A Hard Road to Travel – Happy Chinese New Year

It was late January of 2005.  Our family was grieving the loss of our daughter.  Her memorial was on the 17th of January (you can read our loss journey here –  Darkest Day).  A dear friend looked at us and said, “Don’t you dare cancel your trip to China or I will drive you there myself!”

Now, back track a few months.  We sold a house when the market was high and the first thing we did was purchase two round trip tickets to China to visit our son who was there on a scholarship to learn Mandarin at Shanghai University.  What an opportunity, for both our son and us.  How many times will we know someone who lives in China and speaks the language?  So we seized the moment and bought the tickets.  We got our passports and spent a day in NYC enjoying great food, great Holiday decorations and a trip to the Chinese Consulate to acquire a visa into mainland China.

The twenty-one hour flight from eastern USA to Shanghai (via Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) was fantastic.  I say that because the plane was practically empty.  So we spread out.  We saw Mount Fuji sail by, beautiful.  It was a reflective time for me.  Here we were many miles above the earth and my heart and mind was with my daughter.  I knew she was in heaven having the time of her life and that comforted me.  I even felt closer to her up in the clouds.  But my heart hurt.  I wanted to enjoy this trip and time with our son.  We three needed each other at this time.  I was determined to make the best of it.  Looking back, it was a great place to visit when in grief.  No one could talk to me and no one wanted to and I didn’t speak the language.  It literally was very foreign.  That was a comfort to me.

So, here we were, the three of us, in a nice hotel in Shanghai, China.  No forks, lots of rice, and a very messy table in the hotel restaurant due to my long flight and a lack of using chopsticks (and you thought rice was only thrown at weddings).

There is so much to tell of this trip but I want to concentrate on The Great Wall of China.  We did see much in Shanghai and New Year’s dragon dance and the Chinese Circus and museum and The Forbidden City in Beijing.  Such an old land and so beautiful.

We checked into a Youth Hostel in Beijing.  My husband and I had our own room and our son was elsewhere in a dorm-type room.  After eating an amazing Beijing Duck dinner he informed us that we were signed up to see The Great Wall of China in the morning.  A shuttle bus would pick us up early.  We were ready – it was winter so I purchased some Chinese long johns in the market place the night before.  I put orange drink, peanut M&M’s, Pringle and a water bottle in my bag with my camera.  We were picked up early, after our breakfast of Chips A’Hoy cookies and orange drink, and proceeded to pick up other victims, uh, er, I mean tourists for the visit to The Wall.

We're WHERE???

We’re WHERE???

Three hours later, in a non-heated vehicle, we arrived in the middle of Nowhere, China.  We lived at sea-level in the US and here we had to climb stairs just to get to the Wall entrance.  Lungs nearly fell out of my body.  We entered that “door” behind us and started on the approximately six mile(?)  journey of the longest stair stepper I’ve ever seen.  Thank God my gym did not have this equipment.  Our guide, who spoke only a bit of english, kept saying, “Two more towers”.  She made this journey several times a day in the summer with such “tourists” as us.  Near the end I wanted to throw her off.  But she was so sweet and tried hard to converse with us.

one tower.....of thousands

one tower…..of thousands

The section above had no steps.  But to give you a mental image…… you either walked on flat stones OR steps that were short, steps that were too high for average humans, steps that were steep enough to use your hands also (hence the term climbing The Great Wall) and steps that went down a steep incline so that your guides grabbed your jacket so gravity didn’t take you first.  It was amazing and exhausting and in the middle of nowhere.  I am thankful for the snacks I brought in my bag.  And I am most thankful for the three guides who were conversing together when I heard an english word in the middle of their conversation, “SHORTCUT”.  I grabbed our guide and said, “Did you say Shortcut???????”

My husband and I decided to take the shortcut with two guides (appartenly we needed two guides) while our son ventured forward on the wall and we would meet up – somewhere???

The short cut was magnificent.  Easy on the lungs, we caught our breath and saw things that were quite amazing….

