Today is a really exciting day because we are going to the Great Wall today. This is a landmark that just like Beijing, I have only dreamed about going to. I never thought I would actually go there so soon in my life, and I was so excited to go.
Before we went, I had breakfast at the hotel which was very good. I’m not typically a breakfast person, but I tried some Asian breakfast items, like a type of noodles, fried rice, and a thing (I think) is called chu tao which reminded me of a long skinny donut. I also had an Asian pear which tasted like a pear but had the texture of an apple. I thought it was better than normal pears because I don’t really like their texture, so the day is already starting off well.
We went to another hotel, and Lilian and Jane, who are from the Asia Institute gave a quick little presentation about the program and where we would be going on the trip. From there, we drove in a bus for an hour and a half to get to the Great Wall. We had a tour guide for the day, and he told us to call him Uncle Joe. Uncle Joe was pretty great, and the way he acted was very similar to an uncle in the way that uncles tell terrible jokes, but everyone laughs anyway. He also told us some of the history of the Great Wall, why it was built, how long it took, and just more general background on it which I appreciated.
Before getting to the wall, we stopped for lunch at this small place, and it was pretty good. Again, it was family style, so we had about 10 dishes shared between 10 people, and my favorite one was these beans. Oh my gosh, these beans were so amazing. Joe told us they’re prepared by deep frying them and then stir frying them. They don’t get many points for being healthy, but they make up for it because they are so delicious. Our table finished the beans and then stole more from other tables. The rest of the meal was also good. They definitely knew Americans were coming because some of the dishes were more Americanized Chinese food, like we had sweet and sour chicken which I thought was weird to have in a more rural part of the country. It was good nonetheless, just not what I expected.
We got back on the bus and we were only a 15-minute drive away from the wall. On the way there, we could see it in the distance which just made me more excited to get there. We got out of our bus and the entrance kind of reminded me of the exit of Disney. We passed many different shops which all basically sold the same thing for the same price. I don’t really understand how that could be profitable considering visitors can choose from literally any vendor and its luck of the draw if they pick your shop.
To get to the wall itself, you could either hike up or take a cable car. We decided on the bus that we would all hike up to the Great Wall, and while this is a decision I do not regret, if I ever come back to the Great Wall, I will never again in my life hike up. I hiked up 87 flights of stairs that day, and my calves were on fire. I don’t even want to look at a flight of stairs again for a few days. Some boys decided to sprint up to the wall, but I am no where near that crazy. This is an experience that I am glad I did, but this is a once and done. Checked off the bucket list, time to move on.
Once we reached the wall itself and my lungs were able to receive oxygen at a normal rate, the view was absolutely amazing. It took my breath away (not that I had much to begin with). What surprised me was the smog was still able to reach out here because there were many mountains in the distance, but we couldn’t see them clearly because of the smog. It was still a spectacular view. On the wall, we could either go left or right, but to the right was what looked like 30 more flights of stairs. My legs said no, so I decided to travel left and was able to see some great views and even go up into one of the watch towers. On the ones that we couldn’t climb up, we were able to see the holes where ladders would be, and you could see plants growing on the roofs. I don’t know how else to describe the wall other than it was so freaking cool and gorgeous. The Great Wall is something I think people need to go to themselves to truly appreciate its history and its ginormous size.
I kept thinking the whole time I was there how much my family would love this, and I hope I am able to come back here one way with them because I think they would appreciate and love it just as much as I did (maybe my mom and I would take the cable car instead of hiking up).
Probably one of the most unforgettable parts about the wall was how we got back down. Instead of hiking down or taking a cable car, they had a third option: a toboggan. Basically, the toboggan was a sled with a stick in the middle that allowed you to break and go faster on a huge slide. There is no way this would reach safety standards in the US, but this is China, so safety doesn’t really apply as much. It was so refreshing to have the wind in my face after sweating my butt off on the way up to the wall and walking across the wall itself. It was exhilarating, amazing, and completely unexpected, and I loved every second of it.
After the toboggan, we used the bathrooms and I used the squatty potty for the first time. A squatty potty is basically a hole in the ground that depending on where you are will flush, but not always. Let’s just say it takes a while to get use to it and I don’t enjoy using squatty potties. From there, we drove straight back to the hotel and we had the rest of the night free. We decided to go to this Hot Pot restaurant which was a very messy experience, but very fun and rewarding. So, we first got there with 13 people, which was way too many, so we split up and 7 of us stayed. We went inside, and problem one was our waiter did not understand English and none of us spoke Mandarin. We had a piece of paper where we had to order from and we chose family-style what we wanted. We were apparently really slow because our waitress kept checking on us and asking if we were done, but we didn’t know what we wanted. I personally didn’t understand how ordering was working at first but here’s what I learned: We picked four soups that we all shared and then we could order additionally items that we placed into the soup ourselves and the heat of the soup was able to cook some of it, like shrimp or meat. 2 of the 4 soups we picked were way too spicy for us, so we just used the other two. Also, a note about the soup, it was mostly broth, but we didn’t actually eat the broth. The broth was just there to cook the add-ins, which I thought was interesting and a bit of a waste of food. Everything was delicious though. We also had noodles that were actually prepared in front of us. This guy came out and he whipped around this long strand of pasta and stretched it out by throwing it around and making all these fancy motions. It was very cool and mesmerizing to watch. The meal cost about 300 yuan, which turned out to be $7 per person, so it was a very cheap meal all around for some very good food. We learned at the end that pointing and hand gestures were the best way to communicate with our waitress. I also just always shook my head yes, if she asked me a question because I didn’t know what else to do and just hoped it wasn’t a question.
After dinner, we went to look for dessert, decided Haagen-Daas was too pricey ($7 for a small scoop what the heck) and went and found a place that sold layered cakes instead. The layered cake reminded me of thin crepes stacked on top of one another with a thin layer of frosting in the middle I split a mango flavored one which was very good. Our group decided to call it a night at that point and went back to the hotel to sleep after a very long day of hiking. What I learned from today is knowing how to speak Mandarin would be very helpful and when you don’t know what to order, just point and hope for the best.