Posted by She Said
I have to give Greg credit for being the geek he is. Before he makes a big purchase, he becomes an avid googler and reader. For example, before he buys a new computer or a new camera lens, he reads every possible review he can find on the web. I know this about him, and I know that the first 10 or so links he sends my way about this or that will not ultimately be what he buys. The process generally takes anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. Well, unless we are in a hutong market and Greg sees a USB key. Then all rationality goes out the window. “But this one can’t be fake!” What’s that saying? Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on GREG? Ahem.
Greg’s meticulous process totally paid off for our family yesterday. We visited the Jinshanling section of The Great Wall. Having read every possible review of the various places to visit The Great Wall from Beijing, he decided this section was the place to go. His googling was spot on. He had read that this was the best place to go because it has recently received many renovations and because few people go there. There is a tram you can ride up, or a very easy 20 minute walk up a new path. We walked the path because the tram was not working, which would have been fun for Braedyn and Emily, not to mention a little easier for the rest of us carrying their stuff and at times, them.
So we headed up the path with The Great Wall in our sites.
Frank, a coworker of Greg’s, took us there, and what a gracious and kind tour guide he was. It was about a two-hour drive, and unlike the states where you pay a toll as you get onto a highway or cross a bridge, once you leave Beijing, you go through a toll booth where you are given a ticket and are charged when you get off of the highway. Each exit has a toll booth, so the longer you are on the highway, the greater the toll. All in all, the highway fees totaled about $20 US.
Given our experiences in crowded areas like Tiananmen Square, we absolutely cherished how alone we were. Except for the two women who accompanied us for the entire trip (with the hopes of selling us souvenirs), we only sporadically saw anyone else.
I am actually struggling to find the right words to tell of the power of this place. It’s magnificence and sheer size made me speechless and unbelievably happy to be there experiencing it. It was pure bliss.
The kids had a great time too, and Braedyn was quite an adventurer. In some places you could choose to go down very steep stairs and then back up another set of very steep stairs or take a short cut across a ledge built at the top. This next clip shows Frank helping Braedyn take one of these shortcuts. I’m also pretty sure this was the culprit for his nightmare later that night.
This next shot helps show just how high up they are. See Greg in the bottom right?
Here is everyone taking another one of these shortcuts, and even though heights and I are not even close to being BFFs, I actually went across this one too:
Some of the stairs were incredibly steep, but that didn’t deter Greg from climbing to the top of The Dark Tower, the last tower we visited. Being an avid Stephen King fan, there was no holding him back from visiting the place that shares the name of one of his favorite King series. Seriously, I’m certain he was imagining himself as Roland Deschain - chaps, gun, attitude – as he climbed The Dark Tower.
This next shot shows the stairs leading up to the top. Yes, there are itsy, bitsy stairs there.
Did I mention we were practically alone? I did? Hmmm… Well, here is some proof anyway.
Can you believe she is 61 years old? She didn’t speak English, and since I don’t speak Chinese, we did a lot of gesturing, and even though there was little we understood from each other, I found her to be a stunning person. She was stronger and more agile than anyone else I know that age. Hell, she is stronger and more agile than me! She not only followed us for our entire trip, she often flew down the steps the rest of us so slowly and carefully took, and she always offered her hand to help us if she thought we needed it. She even offered to carry Emily down some uber steep steps at times, to which we kindly declined.
The reason she and the other woman followed us for the hours we traversed The Wall was to widdle down our resolve and hope we would buy souvenirs from them instead of from one of the plethora of shops at the end of the path. After all, they were our personal guides, right? That was worth something, no? I was a little annoyed at first, but by the end, I really enjoyed this woman’s presence. I ended up buying a beautiful book from her about The Great Wall with gorgeous photographs that were taken by by a local farmer. I watched her dig out plastic bottles and aluminum cans from the garbage cans (interestingly designed to look like The Great Wall). Frank told me that she will receive 10 cents (RMB) for each, which I can see adding up over time. I had a lot of respect for her by the end of the trip for what seemed to me to be a hard life.
The other tag-along, although helpful with Emily at times, was rather pushy. She did tell me in fairly good English that she was from a “farmer family”, but that she climbed the wall every day as her second job to help make money. I begrudgingly bought some t-shirts from her at the very bottom of the path, just before she headed back up to start the trek over.
When I was little, my mom took several candid pictures of me during a temper tantrum. I was under the bar stools in my house in El Paso. I’m not sure why, but I always remember the detail in these photos. Non sequitur? I think not. If Emily is anything like me, she’ll feel lucky that her tantrum pictures were at this magnificent place.