On Tour: The Great Wall of China

6 min read

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, or in my case, what happens in Beijing stays in Beijing is one of those clichés that is used with a bit of a nudge and a wink to describe a trip with one’s predominately male friends who tend to think of themselves as legendary party animals.

Wanting to write about this trip has put me in a conundrum similar to that of a journalist who is ethically bound by his craft to protect his sources. So I will begin with an official disclaimer.

Any resemblance of characters herein portrayed to persons living or dead is purely coincidental and no animals were intentionally harmed during Tour De Tibet, although plenty were consumed.

It would probably be a good place to start with a description of my travelling companions (names have been changed to protect the innocent). All travellers are from Australia.

Uday: Rectumless spiritual leader of our tour group and good time boy.

Kusay: Uday wannabe, except with rectum.

Chronitch: A physical fitness junky who has a bladder that needs emptying after a t-spoon of tea.

The OC: Sixty-seven years old, physically fit and has Tourettes Syndrome (the swearing kind).

Nassa Crack-a-Fat: Nassa is of Jordanian background, a football tragic and a veritable font of movie trivia knowledge.

Master Bates: A former Canberra Cosmos football player, fitness junky and a big fan of Captain Pugwash

Rain Man: Deadly exponent of the martial arts and can count cards

Our trip to Tibet began in Beijing and a visit to the Great Wall. In my five previous visits to China, I had never been to Beijing, so I was looking forward to seeing The Wall and walking it. All my travelling companions, although mentally bent, are quite fit specimens who enjoy a physical challenge. Lining us all up, I make an odd addition to this testosterone charged group of Adonises.

  1. Any BMI test would describe me as lovingly obese
  2. I dress like my octogenarian father
  3. I have a mildly arthritic left hip
  4. Number 3 causes lower back pain and referred pain into my left testicle after walking for a few minutes on uneven ground
  5. I have chronic sleepapnoea that is being treated via aCPAP machine – This is required so
    • I avoid death by stroke
    • I avoid death by my wife smothering me with a pillow
  6. I have high blood pressure
  7. I smoke
  8. All of the above have degraded any physical grace I may have exhibited as a young man to that of a bull walrus dragging itself along a beach
  9. The lads all seem to be able to boast about the generous size of their packages. Not me as my package resembles three eggs in a pubic hair nest
  10. I think that might be enough about me

The first thing I noticed about Beijing was the weather. It was a glorious day and there was a dome of blue sky above us that was literally a rarity. Anyone who has travelled to China will understand how lucky you are to actually see the sun. My last visit to China was a few years ago, and because of the air pollution I couldn’t see across the street: it was so thick I could taste it. When we got to The Wall, the day was even better and it graced us with wonderful vistas of the country side and views of The Wall climbing up and down the mountain sides.

Trivia tidbit – According to Chinese statistics, air pollution is responsible for up to half a million deaths per year. A study by the WHO and the University of Washington in Seattle puts the figure at 1.2 million people.

It was at this point I realised I might be in a bit of trouble, and any thought of taking the cable car up was dispelled by Uday when he offered to buy a skirt for anyone who even mentioned it. To make things worse it was unanimously decided to go up the steeper side as it had the least amount of traffic. A few cursory looks came my way as if to say “good luck fatty,” and away we went.

The ‘Great‘ in Great Wall is not an exaggeration – it is a monument to human endeavour. And by the numbers of dead buried in its foundations, a great monument to the remorseless cruelty of mankind.

I used the phrase remorseless cruelty on purpose because by the time I reached the highest turret on our climb it had become an act of cruelty that I had inflicted upon myself. It was warm, I was sweating in places that I can’t mention and my buttock, quad and calf muscles felt as if they were about to be ripped of the bone. While I was struggling in my own personal hell of pain, and to hide my rising distress, I nonchalantly pulled out my camera phone to take a few shots and take a breather. At the same time, my friends were dashing up The Wall in an attempt to break some unknown Wall climbing record.

This thing was steep – at some points, I had to lean forward in a Michael Jackson-type-lean-forward-move where your face is almost touching the cobble stones in front of you. To make my physical pain worse (I did mention my arthritic hip didn’t I?) there was the psychological woe of seeing septa-and-octogenarian men and women with walking sticks making their way back down. So I had this like almost mental collapse half way up thinking how hard I was doing it, all the while passing old people with walking aides who didn’t even seem to be sweating.

When I finally got to the top turret, my friends were nowhere to be seen and had apparently decided to walk on. This is where I decided to stop in the certain knowledge that to go on meant I might not make it down (Did I mention my high blood pressure?) The turret was the highest point on this section of wall and was spacious, had spectacular views and was cool. Cool was good, because at this stage my undies felt like I had just pulled them out of the wash – but hadn’t, if you know what I mean.

Another trivia tidbit – The Wall is built from stone and rammed earth

From up here I spent about twenty minutes surveying the lie of the land and it was truly dramatic. The Wall runs along the ridge of a mountainous area and I could see both sides, the apparently easier climb was packed with bodies struggling up and back down and my mind wandered to the logistical complexities of its construction. It was mind-boggling, and the thought I kept coming back to was how soul crushing it must have been for the workers, designers and builders who knew their labours would never end.

The Wall which is mainly in evidence today is of Ming era and purportedly took over 200 years to build. That’s a long time. As a piece of infrastructure it is amazing, and while I’m not sure how effective it was in keeping the enemies of the empire at bay, it is still benefiting the Chinese people today by bringing in huge tourist dollars.

Myth busting trivia tidbit – The Great Wall cannot be seen from space

It wasn’t long before the boys all showed up and there was a lot of self-congratulatory back slapping and a group photo taken of our achievement, and an achievement it was; eight good friends standing together on one of humanities greatest engineering wonders. Wouldn’t have missed it for all the tea in China…

Tony Simon

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