Tokyo Blond Is Not Porn

Tokyo Blond is not a porn blog, about hair or even, as one pithy friend remarked, a micro beer or late 1980s glam metal band ("Dude, I just saw Skid Row and Tokyo Blond opened and played a killer set").

The purpose of this blog is to chronicle my experiences in Tokyo - poignantly, visually, irreverently - for fun.

Anybody can tag along...that is if I like you. This blog will endeavor to be entertaining and honest and frequent enough to keep those following interested including me.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Great Wall of China - Bring Water and Toilet Paper

The first time someone mentioned the Great Wall of China to me, in China, it wasn't in reference to a place I had to see.  They were talking about a great place to exercise.  Exercise?  Huh?  "Oh yeah, they said enthusiastically, "we go hiking on the Great Wall all the time! It's outstanding hiking."  

Even though they said that I was not prepared for what they really meant.  I read the guide books.  They corroborated their story, at least the fact there are trails you can hike up to the wall.  They mentioned taking a gondola to the wall.  I thought that just meant the wall was up on a hill.  

I didn't realize it meant the wall itself was a hiking trail.  Oh my, were we in for a shock. Great doesn't really capture it.  

First of all the wall is not contiguous and you can't see it from space.  Wait a minute - what?

The wall was built 400 to 200 years before Christ by rival kingdoms to thwart advances by enemies. There are sections of the wall all through Northern China.  The sections don't all connect.  The Chinese call it "Wanli Changcheng" which means, "Very Long Wall."  Thanks, I would never have guessed that.

Second it takes an hour, due to traffic, to get to the closest part of the wall from Beijing and Beijing is the closest major city to the wall.  It reminds me of New Orleans.  I used to think plantations with oak lined driveways were in New Orleans.  It wasn't until I actually stayed in one did I learn the closest plantation to New Orleans is an hour outside the city.

After reading the guide books I decided we were going to hike up to the Great Wall of China, tool around for a while on the wall, and hike back down.  The best laid plans....

Most tourists visit the Ba Da Ling section of the wall.  China is already populated and mad as it is, I didn't want to have to fight even more crowds so I chose the Mutianyu section of the wall which, allegedly, is less crowded.

Our driver, otherwise known as Joe Pesci given his one-word English vocabulary "OK", picked us up in his customary driving uniform - shorts and a polo shirt.  It didn't take very long to get out of Beijing and into the countryside which was surprisingly flat and green.  It was a one of those days.  The one day out of ten in Beijing when it is actually Sunny. The horizon is not cloaked in brown and you can almost breathe. Almost.

Since being there for two weeks I'd noticed a pattern.  Basically you get about one clear, sunny day in ten.  The first day starts out beautiful. The sun is shining. Plants are green.  The sky is blue.  Then each day the pollution builds, piles on another layer of brown, until the sky is so dark and heavy with grime you can take a putty knife and scrape it off your face.  Then around day ten, when the sky is bulging and pregnant from pollution, the skies erupt and bleed out the grime in the form of a refreshing acid rain. Rinse and repeat.

Even the government encourages their citizens to take cover when it first starts raining.  Course they don't tell you it's because you might literally get burned by acid rain. You wouldn't want to get wet would you? Bring a lead umbrella.

So on this one glorious day in ten we arrive at a huge parking lot stuffed with more fuming tour buses than Disneyland in June.  So much for less crowded.  You can't really see the wall from the parking lot, or the gauntlet of vendors along the path to the entry gate.  However, there is an old Chinese woman selling puppies of dubious breed out of a box.  They are adorable but way too young to be weaned and I shudder to think where they'll end up.  The Chinese do not eat dog anymore, at least not in Beijing I've been told.

Russell takes one look at the situation, the situation being the wall is not in plain sight and the gondola seems to go up a long, long way into oblivion, and refuses to hike up.  "I'm not hiking up to the wall.  I'll take the gondola up and hike down but I'm not hiking up," he states emphatically.  Since it was only about 95 degrees at ten in the morning he did have a point.  And from the look of his stance it was obvious there was no use arguing.

