China is a Triumph

I’ve had the better part of ten days here and I’ve learned a lot to say the least. In the environment of listening to a book about China and hanging out with some foreigners who have been making an attempt at the language, I have seen that the east really unlocks if you can communicate with the locals. They are thrilled if you even have a 15 word vocabulary.

If you unlock the smile of China, it becomes a quite liveable place. Well, I might be exaggerating a little. Part of the reason that I have such a positive perspective on it recently is because since I’ve been here in Beijing, I’ve been hanging out with a true blond from Holland. The locals are no longer interested in my white skin or brown hair, they are stuck on the lady with the yellow hair!

I haven’t had a single stare since. Back to the anonymous life. But before I met her, I did notice that the stares here in Beijing are usually a lot shorter and a lot more of the kind that say “Hey, you look interesting.” and not the kind that say “listen monster, If you eat my only child, I’ll make you into a tasteless Wanton soup (a common dish).”

Speaking of children, I think it might be worth the trip out here to see them in action. As almost all of us know, there is a cap on the amount of children you are allowed to have here in China, due to a population explosion issue from the communist days where Mao encouraged families to have as many children as possible.

Children here are gods walking down the street. Your only blessing walks down the street holding the hands of both you and your spouse during a much deserved day of rest. Quality time is apparent all around you. Your prized reason to live goes everywhere with you and is spared nothing.

This is a sight to see, but I can’t wait to see what type of society it creates. You know, a society full of only children. This must be a sociologist’s wet dream. Perhaps the biggest inadvertent social experiment of all time.

you can easily walk down the street and see the older children (this one child policy has been around for a while) and they aren’t terrors. It’s just strange to know when you see 5 boys running around, that they represent 5 families and the lucky window of birth that was close in proximity.

But enough about kids, I hate em! Beijing was the first place on my stay in China that I could actually see the sky. As soon as the first sight of blue skys occured, I whiped my camera out. Now I know how the English feel when they sit under a cloud for so long. At least their cloud isn’t made of silt and smog.

I went to Tienanmen Square and the forbidden city the first day I was here and was able to swiftly pass through the touristy areas easily. There were people trying to scam me here as well. This time the scenario was art students who wanted to show off their art with the foreigner. I wanted to turn to them and say “Do you have any Idea how much damage you are doing to your country? You would really run your own name through the mud for a few bucks?” Says the American ….. How ironic?

Speaking of Americans. I saw a huge group of 30 who were following their guide who was holding up the standard “hey idiot, follow the yellow flag so you don’t get lost, or even worse, think for yourself.” You can find a line of people marching behind these types of flags all over China. the tour guide will have a microphone and a hip mounted loud speaker as well. As I saw this scene I flashed back to a backpacker who had said he took a tour through China earlier in his trip because it would have been impossible without a guide. This made me chuckle.

I went through the forbidden city at my own pace. When I found a nice perch, I had a sit (not seat) for about an hour without a care in the world. One other American saw the scene I had created and instantly saw the value. He was here with his wife, the standard retired white legged male with short shorts and cinuey ligaments. His health was somewhat gone, at least not the same as someone in their prime, and this was the precise reason I am here today. His wife quickly got in his face and told him about all the other places they had to see that day. The scene when a little like this.

“What are you doing!?”
“Come on honey, look at this. I just want to soak it in for a while. You know, have a seat for a bit.”
“Well how long is this seat going to take?”
“I don’t know, as long as it takes” (In an inspired tone)
“Well how long is that, we have to get to three more sights today you know!”

And there it was. The man looked back at me but it was too late.

At this point I kept going and ended up meeting the yellow haired girl who would be my buffer and travel buddy for the next few days. She was the ultra independent type who had been on the road for the last 9 months all through Asia. She had met her boyfriend while abroad and adopted his English accent. This threw everyone for a loop when she told people she was from Holland. Normally it would make my head spin as well, but you see weird situations with language while abroad.

I met a couple in my hostel who tipped me off on a truly secret portion of the Great Wall. They gave me some loose directions on which bus to take, travel times, and landmarks for this spot and me and the yellow haired lady thought we would take a crack at it. While other people were paying 50 bucks to go on every tour from the standard “follow the flag” tour to the “secret wall (but really have 100 people there)” tour, we were on a series of public buses following what was little more than a hunch.

The first bus was easy to catch, but the second took over a hour of asking and dumb luck to find, seeing as it was only marked in Chinese characters. The second bus was so local that I thought they might not even tell us when to get off. This lead to a bit of a Great Wall safari. I just had to keep my eyes peeled (hoping it wasn’t bad information we were going off of. For something as big as the great wall, for that moment, it sure seemed illusive.

Finally, after two and a half hours of public transport, the bus driver told us to get off at the next stop and turn right. We could see that the place was being developed into the next big tourist spot, but the large government sign that said “not open to the public. Don’t come any further.” Let us know that we were in the right place. Once we crossed that sign, there was a single man with a metal sign that said 2 quai (30 cents). We happily paid the man 30 cents each and proceeded up the path. eventually we saw the wall and climbed it for the better part of 3 hours without another soul in sight. Well, we met one other lonely traveler from Saint Louis who was out here on a 1 week vacation from his job in South Korea. He made a great addition to the group.

There is nothing like being at one of the 7 wonders of the world without a single tourist or idiot flag in sight. The Great Wall largely made my entire trip worth it, just like the Great Barrier Reef did for me in Australia. Once we got to a pinnacle point, we just attempted to chill out in the high 90 degree weather.

The wall snaked along the mountains with sharp switchbacks in an impossibly illogical design. It was as if the architect wanted to see how many people he could kill in the process of making his masterpiece. All I could think of was how hard it was to even climb this 15 foot high leviathan, let alone build a thousand miles of it. Some portions of the wall might as well have been a ladder they were so steep. But this wall was largely restored. I know that within a year or so, this will be the new big spot where all the tours go. Great timing. I though of how this will be impossible in Roam.

All in all the whole day costed a little more than 5 dollars in public transport. To celebrate, we ate at McDonald’s, somewhere I would never eat at at home. While I sat there eating, I stared at my place mat and sang along with the likes of Averil and Brittany. Chewing my piece of home and listening to the sounds of pop culture, for a moment, I was anywhere. I figured Id give the locals a real reason to stare by singing my heart out. Hell, your only here once.

Later I wondered how many other tours were possible and a world better for a tenth of the price. What other do it yourself situation are right under your nose? This (as it usually tends to do) changed something in me. I though of how I could never travel any other way again, now that I know the secret of how easy it really is. I thought of the fellow traveler who proclaimed China impossible without a guide. I thought of how much richer my life was when standing on that wall alone. How much better off I was, knowing the secret.

For me, China is a triumph.

Great wall



Shang Hai

One thought on “China is a Triumph

  • June 24, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Great post, Alex. It makes me want to visit China more than before.


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