The Great Wall. The time has come. I’ve always wanted to witness themighty
Wall in person, and now I can. Being a non-Chinese speaker inevitably this was going to be a difficult journey to make, but I knew that. I had prepared by asking my Chinese friends to send me the locations and names of each bus/train/subway station necessary. That was all I needed to give me the confidence to navigate out of central Beijing.
I set my alarm for 5.45 to give myself more than enough time, incase I lost my way (not that that would be a possibility!). I left the hostel at 6.20 with sun cream and bug spray applied, and my trusty pocket-sized Mandarin book by my side – just incase my ability to speak in the native tongue failed me, which was almost a certainty.
The first part of my journey involved a short walk to the nearest subway station, Jī shuî tán (积水潭). Here I joined a very efficient network/system of underground trains – for only 3¥ (30 pence!). My eyes were peaked at all times, desperate to locate the names of the stations, and distinguish each Chinese character to make sure I would get to the right place.
Fortunately all was going well, I arrived at my subway destination, Dong Zhì Men (东直门), unscathed. Here I was instructed to catch the 916 bus to Huai Rou (). I got on the correct bus, however there was a miscommunication between the driver, the guard and myself. As when I asked how much I had to pay, the driver waved me on (which, as we learned in Xiamen, means “your ride is free”). However the guard was not so nice. It turns out that she wanted a payment, and so I had to get off at the next stop, believing that she was telling me I was on the wrong bus. It was only afterwards, when I gave some thought to her words, that I realised she was asking me for a payment. So, slightly confused about what to do next, I paced up and down the bus stop until I caught sight of the name of my destination. Just as I found it, another 916 bus pulled up. I hopped on and showed the name of the station to the driver again. This time he responded with an amount (12¥). Despite the lack of possibility for the driver to offer a receipt or any proof of purchase, things were finally back on track – that’s all that mattered at the time.
After an hour on the bus (coach), stood up for the entire journey, my next destination appeared on the display. As soon as I got off, I was bombarded by drivers of “hai Chè”(?) (black cars). These are unofficial, and nearly always charge over the odds for a journey of any length. So fending them off, I proceeded down the road to seek an official taxi, who incidentally took me to Mu Tian Yu far faster and cheaper than I anticipated.
Eventually I was ascending the mountains. The journey that involved almost every form of public transport imaginable – foot, subway, taxi, bus and cable car – I finally reached the entrance point to the Great Wall.
(To be finished: I meet someone very interesting indeed, at the highest – and seemingly most isolated – point of the Great Wall. And what did we do after our introduction? Tai chi of course!)