Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Great Wall of China

It was a day like any other – save for the fact that it was destined... for greatness. Or something like that.

Today I was going to go visit the Great Wall of China. For a 2500KM wall there are a lot of places to see it. There are some hikes along the wild wall, some places where you can see authentic views of the beast, and then there's Badaling. The tourist haven where everyone heads to. I'm not saying it was the right choice, but it was the easy choice, and I can hardly be faulted for taking that at this stage, can I?

There would be no 500RMB coach to take me there and back, no – Badaling is popular for a reason. There is a bus that heads from town right up to it. The ride is an hour and a half, and you may be crammed in with dozens of domestic tourists, but it is value for money. The trip, each way, costs a mere 4.6RMB. 4.6! That's less than a dollar. And they want 500 in town? It's a good scam they've got there.

If you board the bus at it's stop – the 919 I believe? - you need not worry about having to stand. With buses leaving every five to ten minutes you can just wait at the front of the line to be the first on. Actually, when the seats are full, I think they stop letting people on. It would be a shame to board anywhere but the station – but fear not, for there is a subway near by.

2RMB on that, and my round trip from my base station to the wall and back would be less than the fifteen minute subway ride from my building to my station.

From the bus I caught my first glimpse of the wall as it snaked through the hills, offering 100% great general emergence from combat within the boarder, while preventing barbarians from entering (which is upsetting as they have valuable presents to leave behind now and then.) In a happier time it would have doubled the effect of all city walls, and strengthened attacks against the aforementioned barbarians but sadly that time has past. And once more the winds of change are upon us. Who knows what it may do a year from now.

When I saw it through the bus window I was thankful I wasn't sitting in the aisle, lest the person beside me would be covered with my hairy expanse. Nose pressed to Plexiglas I stared out simply in awe of the construction. I had seen pictures, and virtual recreations. I knew what to expect. And yet – there it was. Expectations normally leave things lacking, but not this – not this wall. It was still, magnificent.

For twenty minutes more we continued on, the wall snaking beside us, and then disappearing behind some low hill, before popping back into view one more.

Finally after far too much waiting we were there – allowed off the bus, I headed into a gleeful skipping looking for the wall. WherewasthewallwherewasthewallwherewastheWALL?!

Ohh – through this alley and up some road and around a corner. Fine, whatever. For five minutes I avoided buying anything from the people stepping in front of me offering, “good deal! Good deal!”

And then I walked past oncoming traffic.

But then – oh yes, then – I was at the wall. My ticket? 45RMB. Not a bad price. One I was happy to pay. And with that taken care of I just had one more choice to make: Walk left, or walk right. Everyone was walking right, so the answer seemed obvious to me. Head left. Also, the way the sun was moving, the best pictures (important on this grey-smog-filled day) would be taken from that directions. Weren't these people thinking?

A few minutes later, up sever steep inclines, I realized why they had chosen the way they had. Still – left? The superior direction.

With less people cleaner shots of the wall could be taken. Sure it was reconstructed to look as it once did, and some may not view this as authentic, but when you go to a museum and look at ancient works you don't see the pieces of broken statues and pottery. You see a reconstructed version. Imagine going to see a dinosaur and viewing a pile of bones. There's something to be said for that, no doubt, but just because something has been reconstructed it doesn't make it any less impressive or authentic. That's what the handrails do.

If you can look past that, Badaling is a great site to see the wall. Provided you go left. You go right, you're on your own. Be warned.

As morning became noon I hiked to the end of the wall where a barrier prevented one from going any further. A cable car offered rides back to the bus stop – please...

Along the wall I was stopped by a number of people to have my photo taken with them. I wonder how many albums I'll end up in, and how many people will just discard me to their virtual folders. I wonder if I'll make the Chinese blog scene? I should totally write my URL on my hand and hold it up in their shots. But no, that's too much.

For a couple of hours I paced around the wall, soaking it in, standing at the end looking out at the wild wall beyond. And while I rode the bus back (after a post walk hot dog and price negotiated soda) I thought about how I'd like to come back and do the five hour hike between two sections. The reason I didn't on my own? At the end you need to negotiate with the black cabs to get back to the city. I was no prepared to do that solo after a long walk in the sun.

I also learned that if you pass the second station, you can turn the day hike into a five day hike into the wild leading to a completely different city. The nights are spent camping in the ancient watchtowers. Is this a reason to return to China? I think so. I think so.

Back at base I flipped on my laptop, no bugs in the software. For the next few hours I would relax. It was that time. Time to just chill out and say Beijing – I've seen you as much as I'm going to. Make peace with it. Prepare for things to come.

Ohh and eat some delicious left over food too! That Great Wall Restaurant food? Still – AMAZING – the next day. Reheated with some plum sauce? All-Right!

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