Where it’s At

There's a destination a little up the road
From the habitations and the towns we know
A place we saw the lights turn low
The jig-saw jazz and the get-fresh flow


Since the Great Wall (cháng chéng) is generally the first item on the “China Must-Do” list for visitors, many of our Chinese friends seemed a little surprised we still had not visited China’s main attraction up to two weeks after our arrival. We weren’t working. The weather was fabulously warm and clear. The Great Wall is really close. So why hadn’t we visited the Great Wall? I guess were just getting accustomed to being here.

After settling in to our new crib, we were ready to venture out like normal tourists. We decided to visit the wall section called Badaling (八达岭), the most popular wall section for tourists. We picked a clear day for our trip. We packed our camel packs with snacks, water, and an umbrella. (I now appreciate the value of an umbrella on a sunny hot day. In the US, the air-conditioned car shaded me. No such luxuries here).

birdMAN carefully planned our route to Badaling. We would catch an early train from Beijing North train station. After the hour ride, we would walk 20 minutes to the entrance to the Wall. There we would pay the 45 RMB to enter, walk its length, and be home early for dinner.
Even the most carefully planned trips are subject to a few kinks – especially when there is a language barrier.

According to the online schedule, a train would depart from the North Beijing Train Station at 8:30 am and 9:30 am. We arrived at the station a little before 8 am. A guard stopped us at the entrance and pointed to a sign that read 10:57 (along with some other Chinese writing). He indicated for us to go away. birdMAN was convinced that there was an earlier train. The internet is never wrong, right? So we used another entrance, swiped our metro cards and entered. All the signs read 10:57 departure for Badaling. That guard was trying to help us after all. Thankfully, a Starbucks was nearby.

A few hours and a cup of coffee later, we entered the train station again and swiped our metro cards. For some inexplicable reason, each of our cards decreased by 20 RMB. What? The train ride is supposed to be 5 RMB. We aren’t sure, but maybe there is a penalty for not swiping upon exit.

We arrived at Badaling around 12:30 pm. This part of the wall is pretty developed having several restaurants, grocery stores, and a bustling KFC (yes, we did eat there). The weather was clear—great for seeing the Great Wall snake along the mountainous terrain. The weather was also hot – not good for wearing make-up or smelling fellow sweaty, stinky tourists.

The tourists were like Chinese paparazzi seeking photographs of foreigners in action. One very dark skinned family (African maybe), was surrounded by picture takers. They couldn’t even walk. Several snapped photos of birdMAN. Some were discreet. Some asked for us to pose with them for several shots, and then wait while the friends exchanged places so each could have a photo with a foreigner. A group of teenage boys were brave enough to ask for a picture with me, but got shy when I had difficulty understanding the question. Once I understood, I was happy to give them a quick English language lesson: “Repeat after me, ‘May I take a picture?’”

I am impressed with the people who climb the steep sections of the Great Wall. Elderly people. Babies. Pregnant ladies. Ladies dressed in office attire and heels. And there are tons of them! Hiking the Great Wall is not an easy feat. The sections are extremely steep and slippery.

This guy is not too little to climb the Great Wall.
These ladies are on their way to an office party -- uh, I mean, climb the Great Wall.
Especially steep sections have a metal rail for hikers on which to hold. These parts reminded me of climbing Half Dome in Yosemite Valley, where a similar rail is nailed to the rock to prevent climbers from falling to their deaths.  We came across a middle aged couple clearly fighting exhaustion to get to the peak (of that section anyway). The wife clinging to the hot rail, her teeth gritted, breathing hard as she carefully placed one foot in front of the other. Her husband cheered her on “加油!”


The Great Wall definitely belongs on the “China Must-Do” list. If you can handle the crowds (actually, don’t come to Beijing if you don’t like crowds), the hike is awe-inspiring. The mountains are green and lush, and wall is quite beautiful -- the magnitude is impressive and difficult to describe.  Definitely, the Great Wall is where it’s at.

Chinese word of the blog: 加油! jiāyóu (literally, add gas)
                                    English translation: You can do it! 
                                    Say jiāyóu! to someone who makes extra effort to cheer him/her on.

A really hot day
After hike snack - sweet, cold and cost 1RMB