Tales from China: A night on the Great Wall

Melissa Zheng

Hiking in the dark with one flashlight and three friends — this is what last weekend entailed. I traveled with another student from my program and two friends from Germany who came to visit me. I wanted to give them the full China experience so I thought what could be better than spending a night on the Great Wall?

We spent four hours traveling by subway, bus and taxi, haggling along the way, before finally arriving to a small village near a section of the Great Wall called Jiankou. This section of the wall is less visited by tourists, not restored and considered “wild” because of ominous bricks that can crumble at any moment. We arrived at seven in the evening, but it already felt like midnight.

Luckily, with one flashlight we hiked through the woods and made it to the wall within an hour. When we arrived at the wall, we had two choices: left or right. We tried left in vain. It was too steep and the crumbled steps looked impossible to climb in the dark. We turned back, hoping the right side would offer something a bit more suitable. Fortunately, it was less steep, but the climb still required you to be on all fours.

In the end, blankets and body heat kept us warm through the night. We watched the wind blow away the fog and pollution, and one by one, the stars finally came out. As we all dozed off to sleep, suddenly there was a scream. I immediately woke up, my heart pounding, wondering what happened. Is there an animal out to get us? What’s going on?

It turned out that my friend talks in her sleep, or rather screams in her sleep. She dreamt that someone was jumping off of the Great Wall. Aside from thinking we were being attacked for a brief moment, this was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had.

In the morning, we were again left with the decision of going left or right. Left was the easy route, the calm route. Right was the Wild Great Wall, the section with some of the most dangerous routes. Naturally, I could not resist climbing this section. After traveling so long to get here, how could I pass up the opportunity to climb Heaven’s Ladder?

Times like these are definitely a treat. Life at Associated Colleges in China can sometimes feel unbearable because of how rigorous it is. There is a phrase in Chinese, “tian ya shi,” which means force-feeding a duck. ACC students are small ducks that are force fed anywhere between 70 to a hundred new vocabulary words per day and tested every Friday.

One week of Chinese classes at LU is equivalent to one day at ACC. I would liken it to learning Chinese on crack. Sunday to Wednesday, we prepare for the next day’s class and Thursday we prepare for Friday’s “quiz.” This quiz is more like a two and a half hour exam. The program really pushes you to the limit, until you just want to drop dead, or as we would say in Chinese, “zi sha,” which means “commit suicide.” Within the first week, it was common to hear ACC students say “Ahhh, I want to commit suicide!”

At this point in time, I have already become well accustomed to the ACC life. I’ve already found that my English just gets worse and worse as my Chinese improves. I really do not know what I will do when I go back to Lawrence, especially when I go back to tutoring at the CTL. I apologize in advance to whomever I will be tutoring in the near future!

Speaking Chinese has become second nature, but I still do not know at what point I will be satisfied and consider myself a fluent speaker. There is still so much to learn, which is why learning Chinese truly is an endless process. I wish I were staying in China for a longer period of time, but I really would not mind some fresh Appleton air and maybe a nice Old Fashioned.

Before I conclude, I just wanted to point out some other interesting things about China:

1. You do not have to leave tips.

2. Some restaurants use recycled oil taken from underground sewage. Yummy.

3. Toilets are on the ground so you need to squat. This is a great workout for your legs!

4. When you blow your nose, black and gray specks will be on your tissue. Unfortunately blue skies are rare in Beijing.

5. Everything feels very ‘90s, which I personally like very much.

The exchange rate right now is about 1 USD = 6.38 Chinese yuan. Taking a cab is about $5, buying a bottle of beer is about $1.50 and meals are about $2. I’m definitely going to miss this when I go back to America.