Archive | August, 2012

Watch out, they spit (By Baden)

23 Aug

They really do; they really, really do. Almost every day for the last 6 months, my eyes have managed to set sights on high flung globules rocketing through the air. And little bubbly puddles strown across the pavements. The worst thing is knowing that it is going to happen. I’m Not Telapathic, but I can hear the Koreans practising. Practising what seems to sound like Afrikaans. (Weird, since the Korean Government only brings in English Native speakers. But, I have met some Afrikaners posing as English speakers. That’s has to be it, Secret Afrikaans Lessons.) Afrikaans lessons or not, I have heard the Koreans practicing what sounds like Afrikaans moments before they spit. The ‘G’ sound, for the word Gooi (Throw) and Gaan (go). I just cringe! Well to be honest, I’m not quite sure which is worst, seeing the spit fly or hearing throats cleared for launch. It’s all actually quite horrible. Walking behind a lady one afternoon I spotted her gooi’ing one into the drain. Standing at the robot waiting for green, an old man coughed, and gooi’d one on the pavement. One day in class a school kid projected one into the air and it landed between the legs of his desk and the kid’s desk next to him. Then between classes descending the stairs, one student shot one into the gap of the staircase, just missing a student in front of him.

 Watch out they spit.

Sleeping on the Great Wall of China

21 Aug

I think everyone desires to do something wildly adventurous in their lives. Sleeping on the Great Wall of China was my great adventure.

Our intention was to arrange a camp out with our backpackers but, since their guide was not available on our chosen dates, we decided to do it alone. Baden spent a full morning over coffee, fruit, waffles and pasta reading up on the nearby locations and we finally settled on Mutianyu.

After a brief visit to a local Chinese supermarket, we were armed with a pink children’s puzzle mat, a sheet, a few clothes, cucumbers, nuts, raisins and oats. The next morning we set off very early to catch the first 916 Express bus from Dongzhimen to Hauiro. Research told us the drive would be almost 2 hours so when we were woken from our doze 40 minutes later by an English speaking taxi driver, we were surprised that we’d arrived so soon.

He offered to take us to the foot of the Wall for 80yuan (maybe R90), and although we could have negotiated, we’d budgeted enough and were happy to pay.

At 7.40am, before the crowds of tourists arrived or the hungry hawkers set up, we began the climb up the stairs to reach the Wall. It is possible to take the cable car but strong and determined we decided to walk. When we reached Watchtower 8, we turned left and climbed along the restored sections of the wall, passing a few other early birds. We passed the second cable car and went onto Watchtower 23. The wall is a magnificent man-made structure which peeks the undulating hills for miles and miles. It is possible to see shapes of watch towers so far in the distance that they appear to be small huts. After the summer rains, the surrounding areas were brilliant green and with relatively few others siteseers, it was easy to position ourselves with an exclusive view to the wall snaking over the mountains.

In an attempt to reserve energy, we stopped every hour for a snack and water. My bag was packed with the sleeping gear while Baden carried most of the water and food. Most of the day visitors aimed to reach watchtower 23, which rested at the top of a very steep stairway. Counting the stairs as we went, we stopped at every 100 and I eventually lost count after 400 steps. The top certainly provided a panaromic view of the wall as it continued to our right and our left. Despite a “no entry” sign, we continued past watchtower 23 and entered the unrestored section of the Wall. Here was an immediate contrast from the clean, rebuilt restored sections: the sides of the walls are collapsing, the floor is uneven, tall weeds and small trees grow from the cracks in bricks. Some watchtowers have fallen completely while others only boast remnants of arches half standing. At times it is even impossible to recognise that beneath you is a wall and it feels like walking through a flat grassy field.

From this point on we saw very few other people. There was a ridiculously steep incline to reach the next watch tower and with my bag heavy on my back I resorted to clambering up on my hands and feet. This was the highest point we could see for miles and with a view so spectacular we had a fruit snack and lay down for a rest under a roof that could collapse on us at any moment. This was supposed to be our final watchtower but with plenty of daylight, it was too tempting to explore the next tower, and then the next and the next.  We hid our backpacks in the watchtower at the highest point, certain that few people would brave the rocky incline or they certainly wouldn’t want to carry our bags down; we took our passports and headed down towards North Tower. On our way down, we learned that there was a short cut which avoided the steep incline which we felt was sure to protect our abandoned bags.

When we reached North Tower, we realised that this was close to the entrance at Jiankou and we saw one exhausted group pass us ready for the end of their hike. Since the entrance to the tower was in ruins, an enterprising Chinese man had made a ladder which he charged out at a rate of 5 yuan per person.

As the afternoon wore on, it was soon time to return to our bags and find the best location to watch the sunset. We fetched our bags and then slid down, me on my bum, the most nerve racking part of the trip: a 45degree angle going straight down like a slope with little footholds. Slinging to the wall of the wall, we slowly made our way down. At the next watchtower we had to make our own steps out of loose rocks and we pulled ourselves onto the roof of the ruined watchtower where we snacked and watched the dazzling sunset.

As the sun disappeared, the race against the night began and we pushed on quickly to find a ‘room’ for the night. We found an alcove in a semi-restored watchtower, swept the room using branches from a tree, sat down on our pink children’s puzzle mat and prepared our dinner: cold oats and raisins. I must admit we could have prepared more appetising meals. And then we settled in for the night.

We clung to each other in the night both for security and warmth. As the wind whistled through the watchtower corridors, I imagined the sound of wolves sniffing at our feet. I nudged Baden every time he snored, sure that the sounds would attract unwanted attention and eventually I slipped in a restless sleep.

We woke early the next morning just in time for the sunrise and through puffy eyes we watched the sky light up the clouds with reds and oranges before dissolving into a hazy grey-blue.

We were back at the entrance before anyone was awake: the ticket booths weren’t even open and not one hawker was in sight. We were lucky to bump into 3 other sleepy eyed travellers who had arranged a lift back to the bus stop so squished into a small car, we rode back to the bus stop and back to Beijing.

Although risking a fine or confrontation with Chinese authorities, this was a life highlight for me. The unique and private experience cost us a third of the price companies are charging on the internet and the sight of the wall growing longer and longer with each step will remain with me forever.

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2 travellers and a baby