Birthday at the Great Wall. Beijing, China.

2 Nov

It’s 5:40 am and I’m waiting for the Great Wall tour bus to pick me up at the Dong Jiam Mia Xiang Hotel for a 4 hour drive to a remote part of Northern China to hike the Great Wall.

Today is my birthday. Well, today in China. My official birthday is not until tomorrow. I’ve opted for a 2 day celebration, not by choice but by timezone. Today I will hike the Wall. Tomorrow, I’ll check into the Hilton. That’s the new Hilton at Beijing Airport at Terminal 3. There awaits a mattress, massage and manicure. It can’t get better than this.

What is it about hotel lobbies? Everyone is asleep. The valet boy is zonked out on the outdoor bench. The two receptionist have their heads down behind the desk. The lobby attendant is sitting next to me – back straight, face looking forward, eyes closed. He frightens me. What if he starts sliding over towards me? Come on bus…

The hotel is located only a block or so from the famous Tienanmen Square and Forbidden City. Interesting how these two historical and politically prominent icons are a stone’s throw from each other.

The hotel’s neighbor is one of the Premier’s of China. So, our street is teaming with military soldiers. Young kids. Standing straight up. Wearing Mao green. Looking forward. Not smiling. Protecting the Premier. When we walk pass, we wave. They don’t..

There is a mini-market around the corner. Chinese mini-markets freak me out. Each aisle has one to three people assigned to stare at you. At first, I thought it was about shop lifting. There is probably some truth to that. But, now I believe it is a government requirement stores of a certain size must hire a set number of workers. So far, I’ve found these people to be the street cleaners and aisle watchers.

So, at the mini-convenience store, I was assigned a kid probably in need of Ritalin. I just wanted water, peanuts, dried fruit and Coke Zero. You see, I LOVE strolling grocery stores in foreign countries. It tells me a lot about that particular neighborhood or country as a whole. Ritalin boy was breathing down my neck. No time to stroll. I took a step. He took a step. I reached for peanuts. He reached faster. I wanted to pop him one.

Where is the bus? I hope they pick me up. If not, I will walk over to T-Square and watch the soldiers raise the Chinese flags. That will be my Birthday. Flag raising. Nice second to Great Wall hiking.

They got me. Scared the shit out of the employees sleeping in the lobby. Now, I’m on another micro-mini bus in route to pick up more fellow Wall travelers. It’s a little after 6 AM. Streets are calm. Pollution is thick. Can’t see much. We’re now driving through an affluent area. Car showrooms like Ferrari and Rolls Royce line the street. Who are these rich and what do they do for a living? Confused communism. Wait, there is action at the Motel 254. Hmm.

So, it’s my birthday. From the sound of these blogs, I would assume I LOVE birthdays. Can’t stand them. That is why I make a big deal out of it. It’s a joke to myself. So, this year I’m going to do a resolution or need to improve myself plan. Not sure what all it includes but working on my selfishness and Pride is part of it. I walked for almost 2 hours because I refused to ask for help. Really? How stupid. Mr. Pride is like that – The more defiant. And, the more I place faith in my own brains, the more lost I become. Yea…. Got to love what Mr. Pride can do to you…

Now, we’re driving through a Hutong neighborhood. This was what the old Beijing looked like, until the government decided to relocate the people and replace them with hotels, retailers and skyscrapers.

In this neighborhood, people are getting the day going. Preparing street food. Walking or cycling to work. We pull up in front of the Shijia Hutong, name of a hostel. Old man with a pony tail takes a seat. I hear an accent. Can’t tell where he is from.

Fog is thicker. Sun is trying so hard to shine. What do I see? Man is jogging – not in running shoes – but loafers. Ouch. Street sweepers are out. The architecture is amazing in this city. I give the Chinese credit for innovation. Yesterday, I passed the Olympic Village. The Birds Next stadium. Truly spectacular.

I spy a breakfast place. Steam is rising from the tables. Dumplings and tea for breakfast. Bamboo steamers are stacked five feet high on tables.

