09 May 2005

Chapter Two: Wall Pirates and Post-Colonialism

Dear All-

Our plan was to hike the Great Wall, and then sleep in one of the
watch towers. Instead, it seems that the wall is currently being
guarded by old women with sythes and unemployed communists. We
arrived in Huanghua from Beijing by minibus, winding our way through
the mountains on a clear and sunny day. The valley that we went
through was gorgeous- tended orchards and a lazy river that spreads
out below as the road winds its way up. As we got closer, small
stretches of the wall popped into view and out again as the mountains
rose above.

Yes, yes, the wall is hilarious.

The town itself is basically nothing. The wall simply
begins at a destroyed section where a dam was built and rises straight
up the mountain ridge, plunging off the back side then reappearing as
it climbs out of the next valley over. We were accosted along the way
by several people who were trying to charge us "tolls" to continue
climbing along side the wall. The wall is part of a national trust,
as is all the land around it, and at the beginning of the path is a
huge sign in English and Chinese that says that there are to be no
tolls. Maybe these people are illiterate, maybe they are daft, but
most likely they don't care what the sign says. We paid the first toll
then ran from the second old woman. When we had hiked for about half
an hour we came to the first guard tower. Inside the guard tower
were unemployed communists with fake credentials trying to charge us
another toll. We argued. We smiled. We tried to convince. They
decided that the wall was closed to hiking for preservation purposes.
We gave up and decided to hike up along the wall until we came to
another guard tower. As we hiked up the unforgiving side of the wall-
through scrub brush, thorn thickets and across rock ledges- the wall
pirates followed along the top of the wall (walking along the wall,
which is closed to walking for preservation purposes). They met us at
the second guard tower after half an hour's more walk. We decided
that after traveling across the world to China, we wanted to walk on
the wall. This would involve shady dealings, so we dealt shadily:
Josh paid the pirates (about two dollars for each pirate). And
miraculously, the wall was no longer closed for preservation.
Afterward we hiked along the wall for hours. It really and truly is
amazing- both a spectacular visual treat and an impressive engineering
feat. The wall rolls along for miles, falling out of sight as it
follows the ridge of the mountains, punctuated by guard towers like
oldest brothers watching the rest. It was really and truly amazing.
On our hike down however, the old woman who we had given the dodge to
was waiting for us. We juked left and ran right. And low and behold,
as we scrambled down a public path, an eighty-five year Chinese woman
threw rocks at me. That's right, just like kids on the playground.

Mmmmmmm. Meats. Cooked out doors.

Chinese trains- everyone's best friend. Don't laugh till you've tried no one's friend: the Chinese bus.

We decided to travel on to Pingyao and then to Xi'an to see the terra
cotta warriors. Pingyao is a ming dynasty town that has sat basically
untouched for the past two hundred years- all red lanterns and
courtyards. I expected to see people in pajamas flying around ala
"Crouching Dragon, Hidden Surcharge" (China's national motto).

Xi'an was a lot of fun too, but the terra cotta warriors...hmmmm... how to
summarize: I went to see a lot of dirt and pottery ware with three
billion other people. It would have been a good day to be anywhere
but at the terra cotta warrior museum, as all of china was there, so
the rest of the country would have been wide open. It was really
cool, but it was hard to get a sense of it's size with the rest of the
world in attendance.

Mud that looks like people. Be still, beating heart.

On to Hong Kong: from Xi'an it was a quick 27 hour train ride followed
by another three hour train ride, and it was worth it. I love Hong
Kong. I can't afford to live here, but it is a great city. Good
food, great setting, lots of fun stuff to do. It's tempting to stop
and stay here for awhile- it's cheaper than Japan and the salaries are
higher. Sigh. But Wednesday: off to Guangxi province. It is going
to be hard to pry myself away from this post-colonial outpost of easy
living, but it must be done. More soon....


Fireworks. For me. It was National Badger Day.

Trams run sideways in China.

Post-Colonial: The Only Way to Be.