Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields

The Khmer Rouge came into power in 1975. Led by Pol Pot they immediately began to restructure society. Pol Pot believed that Cambodia should be a rural, classless and agrarian society. As a result, within just a few days of the Khmer Rouge coming to power, families were separated, jobs taken away and the entire population of Phnom Penh was forced to march into the countryside and work as slaves for up to 15 hours a day. Anyone who tried to disobey was immediately killed.

The Khmer Rouge declared it Year Zero, stopped the postal service, closed its borders and abolished currency, schooling, private property, foreign clothing and traditional Khmer culture.

Senior members of the former government and their families were executed. Pol Pot believed that all the various factions of the Khmer Rouge needed to be cleansed. This lead to an unknown number of people being killed, outside and within the Khmer Rouge party. The Khmer Rouge were finally toppled by the Vietnamese in 1978. While no one knows the exact numbers, during these 3 years and 8 months it is estimated that 1 in 5 Cambodians were killed, perhaps more than a million people. They were killed in executions, in killing fields, and by being starved and worked to death. We learned that one saying of the Khmer Rouge went something like this: Better to kill ten innocent people than let one enemy escape. With this motto, entire families, from newborns to the elderly were executed. During this time the world was clueless. The Khmer Rouge had completely closed Cambodia’s borders. They only invited those sympathetic to their cause, and took them on staged tours of their country.

While in Phnom Penh, we were able to drive a half hour to visit one of the many killing fields. It is estimated that about 17,000 men, women, children and infants were killed at the Killing Field of Choeung Ek. Bullets were expensive, so they were often bludgeoned to death. Previous to becoming a killing field, this land was a Chinese burial ground, where those who passed were honored and respected.

There are killing fields, such as this one, all over Cambodia, many surrounded by land mines or hidden in jungles. At Choeung Ek, when it rains, pieces of human bones and cloth rise to the surface. Below is a picture of the memorial at Choeung Ek. It is home to skulls and other bones from many, but not all, of the victims at this field. Many of the mass graves in this field have been left untouched, the Cambodian’s preferring to let the victims of the Khmer Rouge rest in peace.

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A memorial and place to pay respect to those murdered in this field, as well as those who perished during the Khmer Rouge genocide.

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1 of 129 mass graves

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Bone fragments and pieces of cloth will come to the surface after it rains.

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A tree that was used to kill many babies. All it took was one tiny head and one hard swing.

During the Khmer Rouge rule all schools were closed. Anyone with an education became an enemy of the state. The Tuol Sleng Museum was once a high school. In 1975 the Khmer Rouge took it over and turned it into a prison, giving it the code name S-21 (Security Prison 21). Those killed at the Choeung Ek Killing Field were first tortured here. Similar to the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge kept detailed records and today you can visit and look at the photographs of those who perished and the few who survived. Eventually, the Khmer party turned on itself and began torturing the killing their own.

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Due to the closed borders and a few Westerners’ lobbying on their behalf, the Khmer Rouge continued to be given a seat in the United Nations. In fact, from 1979 to 1990, the masterminds behind this genocide, were recognized as the only legitimate representative of Cambodia (at that time the country was called by another name).

The Cambodians, also known as the Khmer people, are recovering from a genocide and civil war that didn’t end until 1997. Those that we met were kind, helpful and proud of their cultural heritage, a heritage that was almost lost.

You can read more at these websites:

Day 2 at the Angkor Temples

For our second day at the temples we decided to get up early to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat (the most famous temple). We heard it was gorgeous, but also crowded. So we found ourselves biking at at 4:45am in the dark to see the sunrise. The sun rose slowly, between 5:30 and 7:30am, providing opportunities to take many pictures. Here are a few of our best.

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The massive amount of people at the temple to see sunrise.

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No I didn’t shrink, nor did B grow. He is standing on a rock.

We took a break from watching the sunrise to explore the inside of the temple, while most people were still outside.

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Look closely and you can see B!

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Taking a break with our friend from Shanghai, who was also visiting Cambodia.

