Friday, September 3, 2010

This Was Not In the Tour Description...

Brandon and I arrived in China with a "free day" before our orientation Saturday morning, so we decided to book a tour of the Great Wall of China. It seemed like a "must see", since we were only going to be an hour away.

The travel agency that arranged our in-country travel quoted us a price of $200 for to take us to the Great Wall, and I was pretty sure that I could find something cheaper for us. And boy howdy, did I. I found online a "Half Day Tour" for $25 each, on an air conditioned bus with an English-speaking tour guide. The Great Wall is about an hour and a half away from where we are staying, so this seemed like a good idea at the time.

"Seemed like a good idea at the time." Remember this phrase.

The bus was set to pick us up at the hotel at 10:30 in the morning, so after a leisurely morning that started for us at a jet-lagged 4am, we joined a bus full of our new best friends and headed for the hills, a very chatty tour guide at the helm.

A few tidbits of China-related trivia we learned on the bus ride, imparted by our cheerful host:

1. Western China is full of people with very red, rough faces, because the mountains are very tall.

2. Northeast China is where all the beautiful women live. They are beautiful in northeast China because of all of the Russians.

3. Shanghai is where all of the wealthy people live. You can go to school there to be a movie star. The young man from Belgium who had the misfortune of being on the ill-fated tour looks as handsome as a movie star, and we must spend the next hour trying to set him up with the two flight attendants in the backseat, because clearly he signed up for a Great Wall tour because he needed a date.

4. Hong Kong has good food, and the cheap electronics are better in Hong Kong than the cheap electronics are in Beijing.

5. 11 million people died while building the Great Wall of China, and their bodies are buried beneath the wall. When it rains their bones float to the surface.

6. If your ears are ringing then clearly something is wrong with your kidneys. Unlike our tour guide, whose doctor could tell by looking at her eyes and her tongue that she had hepatitis.

7. There's a section of the Great Wall that's almost impossible to climb and up and then down again (what goes down, must come back important lesson recalled by this climber), and it's the most challenging to climb, and the farthest away from where you have to be back at the bus! In just two hours! And you're going to have to practically RUN across the Great Wall in the time we have here today in order to make it up to Watchtower Number 20 and back again in the alloted time! Why didn't she just say, "Brandon, I don't think you're man enough to climb this"?

I had in mind a lovely, leisurely stroll along one of the 7 Wonders of the World, and instead we were On A Mission. On the way to The Impossible Climb, we did look, and stroll a little, and take some pretty pictures, and barge in on a photo shoot of a woman in a giant red dress.

We daydreamed about bajillions of Chinese people fighting off Mongolian armies on the other side of the Wall (apparently, a long time ago, it was more than just a tourist attraction).

We pictured Chinese soldiers huddled around the fireplaces in the watchtowers, and counted the 600 year old bricks on the path. We marveled that no crowds joined us on the slightly drizzly, overcast, humid-but-tolerable-since-it-was-only-80-degrees day. (And I LOVE no crowds.)

Then we realized that our chatty tour guide was right. We were going to have to haul to get to Watchtower 20. I mean, Brandon was going to have to haul. I sent him on up, fully knowing that he had been dawdling for the sake of his sight-seeing wife, and stopped and sat a spell at Watchtower 18 while I watched him climb the impossible climb, and stay up there for an impossibly long time while I started the long trek back to the bus.

Did I say bus? I meant super-scary cable car ride down the mountain. Picture a ski lift, but instead of powdery, soft looking snow underneath, it's mountainous foreign land. And every time Brandon stands to take a picture, the whole thing sways and lurches precariously on its' delicate cable.

By the time we got to the cable car, after practically RUNNING this particular length of the Great Wall for 45 minutes, we were a sight to be seen. The humidity and the fact that we didn't normally do a stair-master workout at Incline Level 867 for an hour every day outside was taking its toll, and we were pretty disgusting. Hair sticking, sweat trailing, backpack straps soaked mess. We chugged a quick 2 liters of water during our 7 minute cable car ride and headed back to the bus, assaulted on the way by Chinese women trying to sell us "I Climbed the Great Wall of China" t-shirts for $3. If they had a shirt that said "I Sweated Like a Man at the Great Wall of China", I might have bought it just to have something to change in to.

