Prior to leaving for the Great Wall, the pool received a short briefing, on background by a senior administration official, about FLOTUS’s roundtable this morning, referenced in the first pool report. The briefing was cut short when FLOTUS motorcade was suddenly prepared to depart.
The official said the Chinese educators, students and parents in the room were able to share information with FLOTUS about the challenges that exist in both the Chinese and U.S. education systems. These included things such as standardized testing and ensuring opportunities for all to go to college. There was also discussion of treatment of ethnic minorities in the Chinese education system. (More on this in a pool report to come from a participant, a professor, that we interviewed late this afternoon.)
FLOTUS motorcade left Westin Hotel in Beijing at 12:30 and zipped to the northeast of the city along freeways closed off to traffic. Journalists accustomed to being stuck on the ring roads marveled at traveling at speeds that topped 80 MPH. This correspondent buckled his seat belt.
As we approached the town of Mutianyu, crowds of villagers could be seen gawking at the passing motorcade and taking photos and videos. Later, as the motorcade grew closer to the Great Wall, those road-side onlookers included many Western tourists, some possibly hoping to get a glimpse of Michelle Obama. All they saw was a string of black vans and SUVs racing along through the quiet countryside.
FLOTUS and her mother and daughters stopped for lunch in Mutianyu village at the School House restaurant. The restaurant occupies an school house closed in 1996 because of declining enrollment, according to Erin Elizabeth Williams’ book, “Mutianyu: Off the Great Wall.” The building was then reincarnated as restaurant, which now serves both Western and Chinese food.
According to news officials, the first family ordered Chinese noodles, dumplings and salads, among other dishes.
For background, Mutianyu is in Huairou County, about 70 kilometers northeast of the Beijing center. It is thought that some kind of wall was first built here in the 6th century, to protect against invading hordes. But the walls and ramparts the first family saw today were mainly the result of construction in the 16th century, during the Ming Dynasty. With the exception of graffiti, this section of the wall is in remarkably good shape, having been rebuilt and renovated several times.
After lunch, FLOTUS and her daughters and mother took the gondola up from the village to a high point on the Mutianyu Great Wall, near Tower 14. It is not known if they rode in the same gondola Bill Clinton occupied when he visited the same stretch of the wall in 1996. (That particularly gondola is marked with his name and date of visit.)