I was always skeptical regarding the great wall as a world wonder; I mean it’s just a wall,right?? The one thing I knew was; to really capture the full depth and breadth, you need to be there, stand in the wind and feel the power…In that case, I’d imagine myself, If I’d be an enemy, who dared to go through that valley and climb up the mountain to find such a structure with guards on it; I think I would flip, they’d take on my army and make me flee like a rabbit. I’d spend years trying to mend my soul.
On the other hand I am extreemly proud of myself, finally I make a consciously wise decision with regards to my spending, so I made this journey via public transportation. This may sound very normal in other parts of the world, but you will not get it until you have been there and understood how it’s like when no one really speaks English and the alphabet you know doesn’t mean a thing. Just the previous night; I was struggling to book a train ticket from Tianjin to Beijing and I had no clue what were all the gestures I got at the ticket counter, I was clueless and in trouble however I found my salvation in a chinese lady who was booking tickets for her foreign friends, I ran to her and she was so nice to help me. Its true that I ended up in Beijing South and I thought I was in Beijing train station but nonetheless a security guy figured that I was clueless and helped me find someone who spoke English. That night got me familiar with the subway network in Beijing and gave me the confidence that I will find a way to manage. Thinking of it, it made sense; China has been always a huge trade market, people travelled there from the 4 corners of the earth, if they could figure it out thousands of years a go, I definitely can do more in the 21st century.
To get an idea on how much money you could save; the solo trip to Badaling costs around 1700 CYN, a group tour would cost 450 CYN and you need to start your trip at 7 am. I slept soundly, got my “to go” coffee at 10 am, sipped on it slowly in the subway (4 CYN for a single trip) all the way to Beijing North railway station; I just said Badaling and the guy gave me a ticket worth 6 CYN. I got late on board which meant that there were no free seats, so I just sat on the ground in the back of 2 opposite chairs, peacefully watching the canteen guy strolling back and forth with butter popcorn & biscuits. There were kids running and people curiously stopping at my sight barely enough to get an eye contact with the dang stranger sitting on the floor. A nice Chinese man took pity on me and gently informed me “in hand gestures” that he had a free slot next to him. He was a good company; spent his time trying to rhyme an english song and eventually got the confidence to try and explain in english words what was happening “en route” and why did we have a detour; not that I really understood but I got the message; everything was fine, we are almost there.
The weather was really fine; cool and cloudy, some sunny rays escaped through the clouds to give instant warmth, as it was ice cold up there. When the train finally reached its final destination; everyone basically started running and jumping on buses, they were packed inside like sardines in a tin can; It was a free ride to the Badaling cable station as bus staff explained to me, I got squeezed in the 6th bus once I managed a clear path into a free chair, it was a 5 minutes ride without being able to take a single breath.
The entrance fees would cost you 35 CYN and if you decide to get the round trip cable ride; add a good 100 CYN. I loved the ride, the terrain below was beautiful with what looked like christmas trees and gorgeous rock formations, It was very steep as well so don’t try to imagine what would be your destiny if something goes wrong. I congratulated myself once more on my way down; I got few snacks on sticks, tea & beer worth less than 70 CYN, the overall trip cost was less than 250 CYN. One of the few times I’d pay attention to what I am actually spending and it felt rewarding on so many levels.
The wall spoke volumes of the Chinese population, they can do anything, anywhere, regardless of how hard it is. This mighty display of power, hard work and strong perseverance renewed me as a human being, was the essence of this trip. It reminded me that “all things are possible”, that I could always do more.
On my way back I decided to walk and not wait for the bus, I got my train ticket assuming that the train would leave at 15:08. A useful tip would be to avoid the taxi drivers and faux tourist guides as they will just take more money to get you the same ticket. As I got into the waiting area in the train station, eating my dumplings and trying to find my way to the platform; I found people queuing behind me, it was bizarre but also an indication that I was on the right track. Naive me thought we’d have to quickly get on the train. A hope that slowly vanished while waiting for more than 40 minutes in front of a small metal gate till a cop finally came and opened the gate. People ran into a wider square cage, we were in front of what had the shape of a barn gate that was also locked. Watching people around me, not really understanding the wait and why they were at peace with that; I start to get envious and exasperated all the same. Although now I learned why they have a tendency to run and queue as early as it gets. 20 mins later; The same cop yelled something and opened the platform gate and the cage, a Singaporean lady explained that we should queue by the 6 wagons markings on the platform in groups of 50s. I found people running, queuing, then the cop would scream and people would leave slots and run further away. Running myself, I stopped at the 3rd wagon queue. I raced for a seat, despite the fact that 4 more butts crammed next to me, but it was fine,they were too cute for me to bother; Two mamas and their nerdy little girls.
As I sat watching the girls play and the sunset view from my window; I left some sort of pity. In many occasions, the queues felt like we were treated as if we were farm rabbits; you wait and wait, queue for hours, run for your dear life just to queue again, from a cage to the other till you see the light, something I have not seen in more than 20 countries across 4 continents even though I come from a 3rd world country myself.
Nonetheless it was a brilliant experience; you travel on your own, mingle with the locals, do what they would do, eat what they eat and maybe then you could understand.
All photographs in this post are my own shots, all copyrights are reserved.