We pull up to another hotel. Picking up three women. From afar, they look Chinese. Nooooot Chinese. They look Israeli. I wonder if I’m right. It frightens me to think I’m right. Guess what, I’m right. I hear Hebrew. And, they wear their annoyance with such grace.

They sit behind me. Within 45 seconds, I’m asked to shut my window for its cold. I respond, “Yea, but there’s no circulation… Foggy windows or fresh air?” Then, I smiled. She nodded at me to shut the window. I give it 30 min before she asks to open it again.

We pick up more. A Norwegian family. Some couples. We’re cruising. We take a pit stop at a gas station. The Israelis and I hit the “little girls” room. I belted out a huge laugh when I saw them tie their bandannas around their face. They were laughing too, saying – “we come prepared.” Damn, I wish I had a bandanna. This place was RANK. I can’t write about it or I’ll dry heave. Three holes. No door. No cleaning. We all looked at each other and stood guard. Decided one girl at a time and the others wait outside. Glad we’re on the same page. Get back to the bus, disinfect with every bacterial cleaner possible and opened the bus window.

We arrive. There is no one there. PART-AY. The Chinese Great Wall guide – maybe 18 and weighs 80 pounds – tells the electronic lift to take us to the top of the wall to start our climb “no work today.” I have a feeling it has never worked. We’re in BFE. I mean, when we were driving out here, we were stopped twice by Chinese police to check our papers. We were driving through manufacturing and industrial zones. Feeling that foreign businesses do not want tourists out here. And, the government doesn’t want us snooping around either. The REAL China.

I take in the Israelis’ expression about the lift. Roll their eyes and interrupt… “We were told there was a lift. We paid for it. We want our money back. We want a discount…” On and on they went. Really? This whole tour is about $25 for the day. And, we’re at the Great Wall. It’s about exercise. Walking. Climbing. Not electronic lifts. I did NOT say a word. Just looked at them in amazement. Wow…Our stereotypes are right on. That’s what international business school taught me – all stereotypes about countries are right on the money. I digress.

I let little Chinese Wall tour guide sort them out. And, I walked off. I’m here to get away. And, get away I did. I was alone. With my thoughts. Hiking the Great Wall on my Birthday. Really? Am I really here? I just thanked God over and over and over again for my health and the gift of being alive. Gift of breathing this air. Gift of being able to journey the world. Still questioning why in the world am I so blessed – why? Why me? And, grateful.

I prayed to help me understand. To help me see what He wants me to see. And, do what HE wants me to do – today and tomorrow. As am American, I want answers now. Patience is something God and I battle with – or let me rephrase it. God continues to teach. On this day, I focused on being grateful. And, asking to help prepare me for whatever He has in store for my life. It’s His life, not mine. My cup of joy is being filled – day by day. Thank you.

I made it to the point of no return. Meaning, the place where you can’t walk any farther on the wall or you will fall to the depths of Chinese hell below. It’s a cliff. I sat. Continued my long conversation with God. Attempted to listen. And, the old pony tail man appeared. He sat down next to me. Started chatting. His name is Kelly. From Ireland. Outside of Dublin. Owns his own bar. We got into the usual discussion about Guinness. He was giving me pointers on how to pour, refrigerate and drink the brown gold. Didn’t want to tell him I’m not fond of the Guinness.

After our Guinness discussion, he mentions he just left Russia. I started to laugh. Well, he was not laughing. He pointed to his pants. His pants looked like a pit bull tore them apart and he stitched them back together using bamboo roads and a needle.

Me: “What happened to your pants?”

Kelly: “I was mugged in Moscow. Took my wallet. My passport. Had me a knife point. Two Russians. Coming back from the bar late at night. Just right around the corner from my hostel. They were waiting. Surprised they didn’t kill me. Cut me up real good…”

Me: “OMG. Were you hurt? What happened?”

Kelly: “Tore my pants here. Stabbed me here. Went back to the hostel and they said I should NOT go to the police. They said to call the Irish embassy because my passport was stolen.”