 

It wasn’t long before we headed back to the front of the temple to catch more of the sunrise.

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At this point it was around 7:15am. So we decided to go ahead, take our bikes and see what else we could find. We headed straight to Bayon, the temple of many faces.

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We explored a few more temples and then went back to town, thoroughly exhausted and ready for a nap by the pool.

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Day 1 at the Angkor Temples

The temples at Angkor were abandoned for centuries, allowing the jungle to overtake them. The temples are what is left over from a 600 year period between AD 802-1432. During this time the Khmer Empire was one of the greatest in southeast Asia. The city of Angkor had a population of one million, when London was still a small town of 50,000. At that time houses were built of wood and therefore no longer exist. The temples however, were an entirely different matter. Angkor is the earthly representation of Mt. Meru, the place where the gods lived. One king after another tried to out build each other in the 400 square kilometers that make up the area. According to Wikipedia over one thousand temples remain, ranging in size from just a few bricks to the lofty Angkor Wat.

On our first day out we hired a tuk tuk driver and had him take us to the temples of Preah Khan, Preah Neak Poan, Ta Som, Pre Rup, Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm. Sadly, except for the biggest named ones we lost track of which temples were which. However, some of the smaller temples were the most amazing. So without further ado, here are pictures from our first day.

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Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Over Chinese New Year we decided it was time to explore Cambodia. Arriving late on Friday night, we started our trip in the capital, Phnom Penh. We awoke the next morning, excited to see the city by day and begin our exploring. Phnom Penh, is a city full of charming cafes, fantastic food with a lovely river walk. 

On Saturday we decided to start our day before it got too hot. The Royal Palace was reminiscent of the one in Bangkok, however a little less ornate. It is still the official residence of the king, so parts of it is off limit to tourists.

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View of beautiful landscaping and a gorgeous building in the Royal Palace. Check out that tree!

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The detail in the buildings were impressive.

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There are many beautiful stupa’s containing the ashes of former kings.

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The Silver Pagoda is named for its floor, which is covered in silver tiles. You are not allowed to take photographs inside and most of the tiles are covered up. The ones you could see have delicate carvings on them. Inside are many artifacts from when the Khmer civilization was at its peak.

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The city itself reminded us a little of HCMC and Hanoi. Motorbikes were everywhere, electric wires were a tangled mess and you could see the French influence in the architecture.

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IMG_4845_2The easiest way to get around was by tuk tuk.

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The roads could get very dusty!

We decided to take a sunset cruise on the Mekong River.

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River homes and homes by the river.

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Enjoying the fantastic breeze.

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Phnom Penh has many monuments.

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The Independence Monument was built to commemorate the country’s independence from France in the 1950s. It also serves as a monument to those who died at war. It was modeled on the central tower of Angkor Wat.

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This monument honors King Norodom Sihanouk.

Overall, we enjoyed the city. It was a great introduction to Cambodia, Cambodians and their delicious food!

We Just Wanted A Photograph

In the days to come we will share many photos from our CNY trip to Cambodia. However, we will tell the story of just one picture. While observing the grounds of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh and taking various photographs A and I decided that we would stop to take a picture together (before it got too hot). We took a quick look around and found two people nearby, so we asked if they would take our picture. One kind gentlemen obliged and I handed him my phone. He snapped a quick shot and then the three of us began to discuss common traveler topics like where are you from etc. Eventually, we were discussing selfie sticks and how we had forgot ours at the hotel (thus the need for someone to take our picture). He acknowledge that he was familiar with selfie sticks. We continued to chat for a brief moment and then each of us went our separate ways to continue exploring the Royal Palace. As we walked away another man approached us and asked, “Do you know him?” We shared that we did not and that he was just a stranger we asked to take our photo. The man then told us that we had just been photographed by Gary Latham, but we were not familiar with the name. The man talking with us was touring with Gary Latham and a few other people on a photography tour. It turns out Gary Latham is a renowned photographer who has taken photos for National Geographic, Lonely Planet and more. The lone picture below is Gary Latham’s quick snapshot of us. You can be the judge as to where it ranks among his best work. For comparison here are some samples of his previous work. Afterwards we looked into these trips and learned that they are multi-week excursions throughout Asia where those traveling with him refine their own photography skills. Just think, we chose to discuss selfie sticks with him and how they eliminate the need for asking someone to take your picture.
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Mui Ne & Phan Thiet, Vietnam

