Confucius Institute, Great Wall of China

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This post was originally published in 2009
It may contain stale & outdated information. Or it may have grown more awesome with age, like the author.

Today we were woken up at six. Breakfast wasn’t until six-thirty, so I uploaded photos. For breakfast I had tasteless buns and spinach. Spinach was best.

After boarding the bus I realised I had forgotten my dictionary, so I ran back to get it. The bus was still there when I got back.

Me and ChinaOur first stop was the Hanban and Confucius headquarters. When we arrived, we were told that they weren’t ready, so we drove into town to have a look around. When we arrived in town, we were told that they were ready, so we turned around and drove back. While driving we saw people folding up A4 advertising material and shoving it into the gap between the doorhandle and door of modern cars.

The HQ is very flash. In the foyer each country that has a Confucius institute has their flag displayed. We posed for photos with the NZ and ZH flags. We listened to a speech which was basically about how great we all were for learning Chinese so well, and how we should keep trying. After that we were free to wander about. I found a seat and rested. In front of me was a large screen which was showing last year’s competition.

By this time I was hungry again.

We left and headed towards the great wall. We drove through Beijing to get there, and were treated to views of large buildings and busy people. I saw at least five unsafe activities.

The drive to the great wall was quite long, and most of the bus kept themselves occupied by singing. I don’t sing, or like other people singing, so the bus ride was long and painful. Apart from when Carl sang, as I like him. Also his singing is high quality, not like screeching cats.

When we arrived ad the great wall (Badaling 八达岭) we had lunch. It was a buffet again, and markedly similar to breakfast. Needless to say, I ate a lot of tasteless bread. For dessert I tried to eat a lot of melons, but they had a light fishy flavour. I think the chef’s melon knife might double as a fish slicer. After dinner the main event began.

It took about thirty minutes to get to the great wall, then another twenty to get through the ticket gates. Jason, Carl and I walked together. We thought we were walking fast but kept seeing other people from the Chinese Bridge group ahead of us. This made us walk faster, and faster until we almost collapsed.

The entire way Carl kept trying to converse with Chinese people. Out of maybe fifty attempts, he had about six conversations longer than five minutes. One was with an old Chinese couple who had a really thick Cantonese accent. I enjoyed listening to Carl ask them to repeat themselves.

All the children we saw were constantly running, either up or down the wall. It wasn’t that surprising then, when we came across a little Chinese girl vomiting over the side of the wall. We gave her one of our precious water bottles, and tried to talk to her parents. They were really grateful, but our conversational attempts were rebuffed. It was obvious they were more interested in helping their kid and wanted us to shut up and go away.

We made it to the seventh guard house. I have no idea the distance involved. Jason really wanted to go on to the eighth, but Carl and I didn’t want to miss the bus and felt we were running out of time. In hindsight I see that they wouldn’t have left without us, and we could have taken all the time we wanted. Don’t tell Jason.

Yes, it is What You Think it isOn the way down we walked beside the wall on a small path. Vegetation was growing all around the path and over the surrounding mountains, quite a contrast to the last time I climbed the wall in winter. It took a little while for me to recognise them, but amongst the vegetation were huge cannabis plants. I was amazed. I took various photos as evidence. There were no buds on any of the plants, I assume because they get picked off as soon as they’re visible. A friend told me later that he saw guards hiding in the bushes at a few spots, presumably waiting for dumb westerners to attempt to fill their bags with weed, so they can haul them off to the work camps. Another friend told me he saw a huge plant on the side of the wall that is inaccessible to foot traffic, heavily laden with buds.

When we finally arrived at the ticket gate, we found that hardly any of our group had gathered. We were tired so we sat down. Five minutes later we were verbally assaulted by a crazy bottle-lady who swore at us (I assume) in her local dialect, until growing tired of being ignored and walking off. We saw her walk around the area yelling at anyone who looked at her. The nice Chinese man next to us told me she was crazy, as if I couldn’t tell. Some kid walked past and giggled, so I did the “she’s crazy” hand movement. He laughed.

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