Taking the gondola was the smartest thing we did all day.  It was a pleasant ride, even without any apparent safety devices.  As we ascended the wall came into view and GREAT does NOT describe it.
AMAZING would be a much more accurate description.

I guess I thought it would be like walls in the U.S.  You know, where we level the Earth, and everything in its path, including entire communities, and build an even, flat wall.  Oh no.  This wall was built before tractors and Tonka trucks.  This wall was built by hand.  Basically they built the wall directly on top of whatever was in its path.  Because of that the wall capitulates over gullies and crags, precipices and valleys.  It is truly incredible and more challenging than a step machine on the highest resistance setting. 

Ohhhhh, now I get it.  "I told you, " Russell announces triumphantly as we step off the Gondola and on to the platform.  There's a shaded patio with an astounding view of the wall in both directions.  A vendor sells much needed refreshment. Hoards of people of all nationalities pant heavily, their faces red and puffy, their souvenir t-shirts sweat stained.

"Shall we?" I suggest hopefully, trying to get Russell away from the enervated crowd before he realizes this will soon be him.

We begin hiking.  We spend a couple of hours traversing, scaling, climbing, (no literally), and panting, on the wall.  Some places are so steep you have to use your hands. No joke.  We pass frighteningly obese tourists hyperventilating, threatening to pop like over-ripe tomatoes in the sun.  They're far from the shade and I wonder, will they be able to make it back?  Will we?  Where's the airlift evac pad?

My goal was to hike to the end of this section of the wall where I read you can view some of the parts that have not been rehabilitated.  Most of the wall is crumbling from time and erosion.  Only a few parts have been refurbished for the tourist trade.

Incredible not merely "Great"

You want me to climb what?

Where's the elevator?

Do not adjust your screen - this is the actual grade.

Um, yeah.
Hands and feet, hands and feet. Just 2,000 uneven steps more.

About every 100 yards there's a turret which offers much needed shade from the merciless heat and pitch of the wall.  Russell's like, "can we go now?"

What goes up must go down, a lot.

Just to the top of that hill honey. I promise.

Actually we didn't hike that way.  We did hike to the end of the stretch of the wall I chose and found the path that lead to the ruins.  The path was apparently used as a latrine since there aren't any bathrooms along the wall.  At least not officially.  In one of the turrets I almost stepped on a pile of human feces.  Oh my God!  I thought I was back in Beijing for a minute.  Really!!!? Heinous!!!!

The path to the ruins was green and leafy and reeked of urine.

Almost more amazing than the wall itself, I was able to convince Russell to hike down instead of taking the gondola.  The trail, just like Tokyo, was paved, with helpful signs along the way.  Like the one below.

What about clothed flames?

Most of the trail was shaded, which was nice.  But I couldn't help thinking how fun a slide would be.

When we got to the bottom we thought our exertions were finally over but they had only just begun.  
Getting through the gauntlet of vendors is a gargantuan challenge, requiring tremendous strength, tenacity, resourcefulness and bravery.

Every vendor had a story to tell, mostly guilt ridden and designed specifically to evoke sympathy and generosity out of gullible tourists. Apparently the more guilt induced, the higher the price they can get for their goods.

Oh my God, Thailand has nothing on the sellers along the Great Wall.   They should call it the "Great Scam."   These vendors are amazing actors - Academy Award caliber story tellers.  Steven Spielberg could learn a few things.  

I tried to grab Russell and rush him through but he wouldn't hear of it.  He likes to haggle.  He thought he could handle the heat.  He actually thought he could get a good deal.  He spent almost as much time on the vendors path as he did on the wall.  Now I was the one moaning, "Can we go now?"

At the end we made it out with a "hand-made" parasol, "authentic Chinese military hat" and "real military pins."  Uh huh, pull this leg and it plays Jingle Bells.

I"ll buy that for a dollar.