We kicked off 2015 with a ride up the coast of Vietnam to the gorgeous resorts of Mui Ne & Phan Thiet. We stayed in a lovely beach resort in Phan Thiet just a short trip to the busier streets and beaches of Mui Ne. It was a perfectly warm way to relax and recover following a busy series of travels through Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an and HCMC. We were able to eat more delicious food and enjoy extremely affordable massages. It was a great way to end a long trip.

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B and A at the beach in Phan Thiet.

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Beautiful view from the resort in Phan Thiet.

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Temple in Mui Ne

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White sand dunes in Mui Ne.

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Waves of Vietnam.

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The coast of Vietnam as seen from Phan Thiet.

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K and A enjoying delicious Bah Mi (delicious street food/sandwich) on the beach.

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A and K biking on the streets of Pham Thiet. Worth noting the alternating Vietnam and Communist street flags.

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Vietnam and Communist flags flying high all over Vietnam. Just in case you forget where you are or who is in charge.

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Phan Thiet street art.

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Beautiful fishing village in Mui Ne.

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K, B and A taking a break from biking at a local cafe.

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Beautiful sky, ocean and dunes from the red sand area of Mui Ne.

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A sledding on the red dunes in Mui Ne.

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K sledding on the red sand dunes.

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B sledding on the red sand dunes in Mui Ne.

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A coming down the hill.

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K and A at the bottom of the dunes.

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Shot of Mui Ne from the top of a hill and nearby temple.

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White sand dunes in Mui Ne.

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A and K hanging out on the white sand dunes of Mui Ne.

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A and B throwing deuces out on the windy hills of the white sand dunes.

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B riding the atv on the white sand dunes.

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K and A riding in the back of the ATV as B drives across the white sand dunes.

 

And on the 5th Day…

…recreational fireworks began at midnight and continued until 2am. A few hours later they started up and continued on and off for the rest of the day. So, with sleep in our eyes, we began the first day back at school and quickly learned about the fifth day of Chinese New Year.

The day is commonly known as the Festival of Po Wu. There are many stories about the origin of this festival, but the most popular one is that it is the birthday of the god of fortune. Therefore, people shoot off fireworks in order to gain favor with this god and good fortune for the entire new year.

The fireworks in China are intense, and by intense I mean the shows at night (they are often set off during the day) are often as good or at times even better than what we see on the 4th of July. What makes this so surprising is that the people setting them off are just like you and me. Hopefully one day we will get to see fireworks set off by the government. They are probably outstanding. To get a small taste visit B’s facebook post to view a video our friend took right after midnight. It is long, so be sure to watch from 1:30-2:30 for the best portion.

PS – As I am posting this fireworks are going off and we expect that they will continue until midnight. In fact, we may visit our firework guy after dinner and set some off ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

As seems to be the norm when given the chance to leave Shanghai, we travel south. For New Years with family still in town, we headed to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Having previously enjoyed a trip to Hanoi we were excited to return to a country we had thoroughly enjoyed in the past. We boarded a late evening flight and arrived in HCMC in the wee hours of the morning. We spent a couple of days in the city prior to heading to the beach in Mui Ne (pictures to follow in the next post). Below you will find snapshots highlighting the final days of 2014 in HCMC.

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Good Morning Vietnam! Yes, that’s unoriginal but yet fitting for the first moments of our trip to HCMC. We woke up to this gorgeous view of the city.

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A and K crossing the busy streets of HCMC. They were beautifully decorated for the New Year. The Vietnamese were prepared to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their victory and being one nation.

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K, A and B taking a break for walking at a rooftop restaurant (thanks selfie stick for the pic).

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K demonstrating her strength and exploring alternative employment opportunities.

