Postcard 18.3: The Great Wall of China

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I suppose you could say I’m a big dreamer: I’m one of those people who has a pretty long bucket list of things to do and places to see. Climbing the Great Wall of China was on my list, and I’m fortunate that I had the opportunity to check this one off in May 2012. However, the climb was not exactly what I envisioned it to be.

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring
On the days leading up to my study abroad group’s Great Wall visit, it hadn’t rained, not even once. But looking out the window during the hour-long bus ride from our hotel to the popular tourist destination, the raindrops that struggled to fight through dark storm clouds didn’t look the least bit promising.

Upon arrival at the Great Wall, all I could make out was a fuzzy view of colorful umbrellas slowly marching up various sections of the Great Wall, all hiding behind a thin layer of mist. But I wasn’t going to let a little rain damper my spirits: I was standing at the foot of the Great Wall of China for crying out loud. Most people could only dream of being in my position.

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The Great Wall of China emerges from behind a thin layer of misty rain.

We bought ourselves ponchos — making me feel like an 8-year-old all over again — and started our trek up the wall, which was more of a challenge than I anticipated. The wall was steep with uneven stairs — making our “walk” more of a hike — and the rain made the pavement slippery. Yet, my friend Lily, our professor Wu and I somehow managed to get ahead of the group.

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Lily marches up the wall ahead of the group.
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The Great Wall of China spans more than 13,000 miles, according to an archaeological survey by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.
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The Great Wall of China includes watch towers at regular intervals, used for military purposes.

Getting Lost on the Great Wall of China
Wu decided to stay back to wait for the rest of the group and told Lily and I to meet everyone at a specific part of the wall at a specific time. What we didn’t realize, while aimlessly wandering up, was that it split up into several different paths. We ended up following the crowd into a tunnel only to realize that we were standing in line to board the cable cars.

Let me backtrack a bit here. If you’re familiar with “YOLO” — a term popularized by the rapper Drake — you’ll know that it stands for “you only live once.” Well, Drake’s song came out around the same time as our time in China, thus this was an opportune time for 20-somethings to use this catchphrase as an excuse to take risks in a foreign country.

So as you might’ve guessed, as Lily and I stood in line for the cable cars, we used “YOLO” as an excuse to board one of the cable cars, thinking it would simply return to its original starting point.

We were wrong.

It dropped us off at the bottom of the wall, but in a completely different part from where we first started. I don’t think I had ever been as worried and panicked as I was at this point in time. I was standing at an unknown area of the Great Wall of China drenched from the rain, I couldn’t understand or speak Chinese, and cellphones were useless here. I was doomed.

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Cable cars take tourists up and down the Great Wall for easier access.

Luckily, Lily and I found the entrance to the cable cars, so we decided to get on board, hoping and praying it would take us back to where we first boarded. Thankfully, it did.

Instead of meeting the rest of the group where we were supposed to, we ended up going back down and meeting them at the bottom of the wall where everyone was worried sick about us. I was worried sick about us too.

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The view of one of the entrances to the Great Wall.

But in the end, only one thing mattered: I climbed the Great Wall of China.

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I climbed the Great Wall of China!

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