Thursday, 8 October 2009

China Part 3

On our third day of trekking, we got up to a beautiful sunny morning. Sadly breakfast was more concrete toast and floppy fried eggs, with some kind of spam-like substance, so I made a note to pack an extra Mule Bar for the day. As usual, The Terminator was ready with the warm-ups and stretches, cue much groaning.

Today we would get to meet the local "Wall Catchers". These are locals who live in the villages near the Wall, usually from farming families, who supplement their income by helping tourists and trekkers on the Wall, to carry their bags. A couple of our number decided to take advantage and let one of the wall catchers take their pack for the day, leaving them free to enjoy the scenery and take pictures. They were quite amazing, like mountain goats they scrambled up the steep paths where some of us stumbled and slipped. The joys of knowing the terrain like the back of your hand. They were very sweet, but a little irritating after a while having a shadow constantly grabbing at your backpack and saying "me carry, me carry". But 100 yuan for a day's bag carrying to them was a lot of money. Farmers in China earn very little, and as a result many of the younger generation have deserted the countryside for the cities, overpopulating the main cities and leaving a shortage of people to farm the land and provide the nation's food. The Chinese government has attempted to combat this trend by allowing farming families to have two children instead of the regulation one, and also making farmers largely tax-exempt. This has also gone some way towards combatting the awful trend in some more traditional rural communities of abandoning baby girls, because they want sons, but of course with the One Child Policy they only get one shot. When James the Chinese trek leader was explaining all this to us, he chose the unfortunate phrase "The Chinese, they love their little boys" prompting sniggers from the more sewer-minded in the group!

The Wall Catchers, once those not saddled with a backpack had realised they weren't needed for the day, eventually melted away, and we were left walking the Wild Wall, which is mostly ruins. In some places, the path was only a metre wide, with no sides to the wall this time, which again caused some problems for the vertigo afflicted. The grit and determination of some of those people to overcome their fears and get through that trek was truly awe-inspiring, and it was a privilege to be trekking with them and offering them support or a friendly hand or word when needed, or even at times a verbal kick up the backside!

The scenery began to be stunning, we had perfect clear weather and we were getting a sense of the sheer scale of the Great Wall, the way it snaked across the mountain tops, what a sheer feat of construction it was, and just how many lives paid for its construction.

The Wall Catchers returned at the end of the trek, with bags full of souvenirs. It was bargaining time, as we haggled for postcards and mementoes of our day. We bought a book on the history of the wall, feeling that we should at least buy something seeing as they had walked all that way with their bags of wares. However, once we had done our buying, we got a little fed up with being followed, and to try and get rid of one of the hawkers, DP said to him that we didn't want any postcards but if he could find us some beer, we'd pay him 20 yuan a pop! He sprinted off like a cheetah and in no time at all, he was back with an armful of beer cans. We gave him our 20 yuan notes gladly for the cold beer after a hard day's trekking, happily glugging it down as we walked the final half mile to the hotel in the village of Jinshanling. DP said "Now we'll call you Beer Man!" to the hawker who'd got us the beer, and he grinned with a wide smile, pointed to himself and said "Me, Beer Man!" and skipped off to tell all his friends his new nickname, all the way down pointing to us, chattering in Chinese punctuated by shouts of "Beer Man!"

That night we were all in an upbeat happy mood. So many fears had been quashed, such achievements had been made walking that wall, so we gathered in the hotel courtyards for TsingTao and chat. We had a demonstration of the local traditional paper cutting, which is just incredible, and the shop opened late for us. I bought a traditional Year of the Tiger cutting for SD, as it's her 11th birthday in a couple of weeks, and her Chinese astrological sign is the Tiger. I also found a beautiful little cutting for my Nana, who is in her late 70s, with the Chinese character for longevity in the middle. My eye was drawn to it before the owner told me what it meant, and he smiled and told me it was perfect for a grandparent, because the elderly are revered in traditional Chinese culture, longevity is prized.

Now this was also the night of the Termination of the Terminator.

DP and some of the other lads had decided to get together and buy the Terminator's drinks for the night, and at some point while merry after a few beers, Terminator decided to challenge DP to out-drink him. Needless to say, he wasn't successful - the fitter they are, the harder they fall, and while DP's physique is much more suited to beer drinking than the gym, the Terminator is the opposite. DP earned himself the nickname "John Connor" that night, for being the only man able to defeat the Terminator. Needless to say, he wasn't up to leading any energetic warm-ups the next morning!

1 comment:

  1. Another awesome read! I especially liked the story about the BeerMan and the paper cutting you picked out for your Grandmother. - G