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Much like our pengyou in China, Vietnam has conveniently located exercise equipment throughout the city. B and A working out the legs on the stationary bikes.

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Locating the famous Notre Dame church in HCMC.

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A and K in front of a USA tank from the Vietnam War (or American War as the Vietnamese refer to it) located at the War Remnants Museum.

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Aerial view of HCMC city center.

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View of HCMC from the Bitexco Financial Tower.

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The opposite direction.

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Night view of HCMC from the top of our hotel.

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The opposite look.

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Early morning street view of the streets of HCMC. Note the electric wires above the street and the Bitexco Financial Tower centered on the horizon.

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Some early morning markets.

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Beautifully decorated streets of HCMC.

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Anticipation and traffic build while waiting for New Years.

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More of the well lit streets of HCMC in the final hours of 2014.

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B and A Cheers! New Years Eve dinner with some oysters.

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Just a little post New Years Eve dinner selfie pic. Note the crowds in the street. Many traveling via motorbike, two to four per bike. B was so jealous. Everyone, us included, is headed to a vantage point for viewing the midnight fireworks.

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New Years photo!

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A and B welcoming 2015!

 

Xi’an, China

So we should start by being honest, we’ve been terrible at posting. Trying not to share too many photos at once has turned into not sharing at all. Since we returned after Christmas vacation we’ve been quite busy. Oddly, we didn’t post everything from our holiday adventures prior to departing for a Chinese New Year vacation in Cambodia (those photos to come). Therefore, the next three post will summarize the amazing times we had over the winter holiday and then we will be much more prompt to share pictures from Cambodia. This post focuses on our visit to Xi’an, China. Xi’an is located east of Chengdu and was a 4 hour speed train ride from Beijing. The city is the former capital of China and has a population of more than 8 million people (just smaller than New York City). It’s home to a great city wall, a growing city center and of course the world famous Terracotta Army. Below are some pictures from our visit to Xi’an and Terracotta Army.

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A look at some of the Terracotta Army located in Xi’an, China.

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Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an.

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You can’t capture the entire army at once but this picture give you an idea of their size.

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K and B throwing deuces before the Terracotta Warriors, A was too cold to remove her hands.

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These warriors were repainted to replicate the colors that are originally seen when each is discovered. However, the paint is from natural ingredients and exposure to air removes all color. Allegedly the Chinese are working on a modern technology that will provide a solution to this problem within 100 years.

 

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Some of the well preserved warriors that you can get up close to.

 

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K trying out some new armor.

 

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Family photo on the Xi’an city wall.

 

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Xi’an city wall.

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Xi’an city wall lit up at night in all its glory.

 

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Walking the city wall.

Christmas Vacation: Part II (The Great Wall)

We spent Christmas Eve out in Mutianyu, China. A small village about 90 minutes outside of Beijing. We were able to stay in a nicely restored cottage at the foot of the Great Wall. The temperature was great (considering it was winter) and the air was amazing. We were able to see countless stars on Christmas Eve after enjoying a wonderful dinner together with other guests staying at the resort. We woke up early on Christmas Day, enjoyed some breakfast in the kitchen while sitting by the fire and then embarked on a day of hiking along the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.

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The exterior of our cottage at the Brickyard in Mutianyu.

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A and B, Christmas at the Great Wall.

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A manning the gate.

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B snapping a shot on the wall.

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B and K present, tower 11 at Mutianyu.

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Family Christmas photo, thanks selfie stick (note the shadow).

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While hiking on the wall B got word that his sister back home got engaged (yeah technology). Everyone stopped to take a congratulatory photo of approval.

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Sun in the photo, no problem. A sunny Christmas on the Great Wall.

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Family photo with a selfie stick (best purchase we made in Beijing, thanks K!)

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A and K take the morning shift from above the tower.

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A and K on the Great Wall. China pose.

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Sibs just hanging out on the wall.

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K posing on the wall.

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An empty and gorgeous Great Wall.

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Signing the board along the Great Wall (We shall see if we’re still there in April).

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Endless stairs, up, down and back.

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Gorgeous Christmas Day at the Great Wall (Mutianyu).