Friday, August 12, 2011

The Most Terrifying Experience OF MY LIFE

A few years ago, my roommate and I went to China for three weeks. While there we visited several cities including Beijing. Obviously while in Beijing we had to take an excursion to see the Great Wall. Little did I know it would end up being the most terrifying experience of my entire existence (including the time I got hit by a truck pulling a boat, both of my dad's heart attacks, and the 2009/10 DC Snowpacolypse).

We thought we would be so clever to not go on the Badaling tour and instead took the Jinshanling tour. Badaling is closer to Beijing and the time you spend on the wall is much shorter so we thought we were getting a good deal.

In the end I did not find this to be so.

We got to Jinshanling to discover a crumbling ruin. If you see the Great Wall on the Discovery Channel or in travel brochures and it's all smooth and reconstructed then you're looking at Badaling. If you see a crumbling ruin with steep, broken, sometimes barely there steps (which vary from 6-18 inches each in height) then you're looking at Jinshanling.

Have I mentioned I don't do stairs very well?

At the beginning of the tour we were joined by several locals. These folks apparently make the hike (was it 8 miles?) at least once every day and look for the weak members of the group. Onto these they glom in order to "help" people along the path. At the end they do their darndest to make you buy extremely overpriced souvenirs. Clearly in this group I was the weak member.

Actually it ended up turning out pretty well for me to have the helper. My roommate was at least a (guard)tower ahead of me most of the time and I got to practice my Mandarin. I hadn't really spoken Chinese in years, not since moving back to the States from Taiwan. It's funny how certain words come back in certain situations. For example, during the hike I clearly remembered the words "terrified" and "going to die". I have a feeling that she thought I was pretty funny when I wasn't crying.

I alternated the entire hike clinging to the wall when there was one and whimpering and crying and desperately hoping I wouldn't slip thereby plummeting to my death far below into the chasm that was China on side and what used to Mongolia on the other.

 These were seriously some of the most unpleasant hours of my life. I rested for a couple - ten minutes at every tower to get my breath back and stop shaking. If only for a couple minutes. At one particularly harrowing downward slope (where there was maybe one discernible stair and a drop on either side) I clung to the crumbling wall at the top and was openly crying. The tour leader and my guide were chattering too fast for me to understand but my roommate was at the bottom of the death drop and told them I was fine with an offhand "she's afraid of stairs". Which is true.

Finally, what seemed like years and multiple grey hairs later, it was over. And I wasn't even the last one to finish. And I bought an extremely overpriced paper fan from my helper. In retrospect I probably should have bought a couple things from her. As my roommate and I approached the last tower before we broke off to go back to the tour bus we paused for a few pictures. It was over. I had done it. I conquered Jinshanling.

And now I never have to do it again.

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