Sunday, April 20, 2008
CALL OF THE WALL
(Snapshots from Beijing, Part Four)
"He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man." - Mao Zedong
Fighting words, indeed, from the Chairman.
Truth be told, i had always wanted to see the Great Wall, known in Mandarin as "Chang Cheng", literally "long wall".
With apologies to the charms of historical sites (and tour group staples) such as Summer Palace / Forbidden City / Temple of Heaven / Tiananmen Square (and that blasted panda bear), it was the chance to hike up the Great Wall which made me all excited about this trip.
Before we proceed, we might as well clarify a few things about the Wall.
First, contrary to popular belief, it CANNOT be seen from outer space.
Second, it is NOT a single continuous structure. I was rather taken aback upon learning this, to be honest.
Third, it was a dismal failure at its purpose of keeping out the Hun army from the north, as intended by Emperor Chin Shi Huang. Why? Because the guards were simply bribed to look the other way. [Click here for the official website detailing the Wall's history, etc.]
But let none of this detract from the fact that the Wall is an engineering marvel in its own right. Think about it, how were they able to build this thing in such remote areas, and given the available technology and equipment of that era?
We were initially supposed to visit Badaling, the most-visited restored section of the wall (read: swarming with tourists). Aside from the usual souvenir stands, it boasts of a cable car and yes, a KFC outlet.
However, due to heavy traffic caused by an accident of the highway, we ended up at the Juyong Guan (Dwelling in Harmony Pass) section.
The place was teeming with tourists, which made going up rather difficult. Partly because the steps were uneven in height, and were steeper than the normal "stair" height step we are used to. More than this, the throng of people all going in the same direction made it a start-stop, start-stop affair. One had to take one step forward, then pause for a few seconds before proceeding again. Rather hard on the knees, i can tell you.
However, the crowd pretty much thins out after you reach the first station. At this point, most of the intrepid hiker-wanna-be tourists realize this is a far more strenous undertaking than initially expected, and decide they will just stay where they are, puff on a cigarette or two (to mitigate the cold weather), take snapshots for posterity and buy a T-shirt or two at the souvenir stand. You know, just to say they've been to the Great Wall.
Check out some interesting signs posted on the Wall:
These guys from the Beijing Tourist Administration are really thoughtful, no?
It sort of boggles the mind why anyone would want to use a cellphone up here. Oh well.
Well, if you're climbing steps as steep as these, you'd be careful, too.
Check out also the graffiti on the Wall:
Terrible, isn't it? [Of course, while saying this and shaking my head in disgust, i made a mental note to bring a black Pentel pen next time, so i can write as well!]
Once you get used to the steep steps and shake off the other tourists, hiking up the Wall becomes a real joy. And the cold weather ceases to become a factor as well. In fact, i had to shed off my jacket since i was getting real sweaty.
Two stations down. . .three stations down. . .the adrenaline rush is pretty awesome!
Then at some point, i stopped, not sure if i wanted to go up further, or turn back and start the downward trek back to terra firma. After some twenty seconds' agonizing, i chose the latter course of action.
Why, you may ask?
The ache in my knees and thighs and hamstrings was getting too much? No.
Dizziness from the high altitude? No.
Fatigue and heart palpitations from the climb? No.
What then? Actually, i felt the need to pee; and obviously, there were no toilets up there. Darn.
Here's a sample of the view:
Of course, the Great Wall experience wouldn't be complete without bringing home some sort of souvenir. Check out the souvenir stand below, doing brisk business:
As the banner says, you can actually have a "I Climbed the Great Wall" certificate for RMB40.00. Rather desperate, don't you think? :D
I preferred to buy the T-shirt below:
YEAH!!! Been there, done that!!! :D
I'm sure the Chairman is turning over in his grave, though.