The Great Wall isn’t just a tourist destination. It is a global icon in itself. Any visit to Beijing is incomplete without a pass at the wall. For a site so well-established, however, it still held a number of surprises.
Here are five things that caught me off-guard in my visit to the Great Wall of China earlier this summer.
Getting there can be a hassle
I’m not the type to sign up for a tour so I could mindlessly follow a flag-wielding guide through the highlights of a city without ever getting a true chance to explore. That being said, it’s already a challenge to get to the well-trodden areas of the wall as it involves navigating the impenetrable Chinese bus system. After a bit of Googling, we found the right bus, but literally no one spoke English. A watchful eye and the use of Pleco allowed us to get off at the right stop, hop in a private car, and ride for 20 minutes to the wall’s base.
Food is available, and the options are surprising
At the base of the wall, before taking yet another bus, are several food vendors. There are plenty of standard Chinese dumpling shops to be found, along with a vegetarian restaurant with a particularly grumpy mascot. The crown jewel? It was a Burger King, proudly announcing the return of chicken fries. Globalization has created avenues for a lot of awesome trans-culturalism, but Burger King’s prime real estate caught me off-guard.
Graffiti has overtaken large swaths of the wall, and they have found a solution
Burger King wasn’t the only instance of cultural appropriation present. Doodles demarcating the existence of Kevin or the love of Skyler and Pete can be found anywhere along the wall. They’re concentrated in the shade and in the relative privacy of the guardhouses, located roughly every quarter of a mile along the wall. In one such guardhouse stood two square canvasses, reaching fromthe floor to past even the tallest basketball star’s wingspan. These canvasses existed to channel the “creative spirits” of would-be vandals, and seemed successful. A rainbow of highlighter, Sharpie, and pens of all colors adorned every inch available as though it were some dive bar wall.
For some, you’ll be the attraction
While snapping away photos of the wall, we were politely accosted by a couple of young Chinese girls who were excited to solicit a photo with us. This happened a couple of times at the wall, while previously at the forbidden city I had been made to hold a baby and some sort of nutritional supplement in separate photos. While exploring the wall, don’t be surprised if Chinese tourists kindly ask if you can embellish their photos. It seems foreigners become just as much part of the attraction as the location itself.
The way down could be the best part
The way down is a well-developed area of the Great Wall,where there are several options for additional entertainment. Just before the final ascent, there exists a museum full of rocks for that unique subsection of traveler who necessitates a collection of geological oddities in addition to whatever historical or cultural venue they’re attending. I passed.
However, there was one tourist trap I eagerly took part in. Once I was done walking the equivalent of 88 flights of steps and four miles of the greatest wall, there was still the matter of going back down. Not content with merely taking the shaky ski lift to get to the end goal, I opted for the toboggan ride, winding down the hills for several hundred meters. I spent the entire ride down accelerating quickly and breaking the few simple rules set by the instructor at the top. I accelerated into curves, and generally everywhere else, only braking when dangerously close to the abysmally slow and terrified French woman riding in front of me.
If the Philippines needs a representative for the next Winter Olympics, I volunteer as tribute. Go to the Great Wall for the views, and leave with the need for speed.