Today I went to the Great Wall with the Freshman class of Beijing Sports University. We went to the Wall at Badaling, a very touristy area. It was okay, but not amazing. It is strange to stand on one of the Seven Wonders of the World with a few million other people, most of whom are speaking loudly, smoking, spitting, or performing a combination of those acts. It is not easy to think of the history and importance of this structure when trying to keep one's balance while being jostled from all sides by little old ladies, their grandchildren, foreigners from all countries, and Chinese men who are chain smoking while they are complaining about the steepness of the wall. I wish I could have gotten a picture of the steps or the very steep slope of the wall, but to pause against the moving parade would have meant certain death.
Though the day was hazy, the view of the surrounding mountains and the lazy dragon of a wall winding into the distance were still picturesque. Not as picturesque as the painting and rock etchings of the wall that are sold every 5 steps along the wall, but lovely none the less. One of my personal favorite parts of the Great Wall is the Hollywood Sign-type Beijing 2008 Olympics sign by the wall. "One World One Dream." Wasn’t this wall built to keep the rest of the world out of China?
Once past the One World One Dream sign, the smell of camel (very similar to yak) wafted into my nostrils, fighting its way through the sweaty, smoky, hiking man musk and the dust/stone powder that used to be part of the Great Wall stirred up by millions of feet from all over the world, I knew something exciting was just around the corner. Indeed, I saw my first camel in China! One of the more interesting vendors along the wall is the camel man. Customers don one of a selection of eight to ten traditional Chinese costumes including: an emperor’s yellow imperial robes or the uniform of the Chinese Army. Visitors then climb on to the back of a camel to have their picture taken by the Great Wall!
If you ever visit the Great Wall, I would highly recommend taking the time to go to a less well-touristed area or going at dawn to avoid the rush. Also, be prepared for very pushy salespeople selling things at five times their value. Bring your own snacks and drinks and do not buy anything at the Great Wall unless you are just a silly, silly tourist who wants to be ridiculous for the day.
Written and photography by Eileen Moran
Stay tuned to In The Know Traveler more of Eileen’s China experience. -Editor-