Friday, March 7, 2008

Chinese Proverb: "Not been on the Great Wall, not a great man"

As I walked out of the hostel shower at 6:12AM yesterday morning the overnight front desk girl came frantically running up to me: "Your driver is here! Your driver is here!" I tried to tell her that I was told to be downstairs at 6:30AM but somewhere around "I" she seemed confused. I hurried together my stuff and got downstairs by 6:20. Moments later I was racing through Beijing in a small red station wagon narrowly escaping death at seemingly every block. There are a plethora of bad drivers out here but mine seemed to be the worst of the worst--he may have even failed his driving test more times than Bier. We eventually pulled up to another hotel and picked up another tourist. The guy got in the car and said hello. He was American. I asked where he was from and he said "California." "Where in California?" "Los Angeles." "Where in Los Angeles?" "Santa Monica." "Where in Santa Monica?" "Fifth and Ocean Park." I smiled at him and said, "I live eight blocks from you." It's strange how you can meet a neighbor slightly outside of your neighborhood.

Jose, my fellow Santa Monican, and I got dropped off at a larger bus and joined about thirty other English speaking trekkers for our voyage to The Great Wall. There are lots of different trips to the wall and I specifically asked for the one that was the least touristy. I was told that the best one was a hike from Jinshanling to Simatai. Unlike many other times in China, this turned out to be great advice--the day was fantastic. Besides our bus, there were only a few scattered other hikers on the wall. Well, that's not exactly true. There was a small army of locals who met us at the gate entrance and walked the 10Ks with us hoping to sell us bookmarks and postcards. I was slightly hurt because everyone on my bus literally had a chaperone except for me. I took our tour guides advice and made no eye contact and spoke no english to the mobile vendors. Those who did, were immediately latched onto and escorted for four hours.

The great thing about this trip was that the wall wasn't in perfect shape. Unlike the main tourist spots which have been repaired, this section was often crumbling and slightly treacherous. I can vouch for this first hand since I had a slight slip onto my butt while walking down some ancient steps. Luckily years of playing hockey have added a protective layer of meat to my tush, so all was well. Now, as far as the proverb goes, I don't think it is necessary true. I know plenty of great men who haven't hiked the great wall. That said, I'm just a little bit greater than them.