‘You’re sure we’re on the right bus?’
I was sitting on one of Beijing’s buses next to my best friend Lewis, who was studying at Nanjing University. After four months of adapting to life in China as an expat, I had decided to branch out and spend a few days exploring Beijing. Of course, the main attraction of this trip was wonderfully clichéd. Everyone wants to visit the Great Wall of China.
As we sat debating whether we were going to end up in the right place, a stringy Chinese man approached us. Clearly, he had been eavesdropping as he wasted no time in telling us he could get us to the Great Wall of China. Not being overly keen on accepting a ride with some random man despite how friendly he seemed, we refused his help and kept bickering. We departed the bus in the middle of nowhere, looking around for a timetable or station from which to take our connecting journey. We saw nothing that could be of any help to us. Quickly losing hope, we asked a local. ‘No buses to Wall, he take you’. The woman pointed over at the familiar stringy man from earlier. We looked at each other and started hashing out a plan. Clearly eager, he sprinted across the road with two tourists in tow and began bargaining with us. Seeing no alternative, we agreed on a price and jumped in.
Lewis drew the short straw and ended up in the front with the task of making conversation with the driver. I was sandwiched in the back with two lads around my age, both American. We began to chat and they told us that they were studying in Beijing. Lewis interrupted the conversation with a loud clatter as his phone bounced under his seat. He bent to pick it up before turning round horror-struck. As he pushed his foot back it was then I saw something under the seat. The blade of a very large knife glinted at me; a machete to be precise. The two guys were also looking in the same direction as me, mouths agape.
This ladies and gentlemen, is the reason you don’t get in a car with some random man you’ve just met. He might kill you.
After exchanging concerned looks we struck up a conversation again, what else could we do? One option was to ask why the guy carries a massive knife in his car, though that wasn’t an appealing idea. I figured it was best to try to carry on as normal and avoid looking suspicious; I didn’t want to startle him into murdering us. After the longest most strained journey of my life, we arrived at the Great Wall of China. Feeling enormously relieved to be leaving behind Mr Cutty Knife, we scrambled out of the car. We handed over the money where to our surprise, the driver returned it. ‘I will drive you back too, see you in 3 hours?’ Absolutely mortified, we protested but it was no use. He explained the only way to leave was by the driver that you came with or by hitchhiking. Brilliant. I’ve got to climb the Great Wall of China wondering if it is the last thing I will do before I get hacked to pieces.
A challenge for the legs
Resigned to the fact that we had no option but to accept the lift back we joined the queue for the chairlift. To say I was unhappy about the this would be an understatement. I am terrified of heights. Having also been living in China a few months by this point, I knew what to expect from their health and safety regulations. I did not want to get in this chairlift. But get in I did, all the time gripping on to the safety bar so hard that my knuckles turned white. It didn’t help that Lewis enjoyed seeing me in this horrified state and kept attempting to lift the bar. What are friends for right? Finally, we made it to the top and stepped on to the Wall.
In the blistering heat, we trekked miles along the Wall, up misshapen shaped steps and through watchtowers. I was surprised to see that large parts of the Wall had been vandalised by visitors, a massive shame when you consider the historical value of this landmark. Parts of the Wall have been restored beautifully, giving a smooth surface on which to walk, though sadly this isn’t the case for the majority. Some of the stairs were so far apart I had to take vast strides to ascend them, not an easy feat in the baking sun. Sadly, it was a very overcast day and visibility wasn’t as good as it could have been. Nonetheless, the hike was enough to push any concerns of machete man out of my mind.
As we leaned up against the wall, panting, I did a double take as some Hollister models we had seen the previous day walked past. They looked alarmingly beautiful considering the sweat that dripped off them. How annoying, I looked like something that crawled out of the Yangtze River. Despite this blow to my ego, I couldn’t help but feel a little smug when I heard one of them ask the other, ‘This was built when there were still dinosaurs wasn’t it?’
The short ride back
After a couple of hours exploring, we made our way to the bit I had been most looking forward to: the toboggan. I couldn’t believe it when we bought our tickets and were asked if we would like to toboggan down the Great Wall. Do the Chinese like rice? Of course we wanted to toboggan down! The journey to the bottom is nearly a mile long and each cart comes with a handle which helps to control your speed. Whilst the ride was generally well paced, I was surprised at how much speed you can pick up at certain parts of the route. As you would expect from China, the carts didn’t feel like the most stable mode of transport and I was thrown around quite a bit. I’m pleased to report that I was only told off once for going too fast and I made it to the bottom in one piece.
After a walk through the trinket stalls, it was all too soon to return to the car. True to his word, our driver stood there waiting for us. As we climbed back in, I noticed that the knife had vanished. That wasn’t very comforting. Feeling truly drained and exhausted, I struggled to fight off the wave of sleep that threatened to take me. After half an hour of worrying about the knife, I decided to let sleep do its job. If worst came to worst, at least I would be blissfully enjoying the land of nod right? Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. We made it back to a village from which to grab the next bus back to Beijing. As our driver pulled out on to the deserted road, I audibly breathed a sigh of relief.
Note to self: take a taxi next time.
Have you ever been in a situation like this? Have you visited the Great Wall of China?
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