definitely the most bizarre and interesting trip I have ever taken. It will take me awhile to sort through the 1,500 pictures and assorted videos I shot while over there, but I should have plenty of stuff to blog about (finally!).

Here’s a short overview of some things I did in each country and will expand on later.

China: Impressed Chinese tourists with my command of their People’s Liberation Army light machine gun, climbed the Great Wall, walked across Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City, visited various other touristy sites, saw Chairman Mao lying in state, and bought Mao kitsch right after doing so (like Disneyland!).

North Korea: Listened to our flight attendant deliver a political speech before takeoff, ate the worst airline food in the history of mankind, had my iPhone confiscated, watched the Arirang Mass Games performed by 100,000 North Koreans, woke up to air raid sirens followed by snappy revolutionary music, played the slots in the Egyptian-themed “Casino Pyongyang”, got my ass kicked in bowling by one of the North Korean guides, ruined any chance of a future career in politics by being filmed by the North Korean propaganda, uh, I mean, news channel, danced with a bunch of locals in a park on their national holiday, cheated death by riding a corroding roller coaster, saw Kim Il-Sung lying in state, attempted to reclaim the USS Pueblo, sat through a lot of propaganda about the “U.S. Imperialists”, drank fruit beer at a microbrewery, visited the demilitarized zone and stood with one foot in North Korea and one foot in South Korea, sang “Dancing Queen” during a 1am karaoke session with two of our guides…etc, etc.

September 3, 2009

Off to Beijing

I’m catching a flight from DCA to Newark tomorrow morning and then a direct flight to Beijing, which is going to be a hellish 14-15 hours. I’m sure I’ll be sitting next to several screaming children as well. Arrive in Beijing on Saturday afternoon. On Sunday I plan to shoot AK-47s and other communist firearms and then hike part of the Great Wall (one of the steepest parts, which I’m sure is awesome when you are jet-lagged). If my visa is approved for North Korea I will be there September 8-12 and then back to DC late night on September 13. I have a 10 day supply of cipro and plenty of imperialist Yankee candy, beef jerky, and trail mix. Should be an interesting trip.