Next day, I went to the embassy. They said that I needed a new passport. And, I needed go back to Ireland to get it. If I file for a new passport here (Russia), then I need to go and report it to the police. Well, I’m leaving in a few days on the Trans-Siberian. Have got my ticket. I thought I should go to the police. I can’t go back to Ireland.

Went to the police. What did the Russian police do? Arrested me for NOT having a passport. Put me in jail. I’m reporting a crime and they arrest me. I had to pay 6,000 Rubles to get out of jail. Then, they told me they are deporting me because I don’t have paper work. They would charge me more.

I showed them my stab marks. I was mugged. They did not care. They just wanted more money. I called the embassy. They said they can help me get back to Ireland. I don’t want to go back. I paid off the police.

I did not know what to do. I was sitting in my hostel a few days later and they say a woman is in the lobby. I go downstairs. And, she is holding my passport. She found it in the garbage or something. She had heard about me – getting mugged and all – and found me…..

I listened and took all of this in. Typical Russia. So damn corrupt. Syria and Iran are probably safer to travel through than Russia. None of this surprises me. Everywhere I go, people have a bad story about Russia. It is comical. On a tangent – yes, I’m editing this blog in Thailand – I was at a Thai cooking school yesterday. Cute couple from Holland is next to me. They are telling me a story about their stay at a Burmese/Thai camp on the border. They said there were NO tourists at the camp except one group. They were a very, very unhappy group.

I said, “let me guess. I bet they were Russians?” She screamed out.. “YES! How did you know??? They walked around with their arms crossed. They were angry….You have to feel sorry for them… They just look like they want to kill or throw objects – all of the time….” She went on and on with stories. Oh, it makes me laugh. Poor Russia.

After Kelly finished his story, he headed back down to the bus. I stayed up at the top for a little while longer to take in every minute. I wondered back and encountered very few people. It truly was a brilliant Birthday.

On the way back, I chatted up the Chinese Great Wall tour guide. She has been doing this SAME tour to the Great Wall – everyday – for TWO straight years. And, has had only ONE vacation day for snow… She said, “If I take vacation, I loose my job. In tourist business, there is no vacation. Tourists are here everyday.”

She wakes every morning at 4:00 AM and returns home by 9:00 pm. Her Mom told her that to succeed, she needs to be tough and not complain. It has nothing to do with complaining, and all to do with workforce protections…. Yea, I worked on the subcommittee for Workforce Protections in DC. So, I’m overly sensitive. I gave her big fat tip. It made both of us feel much better. I keep her in my prayers. So young. So eager. So smart. So tired…

Her story reminds me how thankful I am to be living in the US. Thankful and truly blessed. Once again, I asked God “Why? Why me?”

Went back to my hotel room. Showered. And, had a planned “Skype” with the family. Well, I was SURPRISED because what appeared on my screen in Beijing were the GODDESSES! Yes, the traveling goddess went to Mom’s house to wish me a happy birthday via Skype. Wow. So surprised. And, once again thankful for having friends who would take time on a Saturday to drive to my Mom’s house to wish me a happy birthday. It’s make me feel so humble and grateful. They truly put a BIG fat, red bow on my Birthday DAY. Thank YOU Goddesses!

One Response to “Birthday at the Great Wall. Beijing, China.”

  1. Elly 03/11/2010 at 9:50 pm #

    It’s now 11/03 and I wish you a delayed Happy Birthday; to you and your new best friend, God. You seem to be on a great conversational level with Him; is that new, circumstance driven or merely a conversational and self rescue relationship? I have always wondered why He so wonderfully blessed me over 85 years and now I find that I have a rival for first place! I recall a query from you when in Poland and somehow it went to how my life was put together. And now you must know that early on I came to a decision place as to what my life should be about. There followed a deeply spiritual experience which continues to grow. I covet the same for you. As I have more time in the coming days I hope to read more and more of your travels.and through them to learn more about you. In the interim “Be well, do good work and keep in touch” .