Beijing: Day 3

Day 3 was our trip to the Great Wall, which meant that we had to get up extra early to book it to a hostel located in one of the more famous hutongs because that’s where the bus was waiting. We thought we’d be really smart and buy bottles of water at the hostel so that we could stay hydrated during the hike. Everyone else had the same idea. We all climbed into the small bus with our newly-acquired water bottles, and the guide gets on. She has a bag of water bottles, the same ones that we had just bought, and starts handing out water. Everyone groaned. At least we were extra-prepared, though. She also gave us king-sized Snickers bars (for energy?).

A funny story: She handed out Snickers to everyone except two French girls, who got on the bus after everyone else. When they sat down, she tried to hand them the candy bars. They said no thanks, they didn’t want them. Our guide did not understand that: “But…they’re free.” They still declined. “But they’re FREE. No? But. They’re free.” Lesson: Chinese people don’t turn down free stuff, no matter what it is.

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They were FREE.

I couldn’t fall asleep to the dulcet tones of the Canadians behind me or of the Germans in front of me, so I just stared out the window and then started drawing characters in the fake suede of the seat in front of me for D to identify. I learned a lot of Chinese that day.

The first glimpse of the Great Wall was really strange because we were driving on a highway through some town when we saw it. I guess I hadn’t expected there to be much of anything near the wall. I was still excited though. D had been in charge of planning the Great Wall trip, and he specifically booked us a hike on the unrestored section, so I knew that there wouldn’t be too much development wherever our end destination was.

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First glimpse of the wall.

The wall ended up being a really hard hike, and I didn’t have great shoes for it, but I still ended up scrambling up in front everyone else. That is, until the Swiss guy told me not to go in front of him because he was sick of having me in his pictures. Do you ever wonder why I hate Switzerland? There’s one minute part of the answer for you. So for the rest of the time, I was stuck climbing stairs behind really slow people, and if you’ve done any hiking, you know that tires you out pretty quickly. No matter: the views were excellent, and I managed to make it up and down the 22 watchtowers at a relatively good pace overall.

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We climbed those.
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I was also really moved to contemplate the famous Snickers tagline, “Hungry? Grab a Snickers.” As it turned out, I was hungry; the hike spanned the lunching hours, from 11:30-2:30, and D and I wanted to keep moving rather than stop, get out our pre-packed McDonalds lunch, and subsequently have to put on more layers. Hungrily, then, I grabbed my Snickers. It was frozen. (Did I mention just how cold it was up there?) I am here before you today testifying that a Snickers, even while frozen and consumed mid-hike and inappropriately (because it was pretty much the most historic setting ever), is pretty damn satisfying when you’re hungry.

I think pictures are more descriptive than my words can be for the Great Wall, so proverbially feast your literal eyes:

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Roof detail.
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Unrestored–see?
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This was not even the worst part.
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D climbs down.
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The wall casts a huge shadow, which, on a clear day, is what can be seen from space.
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The pop star on this box in one of the guard towers is the most famous graduate of my college, a household name in Asia.

I couldn’t get warm again after we hopped back in the bus, and dinner upon returning to Beijing was goooood, but I was really cold and kind of sick. Speaking of sick, D hiked the Great Wall with a respiratory infection. Gold star for him! Anyway, dinner was Yunnanese food, which is closer to Thai food than it is to archetypal ‘Chinese food.’ It was fantastic, and I ate as much as I could, but D again was forced to take the lion’s share:

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Just a fraction of what we got (the meat and fish hadn’t come out yet).

Then–bedtime. And that was Day 3.

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