Monday, August 15

The Great Wall

This post could end up being really long, because there are many stories to tell from yesterday...
The day started with meeting one of my friends at the subway station that was next to the bus station that we were departing to the wall from. After much waiting and searching, we finally connected an hour and a half later than we planned. I won't go into all of that, but it was a good lesson in patience and many other things for me. We decided, at my recommendation, to go to the Hwang Hua section of the wall, not Badaling (like most tour groups go to) because we didn't want to be surrounded by other tourists and we wanted to see the real wall, not a rebuilt version.

We got on the bus, already pretty wet from sweat, and began asking (my friend is Chinese) about a mini bus that we could take from where the bus stopped. They said there weren't any mini buses that went to the great wall from where the bus stopped. We weren't phased, though. We got off the bus and were immediately latched onto by two guys trying to get us to take their taxi for too much. We went in to ask about the bus situation, were told there were no buses, then after some deliberation, one taxi driver actually told us that there was a mini bus station and he would take us there. He did, but on the way he tried to get us to just go with him. We bargained and bargained and weren't satisfied, so we just asked him to take us to the mini bus station. We get on our mini bus, wait and wait, then finally take off. Soon, we see two white people looking a little lost, so we yell out the window where we're going and they jump in. They're a couple from Poland.

We get to the section of the great wall that we want to visit, and when we get off, an older lady escorts us across a dam to the base of the hill. We each pay her 2 yuan and another guide passes us and starts walking quickly up the hill. We are told to follow him, so we do, but he soon leaves us. We are walking beside the wall and keep walking, then we see a ladder to go up the wall. The couple starts to climb, then the man at the top says that it's 2 more yuan to go up. That's not much money at all, but the lady told us that our 2 yuan we already paid would get us up. So, we keep going to see if there's another way. After a while of walking up this narrow and steep path with rocks, bugs, trees in the way, we decide to go back down to the ladder. Now he tells us that he wants 20 yuan from each of us. (We don't know if he was mad, or if he just didn't say the right price the first time.) The Polish guy had already gone up, with the ladder man expecting his wife to pay. When she wouldn't pay that price, the ladder man moved the ladder and wouldn't let the Polish guy down. We spent a while waiting, deciding what to do, while the P0lish guy tried to find another way down. He couldn't, so we bargained the ladder guy down to 12 yuan per person.

The view from the top, and actually being on the Great Wall, was worth it. We climbed up until a lightning storm came, then decided it wasn't the best place to be. We walked down a little until the lightning subsided, then the Polish couple shared their bread with us. It was the first time I had been cool in Beijing, being wet from sweat and with the cool breeze blowing on us. It was also the first time I'd been able to sit and enjoy being away from tourism. We four were alone up there, with the amazing wall stretching out before and behind us. After our rest, we walked down to our ladder and found out the guys were gone, and with them, the ladder. We could have been upset (especially because the guy had said the ladder would be there when we got back), but it was just another obstacle to overcome. So, walking a little further, we found a place to get down and walked down the other side of the wall to the river. We proceeded across a two plank bridge, and then found that there were people behind us yelling that we pay to cross their bridge. Again, they were only asking two yuan per person, but the principle behind it was what upset us, because we should have been able to take our 12 yuan ladder down for free!

The Polish couple is convinced that everybody works together to make sure the foreigners have to pay at every spot. They probably do. We tried to get out of paying our bridge fee, a fight almost broke out, and one of the guys threatened calling the police, but we ended up paying. When we got on the bus, there was a group from France who had gone to another section of the wall on a tour and their guide actually left them there by themselves! Through all of these experiences, I really do believe that I got an "authentic Wall experience" (as Lonely Planet called this section of the wall), although I definitely wouldn't recommend it to anyone unless they have a Chinese speaker to go with them!

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