We walked through a village

We walked through a village

No power or plumbing

No power or plumbing

back in time

back in time

This little one came out to greet us

This little one came out to greet us

After a while we came to a bridge (where my camera battery died) – a bridge much like one you would see in Indiana Jones – suspended high over a river.  Did I mention that heights and I do not get along?  Well, it must have been the lack of oxygen because I started out fine, following my husband and enjoying the view – UNTIL the cables that hold the bridge and acted as side rails decided to drop down to knee level, rather than over my head level.  All security left me and I shoved my husband aside and RAN to the other side, leaned against the wall (The Great Wall of China) and refused to look back at that cavern.  We waited there for out son, who we saw coming over a high peak toward the bridge.  Before we saw him, his guide ran up to me speaking rapid Manderin and threw in english words like son and police.  I thought he fell off the wall.  Our guide stepped aside and caught our eye and kept shaking her head slightly.  What does that even mean?  I was starting to panic when two lady tourists of Asian decent approached us and I asked if they understood Chinese and if they spoke english.  They did.  The guide wanted my son to buy a t- shirt and he said, “Ask my parents”.  Go ahead laugh.

I bought the t-shirt:

bought the t-shirt

bought the t-shirt

So, from there we had to get back on the wall – it was so steep that I clung to the steps with all fours, put my head down, and cried.  Yes, I cried on The Great Wall of China.  My son thought I was having a heart attack or something.  I simply said, “I want to get off the freakin’ Wall!”

“Two more towers”, she said.  And that’s when I thought of taking her to the bridge and tossing her over the side.  Just a thought.  When I started to climb to the third tower, she grabbed me and said, this way.  We exited The Great Wall and low and behold, a wide paved road stretched before us that lead us to some building.  A bathroom and a restaurant!!!  I told my son to order anything – don’t care what I eat – I headed to the enclosed hole in the ground to pee.  Ahh.

We waved goodbye to our lovely guide, she kept waving as if we were old friends.  On the bus back to the hostel we all asked for heat.  They turned it on for us.  We freshened up and went out again for duck and slept like babies that night.

My son told me recently that we could have gone to a more “tourist” friendly part of the Wall where there are elevators and Starbucks.  But he chose the harder route.  I am very glad he did.  Really, I did CLIMB The Great Wall of China and even bought the t-shirt to prove it.  It feels good to have done that and I will never do it again.

The Chinese like to have their kids in pics with westerners

The Chinese like to have their kids in pics with westerners

me, with my read hair and blue jacket (think I will blend i?)

me, with my read hair and blue jacket (think I will blend in?)

Happy New Year China!

Enjoy!

cate b

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13 thoughts on “A Hard Road to Travel – Happy Chinese New Year

  1. Love this story. I’m inspired by your determination to find joy in life in the midst of your trajedy. Your humor is refreshing. Makes me (almost) want to go to the Great Wall, but I would definitely find the side with elevators! Thanks for sharing!

  2. My heart nearly came out of my mouth when you panicked. I thought something terrible happened to your son too! A Tee shirt eh???

    So glad you got that challenge and over came it. So glad you found comfort in strange land. So glad you found solace in the sky. Peace, my friend… Your daughter is in good hand.

    So glad I found you, Cate! One of these days, I’m gonna climb the Great Wall too. You did it, so will I. One day… 😀

    Thanks for baring and sharing.

  3. okay my friend…that’s a powerful (and partly funny the way you tell it) story…knowing you makes me envision it all in my wild imagination…I don’t know how you hold up through it all, but somehow you do…my goodness, what a woman!!!!!! and I’m always glad to get to savor another piece of your pie….you’re my hero! 😉

  4. You share this experience beautifully. What a gamut of emotion and experience! When I climbed the great wall in 2004, no one told me there was a section with elevators and Starbucks! Probably a good thing. There is something that can’t be gained any other way than to experience the climb. And with the grief you were experiencing, I’m sure much of that experience was very symbolic. I particularly like the part where you mention that you didn’t have to talk to people because the language wasn’t a shared one. I have experienced this many times in my time in Taiwan. When I just end up in the middle of Taipei or on the train or whatever, there are times when I can just fade into solitude even in the midst of people. While there are many people who use English enough to be very helpful and friendly, there are times when I am happy not to have to find words to communicate. The other side of that coin is that when you really want to communicate, there are ways in spite of the language barrier. An amazing experience that you never really understand until it happens to you.

    Great post! Sorry I’ve been a tad missing in action lately.

    • It was a trip I will never forget – for many reasons. And yes, the escape in a crowd thing was easy in China – until they point and laugh – I guess we were funny looking to some people – hahhaha – their kids got a kick out of us. Glad I could entertain them. LOL
      And I have missed you lately. 🙂

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