After a train ride to Beijing, a night in a hostel, a bus ride, and then a car ride, we arrived at what people say is perhaps the best preserved, least Disneyfied portion of the Great Wall. Some English teacher friends wanted one last fling before the regular semester starts so we tagged along.
See more photos here!
Hiking the parts of the Great Wall that haven’t been recently restored is great, and not just because it’s the Great Wall and the scenery is fantastic and you’re alone most of the time and it’s quiet (blessed, blessed silence!) and the air is clean(er) and you get good exercise. There’s an element of mild peril to all these steep, crumbing staircases and watchtowers. It’d be so easy to fall and bust something as you climb up and down steep, slippery, debris-strewn slopes or uneven, narrow stairs, never mind having something bust and fall on you in the cracked and disintegrating towers. They’d never let you play on this kind of stuff in North America; it’d have paved, even steps and guard rails and bracing everywhere. But this is China; the courts protect The Man from the people, not the other way around. When you’re hiking the Great Wall, that’s both a good and a bad thing, as we found out yesterday.
We hiked from 11am to 4:30pm – it was exhausting because it’s all up and down and when there are steps, they’re tall and uneven. But the view, the clean(er) air, the exercise, and quietness – oh, the quietness! – made it so worth it.
Sadly, when you look our across the hills and mountains you can’t avoid seeing the pollution haze on the horizon, and the scattered patches of recently planted pine trees on the otherwise treeless slopes highlight the history of environmental abuse. Still, it beats Tianjin, and it sure beats the even noisier and dirtier Beijing (I am so glad we chose to study in Tianjin instead of Beijing – yuck).
Takin’ it from The Man
The no-so-cool part of the trip is where they forced us to pay almost the whole entrance fee again and then pay to cross a bridge, just so we could get off the wall to the parking lot where our car was waiting. We’d sort assumed that the fee to enter the park included the ability to exit the park, but it didn’t. Halfway along the hike they post signs declaring it a different “scenic area” – not that you could get off the wall at that point even if you wanted to. Then before you reach the end there are two guys with official-looking badges and tickets blocking the path along the Wall. They tell you if you don’t want to pay, that’s fine, you can just go back the way you came (4+ hours of hiking!). It was like finding out at the end of a meal that there’s another fee for eating more than the half the food. It’s really sort of a token “China experience”; no one has sympathy for this kind of story because almost everyone has experienced far worse. Not to be cynical, but when little things like this happen and you’ve been reading your Chinese history and current events, you get the impression that getting taken advantage of by those above you is just as much a part of experiencing China as hiking the Great Wall. Thankfully, we only experience it in little ways like this.
But to end on a happy note, we met a famous celebrity from Taiwan (and his film crew) on the Wall! Jackie Wu (吳宗憲 – it was the first time we’d ever heard of him, but he and everyone else assured us he’s very famous) was there filming a game show/reality show called “Big Spender” and they had horses and crazy costumes and stuff. The producer was a European guy and he explained it all to us, saying that “reality” TV doesn’t really work in China because people won’t fight on camera, so it’s more of a game show where teams in different cities get tons of money to spend and whoever spends it most wisely on the best quality stuff gets to keep everything they bought.
Make sure you check out the photos! We took lots, and there are some fun ones.