Manhood?

We found the bus station by chance. Well not by chance I guess, we went right instead of left and there it was somewhere through the smog. We sometimes forget that the guide book is in fact that, a guide, and the directions it provides sometimes aren’t as holy as we would like them to be. “The bus stop is towards a piece of the old city wall, once you get out of the subway.” But where the hell is the old city wall? Why didn’t they say, “Turn right when you get out of the subway?” They also never mentioned that you would have to cross a major highway in order to get there. We figured it out though. We always do. As we made our way out of the sprawling mass that is Beijing, we started to see some remnants of the mighty wall crumbling behind the cliff tops and rocky enclaves of the mountainous terrain. “How the hell did they build the wall there?” I said under my breath. My heart started beating a little faster in anticipation of getting my first look, signs littered the highway for the main attraction that was to come and I wondered how long it would be before we got to see our piece.

We got off the bus and followed the English signs directing us to the entrance. We still couldn’t see it and walked with a little more pepper to each step. I had my camera in hand, ready to capture my first glimpse of this wonder of the world. After making our way through the ticket booth, scampering up the stairway onto the spine of the great beast, our eyes finally feasted on what is, “The Great Wall of China”. I never did take that picture as I had planned; we just stood in awe as the giant serpent slowly slithered off into the distance. The Great Wall is an amazing structure; it sticks seamlessly on top of whatever terrain that is set underneath it. Parts that we climbed were almost at what seemed a ninety degree angle straight up, and then inevitably straight down. Obviously The Wall wasn’t built to be the tourist attraction that it is today. Although it never really did what it was supposed to do on the grand scale of which it was built, the idea alone of building a wall that is some five hundred kilometers long is an amazing achievement, and I would say a little bit crazy. Climbing The Great Wall was a slow tedious process and maybe even a little bit dangerous. Its steep staircase over somewhat impossible terrain was relentless. We finally reached the peak of the less travelled side and from the lookout point you could really see for the first time the enormity of the structure. It seemingly went on forever. At this point we finally stopped to take that picture but as always it never does a wonder like this justice, you really just have to see it with your own two eyes. There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “You’re not a man until you’ve walked The Great Wall.” Finally my time had come.

B.

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China’s Forbidden Menu

The tiniest little star made a sparkling appearance in the smog filled Beijing sky tonight, and I made a wish…Most nights the thick cloud that envelops this city makes it near impossible to see any kind of cosmic activity. Beijing shines however in its own way. Standing on many of the streets and curved tiny alleyways you instantly time travel to a mysterious era filled with elaborate artwork, intricately designed architecture and regal costumes. In a fleeting moment, your eyes seem to catch a glimpse of the bravest warrior or the most powerful emperor whose spirits still rest in this marvellously complex place, you blink and the image evaporates into the smog. What has China been like? This last month described in one word would be, overwhelming.  Moments of complete opposition, feeling like a celebrity to nonexistent in a single day. Celebrity status is not something I have ever wanted to attain, and now I have confirmed this. On various occasions when people have asked to have their picture taken with us I wanted to crawl into the nearest hole. It felt beyond weird. At times I have been B.’s accessory, treated with not that much more importance than the wristwatch he was wearing. After fighting so hard for my strength and independence, having to take a step back in the name of a different culture was a little bit difficult, but I did it. China can be as abrasive as a rough piece of sandpaper on baby soft skin. Hoards and hoards of people make for a whole lotta noise, noise, NOISE! Take all of the manners that your parents taught you and throw them swiftly out the closest window. Are we too uptight? Do we spend our time concerned with offending everyone around us? Do we supress just being ourselves for the sake of not stepping on someone else’s toes? No one seems to EVER use their inside voice here. Every laugh, yawn, cough and sigh is the loudest it can possibly be.  At all hours on the train or bus people are singing, chatting on the phone, & playing music all at the highest volume. There are no rules when it comes to food, absolutely none. Any kind of consumption is a slurping, crunching and sucking fest that you could probably hear from a few blocks away. I have even started slurping my noodles, 1) to feel like I fit in a little bit and 2) because my chopstick skills are not that great, and it’s just easier to eat them that way. It does feel quite liberating. Are we uptight? I would have to say a definite maybe. For the Beijing Olympics, a lot of restaurants got their menus translated into English. The following are examples that the restaurant owners should have checked the translators c.v’s a little more carefully. See if you can figure out what these menu items are because we sure weren’t able to, but we got a really good laugh out of trying! “Let clothes plain boiled pork cool”, “Drunk fish of grandma does”, “Dish of sesame oil connected through one’s female relatives”, “Fry ball with no result”, “Big bowls grow a kidney bean”, “Pair of private taste bean curds”, “All rough blood of frog is flourishing”, “Blow up hairtail with no result”, “Field three are fresh”, “Burn the mustard orchid vainly”, and last but not least, what would any Asian meal be without a generous portion of “Stir-fry kid for a short time”. This trip is changing me. I am becoming a more tolerant human being. I can tolerate more noise, filth, discomfort, physical pain, foul smells, and insecurity than ever before. I am becoming a more tolerant human being and the world could definitely use a bit more tolerance. What type of footprint is my ratty flip-flop leaving behind I wonder? I am hopeful that I am leaving a positive mark behind on our trails. I want to help break down some of the negative assumptions the rest of the world has about “white” people, simply by doing what isn’t necessarily expected of me. China permeates honesty, something I have been craving for a very long time. It seemed like my life back home reeked of fancy fake frills for way too long. What you see is what you get here and there is something unbelievably fresh and true about that. The customer service is to the point and not riddled with people pretending to care or like you to make a quick buck. My fear is that the old China is disappearing. In a quest for modernization I could see all of the old history slowly crumbling away. Only in Beijing did we find the ancient image of China that we all have in our heads. What does that mean? Will China one day just become a maze of modern skyscrapers? This thought deeply saddens me. I make another wish….

F.