Saturday, July 31, 1999

The Great Wall at Simatai

Beijing, China
My alarm went off at 7:00 am, right as rain. I woke up about 8 am, which left me 30 minutes to get ready to be picked up. I did it. I was ready and waiting, but the guy driving me was a little late. But he totally made up for it by driving me the two hours it takes to get to the Great Wall at Simatai. It's considered one of the Wonders of the World. We got there around 10:45 am, and the driver would just hang out and wait for me there until 3 pm. Sweet.


For the first 45 minutes or so, I had 4 little women trying to sell me stuff. They followed along pretty well, but I think that they resented having to go so fast to stay even with me. I eventually caved and bought some photo books, mostly so they'd leave me alone. Around that time, I overtook a group of Army guys taking a day trip. I guess I should be more specific. They were soldiers in the People's Liberation Army, and they were hiking in uniform. So there I am, a lone American outdistancing the warriors of China's military. I thought that was kinda cool.

It was raining off and on, so we ducked into one of the towers. I heard one of them break out singing Ricky Martin..."Go go go, onay onay onay". Kinda funny. I kept pace or moved through them as long as I had time for. While following their leader (distinguished by a red armband), I walked for a short time on the invader side of the wall. At one point, I thought a branch sticking out of the wall was going to hit my face, until I realized that it was actually a snake coming out from a hole 5 inches from my head and hand! Let's see something cool like that happen on the touristy parts.



By the time I had to turn around, at Beacon Tower No. 14, only about 7 PLA soldiers were still moving toward me. And even then, they were 10 minutes back.
Try to keep up, fellas!
Taking a break from climbing

A rampart named "Heavenly Ladder" was built on the nearly vertical slopes between the No. 13 and the No. 14 towers. Every step is 1.2 to 1.7 meters high. How (and a little bit of 'why') they built the wall here, 450 years ago, and built a stairway of bricks and stones across such uncooperative terrain was definitely something to ponder as I looked at the next tower.
"Dangerous Ahead, No Walking"
The Heavenly Ladder, with the Fairy Tower in the background
Known as "Fairy Tower," it is the most dangerous part, with overhanging cliffs on both sides. I knew my limited time, lack of climbing equipment, non-favorable weather, and no one to help me out were all reasons to stop.

I think some of the soldiers recognized me on the way back and said hello. By turning back where I did, I had to climb down a 70 degree slope and the Heavenly Ladder, every so often jumping down over 4 feet to the next step. The rain from the morning stopped about halfway through the trip up.
Going back down...
The wind made it very pleasant. I bought some postcards and water on the way down, and then ran the gamut of store clerks to meet up with my driver who was chillin' out with the tour bus drivers. Talking with a girl from New York on the way down, they only got 2 hours at the Wall (I had used a little over 3), so I guess I got to see some of the stuff that not many of the tourists see.
Left to right and back in under 3 hours.
We got back around 4 pm, I showered and changed and had lunch at Subway. It was my first BMT in two months. Mmmmmm. They don't have them in Hong Kong and I had been craving one for about 5 weeks. It was delicious. I watched Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey while waiting for Vanessa to call back. The plan was to meet her at a Club called HotSpot around 11:45 pm. I went clubbing in shorts and a short-sleeve, button-down shirt just like the locals. I actually met up with them at 12:20, because I had walked behind the twenty-foot high, neon sign that said "DISCO". Just my luck. I hung out with 5-6 of Vanessa's Tsinghua Mandarin language program classmates. There were police standing at attention in the club, right next to the speakers. Every so often, they would scurry around to tell people that they couldn't sit somewhere. It seemed kind of oppressive, but hey, it was free. After we grew tired of that scene, we went for food at "Be There or Be Square Cafe", for HK style food and talked until 3:15 am. I got back around 3:45 am.
My favorite picture from Simatai
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