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My Longest Day

(Chinese New Year)

Departed Bangkok at 1am, Feb 10th. Had a long 16hr. layover in Beijing and to be landing in LA at 5pm, Feb. 10th. Sooooo….after catching a flight to Phoenix at 7pm I arrived home after my shuttle just before midnight. Hello 40+ hour day.

Anyway, back to the beginning of me day. I popped a Valium to guarantee I caught a bit of sleep on the flight to China. About half way through I awoke from my pharma coma and looked out my window and could see tiny explosions that from my travel haze later realized were fireworks. Lots of them. I was flying over China and being the Chinese New Year was witnessing thousands of early morning celebrations. Surreal is a great word to describe it.

I awoke again when we had wheels down. Barely remembered going through immigration and then without realizing it, I was outside of the main airport watching the sin rise through the windows. China recently enacted a free 72 hr. visa, so the process was surprisingly easy. My first thought was trying to find the Great Wall, and knew after about 20 mins that sleep was a better priority. It was cold in China, really cold. I even considered finding a hotel for the day and just sleeping – but what fun would that be? Besides, I am now a traveler and have no need for modern comforts. Hell, I shower with cold water and sleep in questionable places. I can walk dark alleys and hang with ladyboys without compromising my integrity.

But…

I quickly compromised on checking into a hourly sleeping room at the airpot and for 4 hours – could get a bed in a dark room for $40. Sold. My head hit the pillow at 8am and when my iPhone alarm went off at 12 noon, I was ready to go. Of course I was very disoriented, but on a mission. THE GREAT WALL.

It was a national holiday and no one spoke English, but that was not a deterrent. Not for me, no way. Even though it was freezing out and all I had on was a hoodie and a windbreaker, nothing was going to stop me.

I managed to find a brochure that had a picture of the Great Wall and even better, found a person who scribbled a bus number on a subway map for me. Bus 919. The search was on for bus 919. I hopped a airport train to the outer Beijing subway line and then again found my way to the inner line.

My time outside of the subway line on the cold hard streets consisted of me basically pointing to a picture of the Great Wall and being directed down a street lined with people and buses. After about 30 mins of walking I finally found bus 919 and proceeded to confirm the destination with my global finger point to the picture.

Nope. Not the bus I was looking for. Apparently their were multiple 919 buses. Great.

So, I went around the corner and found the OTHER 919 bus. Nope. Try again.

Back around the corner again and was directed AGAIN back to the other area I had just been. At one point a little Chinese man smoking a cigarette took my brochure and began slowly pointing at the images on the page and laughing with another gentleman. Not sure what was so damn funny and I was not amused. Screw it, I decided I would find my own damn bus 919. A 3rd. 919 but pulled up and the group of people waiting had more of a tourist look to them so I figured I was in a better place then before. At this point I still had not seen another caucasian person. I did however run into a group who was asking if anyone spoke english. I raised my hand and they asked me if they were in the right place. They also asked where I was from. As soon as I said I was American, they were suddenly much more interested,

This group were students, 3 boys and 4 girls, from Iran, Pakistan and India residing the country for 8 months while studying to become doctors. They were a bit loud,inquisitive and obviously intelligent. Within the first minute they asked me what I thought of people from Iran and Pakistan. I replied that I like the people from their country. They then asked how I felt about Muslims. I again relied that I respect all people, their customs and beliefs as long as they respect mine. From that point, we became friends – or better yet, I became their new best friend. The Token American. I quickly noticed that all of the girls were doe eyed when making eye contact with me. It was like they were almost swooning. Was it because I was probably the first American they had ever seen in person? Maybe after being in China for months they felt like I did – outnumbered. We climbed on the bus and after a quick visual picture confirmation, I was more confident me and my new friends were heading to the right place.

The bus ride was about 2 hours and my once jubilant new friends became more solemn.

The part of the Great Wall I was visiting was “North Pass” of Juyongguan pass, known as the Badaling. When used by the Chinese to protect their land, this section of the Great Wall had many guards to defend China’s capital Beijing. Made of stone and bricks from the hills, this portion of the Great Wall is 26 ft high and 16 ft wide.

When reaching the Great Wall, I knew I had a limited time. Originally I allowed myself 30 mins to get there, take a pic and get back on a returning bus. But, the Great Wall is big, huge in fact. Daunting. By the time I reached the actual steps I was already 30 mins deep. Screw it. How often does one walk the Great Wall?

One thing is that it is steep and an amazing thing to behold. I only spent time on a tiny fraction of it, but realized it’s power. the Great Wall is made up of 3,889 mi sections of actual wall, 223 mi of trenches and 1,387 mi of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers. Another archaeological survey found that the entire wall with all of its branches measure out to be 13,171 mi.
Wow.

After about an hour I was freezing to the point where I was losing feeling in my extremities and my face was numb. Definitely not Thailand. Time to go. My flight was in about 4 hours. No time to waste getting back.

The $2 bus ride I took to the Great Wall became a $50 taxi ride back to the airport subway as I REALLY did not want to risk getting stuck in China. Bus 919 was nowhere to be seen and I was not waiting around. I doubt my ride was a real Taxi driver, but he certainly drove like one. We weaved and passed cars both on the left and the right. I was the American cargo that was paying a premium for a ride to the airport. So be it. Just get me home.

I arrived in plenty of time and caught the 40 min airport subway to terminal 2. It was a breeze through immigration and customs so I had enough time to do a little Duty Free shopping. Moon cakes, sake and a t-shirt.

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