I’ve sat on this post for a while, thinking of the right way to describe it all. I even looked through my fellow campers’ photos to see if that could draw some inspiration for what I’d say. I still don’t have any words, just that The Great Wall of China has to be experienced. It has to be. You have to live through it at least once. Photos, words, none of what I’m attempting to do can even compare to the magnitude of the situation itself. It’s beyond me, you, everything you’d ever thought it would be like.
Instead of going on and on about how marvelous the sights were, let me get down to the real experience with stories from the day. I’d say, this day will forever live in the hearts of everyone I was with — no matter how different our perspectives.
Push or Be Pushed
Photo by Timothy Manning, one of my classmates from the camp.
If you ever decide to go to the Great Wall, take this as a warning. Don’t go on a Sunday. Don’t go when the forecast is alright for the afternoon. Don’t go in the summer. Don’t go if you think you can gracefully take pictures at every gate. It won’t happen. It hardly happened. The Chinese are used to millions of people being in one spot. Of those millions, I feel like tens of thousands were at the Great Wall on the day we went. This wasn’t a walk in the park.
It was one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life trying to navigate through the crowd. Not to mention, the Great Wall is on a series of rolling hills — steep and narrow. Sure, I could’ve taken the easy way up and walked on the steps along the Great Wall that were constructed for photo-ops and touristy whatnots. However, I wouldn’t have been able to say I actually walked on the wall and all of it would’ve just been a waste of an experience. If you want to get through, push or you’ll never make your way out.
The Great Parking Lot of China
After hiking the wall, we had lunch at a restaurant closer to the base of the mountain. It was a nice day and the weather held up until we were making our way to the parking lot to find our bus. It was pouring, and when we hopped on the bus I instantly felt like a wet dog. I knew we were going to take a while to get back to our dorms. Traffic in Beijing was pretty bad, so I’d already had an inkling of what to expect. But, nope. As for everything on this trip, all expectations good and bad were even more so.
I’d never been in traffic as bad as the traffic coming out of the Great Wall area. Mind you, it was just the parking lot. I wish I’d taken photos of how bad it was, but my phone and camera were about dead at that point. The parking situation was ridiculous. There were cars trying to park, cars trying to get out, cars trying to parallel, even more cars trying to make their way in. With our luck, our bus got stuck behind two large SUVs trying to reverse park, and a van trying to weave its way into the exit lane. And to add to this madness, I’d fallen asleep on the bus, only to wake up and see that we’d moved about 1 meter. At this time, everyone was restless and when we finally made it onto the main roads there was a bit of hope that lasted about half an hour.
Bathrooms and the Hangry
“We’re still on the bus. This is not a drill. WE ARE STILL ON THE BUS.”
These were my thoughts as I woke up, from another nap. Our bus, along with the convoy of other buses that were carrying the other couple hundred campers were still en route home to our dormitory. At this point, the moans and groans over everyone felt like echoes of my inner thoughts. We’d only had lunch a few hours after climbing the wall, but we were all hungry again. Excuse me, we were all HANGRY. Not just hangry, some of us had to take care of umm, well, business. Which, this isn’t really my story to tell but let’s just say that business was taken care of by some people with bathroom or no bathroom in sight. Yet, only — literally — five minutes later our bus stops at a gas station where it could’ve been taken care of. Talk about the worst timing.
Speaking of bathrooms, they’re not so pretty in parts of Beijing. Like, at all. Our whole camp was in such a desperate situation at this point, I would’ve thought that everyone would take whatever bathroom showed up in front of us. But, no. We were desperate, but not desperate enough to squat over a hole in the ground. Literally, a large room with a hole in the ground. No. Let’s not. This might sound super high maintenance, but seriously. COULD YOU EVEN?
Juicebox Fights, Singalongs, and the Macarena
Our poor instructors, God bless them, tried everything to keep us entertained. I think they’d gotten the idea that none of us were feeling it. At one point, one of teachers said “Let’s all have fun now, all the other buses are having fun.” Awww..
My class’ head teacher came up with a game that utilized an empty juice box. Basically, we’d pass (or in our case throw) the juicebox to different parts of the bus while music was playing on the intercom system. Once the music stopped, whoever had the juicebox last would have to go to the front of the bus and sing a song. This turned out to be pretty violent and everyone was absolutely ruthless. It was the best time! I’d gotten the juicebox once and decided that “Sunday Morning” by Maroon 5 was okay enough for our current situation.
Others sang theme songs from Spongebob and Pokemon. I think the highlight for me was when one of my classmates danced the Macarena while another person sang it. Not until that moment in my life did I know that there were actual lyrics to the Macarena. And, after hearing them clearly for the first time — Macarena, you are scandalous and I had no business knowing of you when I was five-years-old.
Five hours later…
Alas, we made it back on campus with our bladders still full and our stomachs caved in. Thankfully, the buses parked close to the canteen and it wasn’t so much of a mad dash to get there for the last hour of meal time. In the end, this was probably the most exhausting day of camp and by the time we were done with our meals, we all headed to our dorms either for bed or to sit in the living rooms. Some of us gathered with a couple beers and had a “WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?” session.
It’s hard for me to really even try to articulate in a graceful manner what my Great Wall experience was. It was, in all fairness, an experience. Could I tell you exactly what I saw on the wall, what made it beautiful? Probably not. I only have a few pictures to show and an account of the scene at the wall. I can tell you that it was one of the most fun and memorable days of my life.