Beijing and The Great Wall

China has been wonderful so far! We’ve seen and experienced so many things already that it feels like we’ve been here much longer than we have. We visited an art district in Beijing. This is basically a small town inhabited only by artists and their studios. There is something to be said about an intentional community dedicated to artists. I, and several other people, said we would love to live in place like that. The language barrier between us and the artists made it a bit more difficult to understand what they were trying to say though their art. I know that art is supposed to speak to everyone and you shouldn’t need words to understand it, but it is hard to take meaning from something created by someone who lives such a different life than mine. I wish I knew more about the artists, and I had a chance to learn more about them, but was too scared to ask questions.

Great Wall panorama Photo by Jonathan Drescher-Lehman
Great Wall panorama Photo by Jonathan Drescher-Lehman

We climbed the Great Wall! I’m still a little amazed that we climbed such a feat of mankind. It was odd, though, because we had some local farmers with us (they followed us, we didn’t invite them) and they were very nice and helpful until we said we wanted to buy t-shirts. Once the words left our lips, the farmers descended on us like vultures and we were the road kill. They wanted 120 Yuan ($20) for the t-shirts, which was a huge rip off. Myrrl talked them down to 40 Yuan and we all bought shirts that said “I Climbed The Great Wall.” I said the farmers’ following us was odd because one minute they were our friends (pengyou) and the next minute they were ripping us off. I wanted to buy something from them because that’s how they make their living, but they used such false pretenses, and were so rude about it that I didn’t want to anymore. That is actually how I feel about most vendors I’ve come across in China (unless their goods have fixed prices). They’re so aggressive that I don’t want to buy from them. The vendors that let me be are the ones that I want to buy from.

Back to the Great Wall: It was kind of surreal climbing something that I’ve seen so many pictures of and heard so many stories about. It was beautiful and huge and amazing! It was sobering to think of all the people that died making the Great Wall, though. How many other “feats of mankind” have required such sacrifices to be made? The question that I found myself asking was “Is it worth it?”

My legs are insanely sore from climbing the Wall. Most of the steps were as high as my knees. Did I mention that I wasn’t expecting the Wall to be so up and down? Pictures always make it look like a smooth, rolling walk. Reality, how you have fooled me! The rest of that day was filled with small comforts: pizza, cats, and good conversation.

So ends our first week in China. I haven’t really felt culture shock yet, although that’s not to say that I haven’t been shocked by some of the cultural norms. Some of the habits in China really surprised me at first; for example, people spit everywhere! They even spit inside, where they work. Many children walking around the streets can be seen wearing pants missing the crotch and butt area. This was a bit shocking, but I suppose it makes sense: the children can easily relieve themselves anywhere, but it still freaks me out when I see a little boy peeing onto a tree on the side of the street.

Traffic is another thing that is very different from America. It’s actually a little terrifying. Unlike in America, vehicles have the right-of-way in China. This does not make sense to me because it causes so many more pedestrian casualties and is just so dangerous. Myrrl says not to run across the street because it confuses the drivers, but I don’t know what else to do if you need to get out of the street.

-Emma King