So we climbed ourselves back onto our bus full of new best friends, and our sweet tour guide starts with the talking again. We learn of her family, about since she is an only child who married an only child, the wonderful Communist government of China will allow her to have two children instead of one. She said that if a mother was only allowed one child, and had a second one, that the mother would lose her job, and the second child would not receive a government issued ID, which is necessary to attend school and find a job. She told us how boys are not as favored over girls as they used to be, because it is the daughters in China who care for their parents as they age. It's a little bit easier to understand why Chinese orphanages are full of children with various medical needs.

Right after we pulled out of the Great Wall Parking Lot #2, our guide told our hot, sweaty, tired bodies that we would be going for a foot massage, which the Chinese are famous for. For only 20 RMB (less than $3) we would have a wonderful massage on our way back to our hotel. I think her exact phrase was "It will feel like you are walking on clouds in the heavens." Brandon and I kicked back in our seats, and watched the scenery go by, looking forward to our relaxing foot massage after the rapid trek up the Great Wall. It seemed like a perfect way to end the "Half Day Tour", which the guide explained would be over at 6:30pm, effectively eliminating any thoughts of seeing any other sights in Beijing for the day.

Our bus pulls up to a building, behind two other much larger buses, and our trusty tour guide marches us into the building, and piles us into the elevator. When we get off at the third floor, she enters a large room, and comes back after a few minutes to tell us that she is sorry, there are 100 tourists from the large busses all here for a foot massage and we would not have time to get one today. That's fine, just please take my tired body back to my pretty hotel so I can climb into bed and watch HBO for a bit before I go find dinner.

But no, that would be much, much too easy. She marches our entire bus load full of people across the hall and into a classroom, where an older Chinese man comes in to lecture us about traditional Eastern medicine.

Yes, this apparently was included in our HALF DAY GREAT WALL OF CHINA TOUR. If you're confused, you should have seen our faces. The whole day was going to get a little weirder when the little Chinese doctor informs our bus buddies and me that we are all going to be receiving traditional Chinese medical exams. As part of our tour, naturally.

A traditional Chinese medical exam, based on direct observation apparently includes the following:
1. Checking your radial pulse.

2. Looking at your tongue.

3. Asking the woman from Australia, in front of a room full of strangers, her age (68), if she had gotten diabetes yet because she was so fat (no), if her bowels have been working properly (they have), and if she takes medicine for her cholesterol, because it is evident by looking at her eyes that her liver is not functioning properly.

4. Pulling out something that looks like an "herb menu", and circling the herbs which need to be taken for Australian woman's particular ailments, including something that will surely make her blood "thin and slippery".

5. Woman then pulls out her credit card, and another Chinese man appears at her door, at the ready, to accept her payment for a bag full of herbs.

6. Repeat for her husband, while a room full of people learn that yes, he has been having trouble passing his water.

I would love to tell you what the good doctor had to say about the two of us, but to say we high-tailed it out of there around the time Australian man's kidney function was being publicly discussed would be an understatement. We had big plans to hop in a cab and head back to our hotel, but out lovely tour guide was no where to be seen, so we waited outside the room for another 30 minutes, waiting for the "exams" to be over, and Brandon took a moment to pose by this gem of decorating genius:

Yes, that is a miniature Christmas tree covered in Scary Santas.

We eventually made it back to our hotel in time to go to the restaurant that serves wonderful Peking Duck! According to our tour guide, you cannot be in Beijing (formerly Peking) without eating the Peking Duck! With pancakes and sauce! So order the Peking duck we did, and out it came on a big platter, sliced in front of us by a little man in a big hat. The "pancakes" were very much like paper-thin tortillas, and it only took us a moment to realize we were eating China's version of chicken fajitas.

We collapsed into bed after a very long, entertaining, enlightening day full of memories, and were asleep before 9pm, ready to hit the ground running with our orientation group the next day.


Betsy said...

I can't wait to hear more!

Susan Cooper said...

Everything you said was spot on! Loved the chinglish quotes and the comments about being fat. Can't go to China and not be called a fat foreigner. Guaranteed you are being called that in your very presence. Your tour guide was right, you can't be in Beijing and not eat Peking Duck or as we foreigners call fajitas! Love it all and can't wait to hear more of your newest family member!

Kay said...

HAHAHAHA! Sounds like yall are having SO much fun!

Catherine said...

Awesome :-) I still have a "I climbed the Great Wall" t-shirt that I got when I was 7. My mom just gave it back to me with some of my baby clothes! Can't wait to hear of more of your adventures.

Adrienne said...

Great picture of you two at The Wall! :)

~The South Dakota Cowgirl~ said...