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Beijing Part 2

September 1st, 2014

Even though I was not able to go to the Great Wall on my first attempt, I was happy to have met new people and spent the day with other travelers instead of being alone. I only had a limited amount of time in Beijing to travel around before returning to my home country, so I knew I had to try to see the Great Wall again. I was afraid, however, because my first attempt was unsuccessful and I didn’t know if I could manage to be in the right place at the right time to catch a bus to the Great Wall. I thought about what had happened to me the day before. If the last bus to the Great Wall left at 12:00 PM, I had to be at the bus stop really early in the morning.

So, my second day in Beijing, I woke up at 5:00 AM. I walked to the subway station to catch a train to the bus station where I was going to try again to look for bus 877. Nobody was on the streets at 5:00 AM. It was peaceful and surreal to be in such a big city and not see any people. However, when I arrived at the bus station to catch a bus to the Great Wall, there were already several people waiting for the same bus as me. All of the people there were Chinese. This surprised me because I expected to see more international people than Chinese. On the other hand, at the Grand Canyon, you can see just as many Americans as international people, so maybe I should not have been surprised.

It was difficult to be in exactly the right place to wait for the bus. An old, Chinese couple heard me asking people for directions to bus 877, using the very few words I knew in Mandarin to help me communicate. The woman signaled to me to follow them because they were also going to the same bus. I happily followed the elderly people across the street to exactly the correct location where I needed to stand and wait. At this same location, there were con artists claiming they were the bus drivers for bus 877. However, their bus was old and broken looking compared to the nice and professional bus I was looking for. I had read an article about these people, so I stayed far away from them because I didn’t want to accidentally board the wrong bus. I didn’t have time to make mistakes!

The name of the section of the Great Wall that I was visiting was called Badaling. There was a woman on our bus with a small speaker attached to her belt with a small wire that led to a walkie-talkie into which she spoke very loudly about where we were going and the history of the Great Wall. I am only guessing about what she talked about because she spoke in Chinese the whole time. She was wearing a baseball cap and tennis shoes: the perfect outfit for a tour guide, so I knew that was exactly who she was. The way she said “Badaling” sounded like a song every time she spoke it. The first two syllables were high-pitched and the last one dropped to a low tone almost like she was hiding the last part of the word. “BA-DA-ling”. She said it so many times that it started to annoy me. I wish I understood the other things she was saying. I’m sure she shared interesting information about the Great Wall and the history of the section I was about to explore.

We arrived at the base of Badaling and all the Chinese people on my bus moved together in a group formation without breaking away as individuals. I, being American, did not want to stay with a group of people I didn’t know and I didn’t know where they were heading, so I broke away from them on my own. Their faces looked lost and they followed each other without questioning where they were going. I realized that they all got in a line to wait in a place that was not correct for entering the Great Wall. I wondered if they knew they were in the wrong line or if they preferred to simply follow each other wherever that may lead. I went to the correct ticket window to purchase a ticket to ride small, roller-coaster-like cars up and down the Great Wall to prevent hours of walking.

When I reached the top of the Great Wall, I was amazed. Even though I didn’t understand the tour guide on the bus with the song-like voice, I knew that the Great Wall’s history was profound and awe-inspiring. The Wall has seen so many wars, people, seasons… the history of it all was shocking to me. The downfall of my experience on the Wall was that there were so many people. There were constantly hundreds of people around me, and all of them wanted to take pictures with me. Again, I was the only foreigner at this popular international sight. I still managed to smile for all the pictures and enjoy my experience walking on one of the oldest structures on Earth.

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