Posts Tagged ‘china’

the not-so-secret secret great wall

sometimes people really enjoy doing things, even if they are awful at them. for me, its things like sudoku and painting.

the activity of trying to figure out if it is a 6 or a 9 that will be fitting in that top right hand corner box is enjoyable. but the puzzling limitations of sudoku often leave me frustrated and in the end, there are waaaay too many 7’s in each and every row.

with painting, i could argue that it is semi-therapeutic and that i could spend hours just gliding my dipped brush over some crisp-white canvas (sounds calming, doesn’t it?). but the final piece always looks like something that should be hung on a kindergartener’s fridge, not the walls of the AGO.

oh yes, and secrets. i’m a big fan. love em. secrets make me all kinds of wound up and i cannot picture a better scenario than leaning in for someone to tell me one of their whispering facts (or fictions) that only a handful of other people know (yes, i really hit my stride as a 14-year-old gossiper. it’s all down hill from here, i s’pose). 

the minor problem in this scenario happens after the secret is shared. it’s more the fact that i am awful at keeping them.

but let’s just focus on the appeal of a secret. and what’s more appealing than gaining access to a secret part of the great wall of china for less than the price of a serious night out in okpo?

nothing. the answer is nothing is more appealing.

our motives for staying at the shady (re: authentic) leo’s hostel went beyond the $5 a night price tag. they also offered a clandestine package that included access to a secret part of the great wall. “only you and friends on the undiscovered secret wall.” ex. cite. ment.

i was almost expecting leo’s to really play up the whole “shhh its a secret” thing and blindfold us on the cramped mini-van trek up to the wall. or even make us take an oath to never pass on the coordinates or exact location of the secret wall to anyone ever forever (don’t worry, i would have obviously crossed my fingers behind my back). or even you know, threaten us a bit with a rock or something that if they ever found out that we told someone, they would hunt us down and bury us inside the wall itself (i’ve read that the casualties of the building of the great wall were actually buried inside the wall. apparently, the human skeleton makes for a great architectural foundation).  besides, i doubt they would actually bury us in the wall.

ANYWAYS, these things were absent from the secret.

the only thing that really made the trip so secretive was the security guard we passed on the way to the base of our hike. this security guard didn’t try to intimidate us or even make us pinky-swear. instead, he simply ducked his head inside the mini-van, let out an exhale of bone-chilling air, and offered us some shaky advice.

“if the air gets cold, put your body down.”

tb and i kind of snorted out our cucumber-flavoured chips (seriously lays, bring this delectable snack over to s.k. i’m begging you) and thought that this character must be part of the secret.

fast-forward in time to me ducking inside a corner of the wall, clutching to the corners of my toque as the wind practically pierced my eardrums. putting my tendencies to exaggerate aside, trust me when i say that as i wobbled up each unrestored step of the great wall, i have never felt that low degree of temperature before.

to illustrate the weather conditions further: at one moment in the hike, the 5 of us who were in on the secret sat huddled inside one of the handful of watch towers perched along the wall. as we clinched our entire bodies and anticipated the next gust of wind, a piece of rock slid out from one of the sides of the watch tower. the wind was so strong that THE WALL WAS ACTUALLY FALLING APART. the great wall is apparently no match…. for the great wind of china.

i cursed the wind, the weather, and my ridiculous choice of mittens without thumbs, and then realized i was clambering up one of the greatest man-made wonders of the world. and leo’s was dead-on about it being uncrowded. try more like, empty. yes, that’s more like it.

as i mentioned before, there were 5 of us on this part of the wall. 5 ice-cubed travellers from spain, germany, and okpo. over the course of three or four hours, we only saw one other person on the wall.

for reals, we didn’t even see our tour guide (slash “secret keeper”) after the first 5 minutes.

and there was no exaggeration on leo’s behalf when they advertised this section as “unrestored.” in addition to the deteriorating pieces from the wind, many parts of the wall were without railings, or steps,…or even walls (i’m sorry, i just had to).

needless to say, my time spent gripping onto decrepit ledges as my knuckles turned white (and my thumbs turned even whiter) became the highlight of my time in china.

so if you are ever in beijing seeking out the secret part of the great wall, just drive an hour out of the pollution until the  wall starts to dot the skyline. if you pass by the security guard that tells you to put your body down in times of frost-bitten temperatures, you’ve gone to the right place.

just don’t tell them that i can’t keep a secret.


Read Full Post »

an indescribable china

okay, here i go. i am going to try to write about my time in beijing, china.

ya man, i got nothing.
i could waste even more time (mainly, yours) trying to search my literary backlog for some accurate descriptors of china but inevitably, i would just come up with mumbles and grunts. perhaps a joke or two about china “doing my head in” or the entertainment of haggling with chinese vendors while communicating only through a voice-over calculator. but other than that, i can’t really put china into words (and shift + f7 isn’t much help either. dear microsoft word: please update your thesaurus). 
for starters, how do you even begin to describe the people and the city of beijing without considering the jaw-dropping numbers of the most recent statistical census? this city packs in over 22 million people and has a population density 130 times that of canada (yes, beijing is a city and canada is…not). i’m thinking “cramped” just doesn’t seem to quite fit the bill for a beijinger’s style of living.  

 or even more so, how do you try to describe a city so plagued with pollution that the sky always looks like verging sunset, even at high noon? after all, this is a city which clutches onto the rank of the 13th most polluted city in the world. better yet, within the top ten spots of said list, china appears 4 times. 

with shoulder-to-shoulder living considered the norm; the city of beijing faces the very real potential of running out of water reaallll fast. but don’t fret friends, beijing’s got it covered. when the city worries about running out of aitch-two-oh, beijing will shoot off some cloud-seeding chemicals into the air to induce rain-fall. so not only is beijing tending to those parched sardine-packed citizens, they are also contributing to their ever-increasing pollution index. oh beijing, you are a true multi-tasker.  

at the same time, how do you describe the whole i-just-climbed-the-great-wall-and-i-do-not-see-a-soul-for-miles feeling? the spaciousness that is such a drastic change from the whole downtown beijing that’s-my-foot-you’re-stepping-on kind of feeling.

to try to describe beijing (or even china as a whole) seems like such an impossible task. because on one hand you want to knock it and be like “yo jingers, get yo shit together.” but then on the other hand you realize that this city is so unreal/ surreal that it kind of takes you over….and steals all your witty travel descriptors in the process.

i mean come on, how do you really describe the taste of a deep-fried arachnid?

and i bet chuck klosterman would not even be able to think of a witty yet intelligent passage to describe the contrast between china’s communist/surveillance-heavy regime with such peaceful buddhist and taoist practices taking place at the 100s of temples all over the city. (the irony alone of mandatory bag checks on your way to heavenly temples is enough to stop any pop-culture travelist dead in their tracks).

so with full intent of trying to write about beijing, i get a big ol’ fail.

china: you’re indescribable (and no thanks to you, shift + f7).

Read Full Post »