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The Great Wall

The Third Weekend - Saturday

overcast 25 °C

As my classmates and I waited at CET’s front gate for the charter bus to arrive and take us to the Great Wall, Sydney suddenly fell ill. I have never been as terrified as I was then.

Sydney (previously pictured with me at KTV), other CET students and I were gathered around a concrete bench chatting. Sydney was sitting to my left. She had mentioned earlier that she had spent the previous night throwing up, most likely from food poisoning. We didn’t think much of it. It’s not a rare occurrence here, and she looked healthy.

But just as she began to say, “Guys I don’t know if I should go. . .” her body suddenly went limp. Her water bottle fell from her hand into her lap. I turned and laughed, thinking she was kidding.

But when Jessica, who was standing across from Sydney, said, “Wait, is she joking?” I caught sight of Sydney’s falling face and panicked.

I sprinted into the West Building to find Lauren, our resident director, but she wasn’t there. By the time I returned from searching the building Lauren had already called for a taxi.

In the few minutes I was gone Sydney’s face had turned chalky white, her pupils were so dilated the blue of her irises could no longer be seen, and small beads of sweat had formed on her upper lip and brow.

The taxi came several minutes later, and we tucked a barely conscious Sydney into the back seat, only for her body to begin to recover just as rapidly as it had deteriorated. Before we could even close the taxi door she smiled and waved to us, the blue coming back into her eyes.

She later said she had almost completely recovered by the time she arrived at the hospital. She has almost no memory of the ten to fifteen minutes between her collapse and entering the taxi. After a broad examination, the doctor found nothing wrong with her and sent her on her way. I speculate that it was severe dehydration, but none of us truly knows.

I suppose the weather on the Great Wall that Saturday reflected the distress of that morning. Overcast, grey, and thick with humidity – not ideal for Facebook photos, but still preferable to the heat that haunts Beijing’s June and July months.

Before reaching the Great Wall we first walked up this lane of tourist booths. For those who don’t choose the cable car, the next move is up hundreds of narrow steps that wind through dense woods and only then do the trees part for the Great Wall.

This donkey was resting a few steps from our entrance to the Great Wall.

The Great Wall is not continuous. There are several different sections, all built and restored at different periods and with different characteristics. My trip was to the Mutianyu section, which is one of the best preserved sections of the Great Wall.

The inside of a watchtower.

Jacob with his Chinese roommate, “Terry.” With the weather too overcast for any grand photos of this magnificent structure, I chose to focus on other things.

Chinese graffiti looks so much more anthropological.

Terry and Jacob in the bottom left. A shrouded wall winding behind them.

Jacob and I. I put my ankle brace on shortly after seeing the donkey. The crooked steps up weren’t the best thing for healing my torn ligament.

Me on stairs.

A creepy looking glove in another watchtower.

A group of French boys pulling their pants back up.

Who doesn’t want to streak on the Great Wall? It sounds like a good idea until the eight year old girl walks into view.


The photo shoot after we stopped to eat some snacks for lunch. It took Mindy a while to go with it. Jacob (still eating), Terry, Me, and Mindy. Stephen is taking the photos.

There were grunting noises that went with this pose.


Me and Mei Lin (Mindy’s Chinese name, pronounced “May Lean”)

It’s a long way down behind me.

I was in the middle of explaining to Stephen the classic “I’m on the Great Wall” pose. So instead I just look crazy.

Figured Stephen deserved some photos of himself too.

Stephen is on the Great Wall! Classic.

Mindy in the far back, Megan in the red shirt, and Terry. Happiness!

A sibling of the Great Wall bee that stung me.

Wow! This wall is Grrreat! . . . I’m running out of things to say.

In the cable car on the way down. It began to rain.

The following four photos are all from Will (more of his photos at www.flickr.com/bellumdeus). Three weekends later Will, Jacob, Sydney, Rachel, and Jessica returned to the Great Wall to spend the night. They chose a fantastic, clear-sky weekend.

Spending the night on the Great Wall is illegal, unless you go to an overpriced resort, but enforcing this law is difficult and impractical. Several other groups of CET students made subsequent overnight trips. I believe the idea is that if you are caught, you better have some extra money on you.

Where the Great Wall Ends.

The Great Wall.

The Great Wall.

The Great Wall.

We all dozed in the charter bus on the way back to CET’s campus. Surrounded by my fellow foreigners, friends, and classmates, it felt just like the satisfying end of a middle school fieldtrip. When the bus stopped at a highway tollbooth I opened my eyes upon the dutiful Chinese workers and cringed. I had almost forgotten I was still in China, a country that seems to only have one race, and where my own race does not fit in. I was still in the thick of culture shock.

Posted by spelham 05:11 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites

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