Trekking the Wall

Climbing the Great Wall was one of the most surreal moments of my life. I learned about the Great Wall as a small child, but I never imagined that I would actually hike the ancient stairs. It was an amazing experience, and the hike flew by like a fleeting dream.

The Great Wall is usually packed with so many tourists that visitors often say there is a second “wall” of people blocking the hike. Fortunately, our thoughtful tour guide Erik took us to Jinshanling Park, which had far fewer visitors. In fact, at most parts of the day, we were the only people walking along the Wall. The Wall was steeper and rougher on our walk, too, which made the hike more exciting. It was incredible to walk along a path with so much history. I thought about all the people that must have worked or walked along the Wall throughout time. Hiking along the Wall made me feel like a player (albeit extremely minor) in China’s grand history.

Although we were alone for a portion of the hike, one woman hocking souvenirs did actually walk most of the hike with us. She couldn’t speak much English, but her reasoning was clear. If she hiked along with us throughout the afternoon, we would share a special bond and buy souvenirs from her. Her tactics did not work on some of us, but it definitely worked on me. I bought some souvenirs at a higher price than necessary just because I appreciated her presence. She had hiked alongside us, and she even encouraged Michael, Fuji’s young son, at some steep points. If that effort does not warrant a few extra kuai, then I’m not sure what does.

I have actually become aware that I am pretty mediocre at bargaining. I bargain half-heartedly, but I don’t have the necessary competitive or hard-nosed edge for serious bargaining. Others have the eagle-eye skill and desire to fight for a good price, but I usually just don’t feel the need to bargain passionately. Everything is so cheap in China that I don’t mind paying a few extra bucks if it helps the merchant. Unlike in the United States, I don’t feel like I’m being ripped off by corporate greed; I feel like normal people are just trying to make a living. So I buy a package of chopsticks for 20 kuai, and I figure that both of us are happy. The merchant made a profit, and I got a great cheap gift for my grandma.

The Great Wall hike took about three hours, and it was enjoyable the entire way. The next morning we did a sunrise hike on the Great Wall, and the sky was beautiful. At a certain point, Nicky had the brilliant idea of using his international cell phone to call his mom. In turn, each of us called our moms on the Great Wall. It was amazing and truly bizarre to call my mom while watching the sunrise on the Great Wall. Information and communication flows so easily nowadays, but it’s a wonderful and disheartening fact. Of course, most of me loved the opportunity to call my mom from the Great Wall. It’s fun, and she obviously loved the gesture. But another part of me recognized how completely strange the experience was. I can go around the world, but I’m still never more than $.50/a minute from home. Such advanced technology feels almost inappropriate on such an ancient structure. That sentiment relates to the whole argument of globalization, though. Culture changes, and the symbolic meanings around these ancient structures change, too.

Hiking the Great Wall was my favorite part of our trip to Beijing. The hike was unbelievable, and I am so happy that I had that opportunity.