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August 21st, 2003

Beijing, China

I met up with Thembi, Ryan, and Claudia early in the morning, our plan being to hike a remote section of the Great Wall of China. Of the accessible parts, most are reportedly overrun by tourists and those who feed upon tourists, so we were willing to spend a few extra hours in a bus in order to have some solitude while we walked on China's tourist trademark.

We arrived in Simatai after a boring three hour ride. The Wall was clearly visible atop the spine of an imposing mountain range. The mountains looked to be much higher and farther than could be walked in the limited time we had, so we boarded the cable car, then the mini-train, that took us near the top. The site proved to be less remote than we anticipated, as we were greeted upon our arrival at the top by a handful of persistent postcard sellers. Their technique was nearly impossible to defeat: they didn't move directly to the sale, but simply followed us around, providing a running commentary about the Wall and occasionally engaging in small talk. If they had tried to make a sale from the get-go we could have told them to piss off, but their polite front discouraged any unprompted rudeness on our part.

The hawkers weren't annoying enough to detract from the overall experience: the Wall and its majestic surroundings put me in a forgiving mood. We were perched atop a mountain range which gave good views on each side. The permeating haze lent a sense of oriental mystery to the experience. Ryan quoted Nixon a few times: "It sure is a great wall!" We climbed as far up as we could -- until we were stopped by a PLA soldier intent on keeping tourists off a less sturdy portion of the Wall -- and then reversed direction down towards a narrow, lake-filled valley.

The fastest way down was via a flying fox, which Ryan and I were eager to try. Thembi's fear of heights nearly discouraged her from the attempt, and although she emerged from the experience unscarred it took her a good half hour to suppress the resulting nausea.

Once back in Beijing, we took dinner at a courtyard restaurant, then stopped at a bar for some farewell drinks. In the morning Ryan and Claudia would board a train for the fifty-five hour journey to Hanoi.

Cable cars ascending
Claudia, Ryan, and Thembi on the mini-train
Hiking the wall
Ryan heads toward a tower
Inaccessible part of the Wall
Adjacent towers
Me atop the Wall
Three of the conquerors
The long descent
Towers in the haze
Ryan buckles in...
And away he goes!

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