Just A Typical Atypical Day On The Great Wall Of China

What will remain my favorite trip of this China study abroad experience

Hanging out on the Great Wall – just another day in my study abroad life

While last week was pretty ordinary, the first ordinary week I’ve had, the previous two weekends were exactly the opposite. If China was an adjective, I think this is the most China I’ve been since landing in Beijing. All the English majors out there just take a second and breathe, I know the adjective is “Chinese”, but I wasn’t being Chinese (e.g. I have a feeling most Chinese people don’t get as excited as I was about spending the weekend climbing THE GREAT WALL). No, these past two weekends, I was being China, and it was awesome.

Since last week was guoqingjia 国庆节 or National Day Holiday – i.e. schools and businesses are closed for the week (except for ours) – my roommate Tian Ye headed home for the week and I was lucky enough to be invited to his house that Sunday afternoon to meet his family and have dinner. No question I’ve experienced a ton of Chinese culture since landing in Beijing, but I’m going to say no experience is complete without hanging out with a Chinese family for a day. My roommates Mom and Dad were awesome – totally welcoming and really understanding of the fact that 66% of the time, I had no idea what they were saying.

We were having jiaozi 饺子 (dumplings) for dinner, and so I helped Tian Ye and his Mom wrap the jiaozi – basically putting meat in the middle of circular cut outs of dumpling dough, and then attempting to artistically pinch the edges together so the meat filling can’t squeeze its way out, and also so it won’t fall apart when it hits the boiling water. I’ve wrapped dumplings before at our Christmas and Spring Festival parties back at Holy Cross, but it goes without saying that the real thing is so much cooler. There’s definitely an art to wrapping, and it was pretty evident I still haven’t learned it. There was more food than we could finish, and I ate enough jiaozi for 3 people. Coming back to CET that night, I was full, content, comfortable, and most importantly, very appreciative.

Our home cooked meal – Chinese style

And of course the highlight of the last week and a half or so – the single trip I’ve been looking forward to the most since I learned I would be coming to China – climbing the Great Wall 长城 this past weekend. I’ve been in Beijing for almost a month and half, and I think seeing, touching, and just generally experiencing the Great Wall was the most significant indication that I’ve really made it – that I’m living in China, that I’m really learning how to speak Chinese, that I’m traveling around a country on the complete opposite side of the world – that yet again, I’m living the dream. It was without question one of my best “aha” moments.

The plan was to leave Friday morning (which meant no class), hike on the Wall all of Friday, sleep on the Wall Friday night, then head home on Saturday. It’s about a two hour bus ride from where we are in Beijing to the section of Wall we were climbing, and although a lot of other people chose to sleep on the bus (we had to be up at the crack of dawn so we could leave early Friday morning) I opted to try and stay awake. Think about how much scenery you’re missing out on when your eyes are closed during a two hour bus ride…quite a bit.

We got to the Great Wall at around 11:30 am and we were let out on our own to climb/hike a 6 mile stretch that included 3 different sections: the first section – original Wall that hasn’t been repaired, i.e. over 500 years old; the second section – Wall that had been restored to original condition; and the last section – Wall that’s not repaired and also happens to be covered in plants and flowers.

When I say climb/hike, I mean it; it’s definitely not a walk in the park. Anyone who has the time and motivation can do it, but I saw a lot of out of shape people huffing and puffing on some of the steeper areas (which you’ll be able to see in the photo album). The section we climbed is part of the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall, which is located in the mountainous area in Luanping County. Key word here is mountainous. While I’ll admit it does make the hike a bit harder, being in the mountains provides a ton of unbelievable photo ops.

I made sure to take my time on the climb (it took about 4 hours when I probably could’ve done it in 2 ½) because there’s legit no reason you need to speed walk when you’re visiting one of the 7 Wonders of the Middle Ages. I’m an avid believer of just standing still and soaking everything in – appreciating not only the fact that I’m standing on

Soaking it in

something that for 1500 years has played a huge part in one of the biggest countries in the world, but also the fact that in reality, very few people in this world have had the chance to do what I’m doing and stand where I’m standing.

And what a great wall it is. Most of the time I couldn’t get over how long it is. I really think unless your looking at it from space, it’s really inconceivable. I mean, we only climbed a 6 mile section and I still couldn’t get over the amount of bricks that were used, the amount of time it must have taken to construct, and just the sheer size of it. And then of course I was reminded that what I was looking at was only .15% of the Wall – that’s right, the entire Great Wall stretches 3,889.5 miles. Talk about awestruck.

That night we actually camped out on the Wall itself – not some designated tourist area, I mean we took our sleeping bags, climbed up to a random spot on the Wall, and parked it for the night. No tents, no toilets, literally just us, the Great Wall, and the stars. It was surreal.

I ended up staying awake a little bit later than everyone else. I was thinking about what it must’ve been like to be a Chinese soldier, camping the exact same way we were (sans modern sleeping bag) on the Wall 1,000 years ago. (Mulan kept popping in my head.) It’s probably not nearly as enjoyable when you have to watch out for flaming arrows, flying boulders, and invading Mongolians. On the flip side, I was also thinking that if I were Mongolian, trying to pass/conquer that Wall would’ve been one of the most miserable things you could possibly do, and if it were me I would’ve just let China keep their country.

A little early morning yoga on the Great Wall? Why not

We were up at 6 am to watch the sunrise, but the weather wasn’t on our side so we didn’t get anything spectacular. Breakfast was at 7, and then afterward we did what anyone trying to experience Chinese culture would do – a little early morning Yoga on the Great Wall. It’s way more fun than 1 ½ hours of Kathy Smith on VHS. I’m not flexible, can’t even touch my toes, but the instructor took it easy on us and it was definitely a good way to stretch out the body after hiking the day before.

We usually get looked at quite a bit in China for being waiguoren 外国人 (anyone not from China), but you should’ve seen some of the looks we were getting when people walked past our group of 30 Americans doing Yoga on the Wall. It was amusing to say the least. Afterwards, we hopped on the bus back to Beijing, and since as I had already seen all of the scenery on the way up, I chose to pass out this time.

Time is flying by. It’s hard to believe that a third of my semester is already over. I’ve decided I’m going to continue studying Chinese next semester, and while it probably won’t be at CET, I do want to stay in Beijing. That means in the next month or so, I’ll have to start applying to schools, apartment searching, and hunting for a part-time job. I’m looking forward to all of that, but of course, right now I’m just trying to enjoy every minute I have here at CET.