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Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Great Wall

OK, so you will notice there are some pictures up on here that were not before. I guess I can post things through Picasso afterall. The images I put up are just a smattering of things from around China, by no means an exhaustive accounting of this trip, and are merely meant to provide some illustration to the stories that have been going up. Hope they are enjoyed by all!

Today I went to see the Great Wall again, this time one of the more famous sections near Beijing. Well, when I say near it was about a three-hour bus ride, but close enough, right? The deal is, we are driven to Jinshan Great Wall, and the walk on our own to Simatai. In my mind this did not constitute a tour group, as we were really just on the bus for transportation, and so I allowed myself to go. [It's important to be true to your conscience.--ed.]

It was a worthwhile trip, with the wall stretching up and over the mountains, all dim in smoggy haze. The drive to and from as well, past small creeks and ponds, dried out corn fields, old houses and the usual wonderful China countryside scenery. (Also, while I'm thinking to note this, a nice moment passing a truck full of exhausted workers on the way back, after it was dark. Maybe four of them sprawled out and sleeping and three or four smoking in the back of the truck). The parts of the wall we walked are not as touristed, populated almost entirely of Lonely Planet-wielding foreigners proclaiming that these are the parts that are not commercial and thus where we must be. Along with these foreigners, the ticket takers making sure the foreigners realize that it is in fact a commercial endeavor and a handful of local "guides" eager to sell overpriced water, coke, beer, t-shirts, postcards, etc.

As I said, the Great Wall itself is nice, but what was more interesting today was a great wall of a divide that once again manifested itself, that of the gap between Chinese thinking and tourist expectation.

Now, in our hostel, and apparently just about all the other places where this transportation deal is talked about, the signs say that the price does not include the two tickets that must be bought at two different sections of the wall, and one that must be bought to cross a bridge. Now, while most of us might think it is ludicrous that you walk halfway from one part of the wall to the other and then have to buy a ticket again, for the same 30 RMB price as the first one (or face going back the way you came and having no ride home). We may find it even more ludicrous to pay 5 RMB for a ticket to cross a suspension bridge leading over a small lake. Yes, we may not think this system right, but it is a system the Chinese utilize over and over again, and so we deal with it and either pay the tickets or we don't go in in the first place.

That is, until today. Today there was a British guy, all loud and with a point to prove. When we arrived at the Simatai part of the wall, he refused to pay, and it seems things got a bit feisty, with loud words and shoving involved. At a point he pushed past the guards and went on his way, one of them following him.

The same thing happened at the bridge, and there was more pushing, and for a moment it seemed maybe somebody would spill the thirty feet down into the water.

Afterwards, as I was talking to some new British friends, the man continued to argue his point, first to the guards and then to other travelers. We were hanging out for about an hour, and then it was time to leave. First, though, there were the police to deal with.

Now, let me say that I am hesitant to take any sides in matters here, but I think the British guy was a bit off base on a couple of things. He ranted at the guards "I am a guest in your country. I teach your children. You treat me with fucking respect!" On the bus he continued, "I have been teaching in this country for two years now. I know how this works, They bleed you dry and you've got to stand up to it. I'm going home in two days, and this is my last chance to make a statement."

Of course, at this, many (including myself) raised the point with him that his stand was preventing us from going home. A girl went out and offered to pay for the ticket, but they insisted the man pay for it. I suggested we each pitch in 1 RMB and the guy hand it over, and to this the guy said, it isn't about the 30 RMB. It is about the principle. And this is the sentence that stayed with me.

What principle? He's lived in this country for two years and knows about 3 words. He says he knows how the system works but he makes no effort to adapt to it, or to meet in a middle ground. While I agree that the Chinese have some things to work on in tourist relations, things aren't going to happen unless foreigners make an effort, too. So, he went and paid the money. The bus started and we cheered. Then the bus stopped because people were standing in front of it. Now they were demanding, "A real apology. You must say sorry. With your heart."

"Oh fuck. I already said I'm sorry. Jesus. Look, I'm sorry, okay?" And as he walked off the bus to lose an amount of face, people called from the bus, we are all sorry, now let us just go, okay? And finally we were off, back to Beijing. What is the lesson in all this? I'm not sure. Maybe just that for all of the moaning I've heard from a lot of lao wai here (myself included) I wonder how much corresponding thinking has taken place, in the way of how to try to make it better for ourselves and for those coming to China in the future.

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