Aelex’s Adoption Diary
Saturday February 22, 2003
That’s not just a good wall, that’s a Great Wall.
Up at 5 A.M. today. Slowly getting used to the new time zone. Just in time too as we get our daughter in a few days. Dorothy is probably much more prepared for this then I am as she usually is. Somehow I think that the days of flying by the seat of my pants are drawing to a close. Thank god I married a good woman cause lord knows I need her.
Today’s agenda consists of a trip to the Great Wall followed by a visit to the Ming Emperor’s Tombs then we have the night free, which if the past few days have been any indication, will be spent sleeping soundly although it is Saturday night and maybe I can drag the bride out to soak up some of the Beijing nightlife. Perhaps a visit to the “disco” in the basement of the hotel is in store so’s me and my lady can bust some of our funky decadent American moves on the peeps of China. More likely however we will raid the honor bar and fall asleep to a Chinese dubbed version of Three’s Company. Man it’s good we are getting a kid because we are too wussy to not have a kid as an excuse anymore.
So, we are all out the hotel door at 8:30 when Bonnie and the madman Wang pick us up to hightail (and I do mean hightail) it out to the northern suburbs where the Juyong Pass section of the great Wall is located. Have I mentioned that all of the drivers in China are legally insane? We are going to return to the U.S. and laugh at the total lack of testosterone exhibited by American drivers. I don’t think a New York City cab driver could handle this. There are no traffic laws. There are not even traffic suggestions. Utter madness.
An hour after we leave the hotel (which based on our average rate of speed puts us about 500 miles from Beijing) we arrive in a gorge with mountains on either side of us and what can only be described as a Great Wall running every which way. Now while I will admit that the name “Great Wall” is not all that imaginary, I do have to say that it does fit. This is pretty impressive. Considering that the wall was begun in the 7th Century with constant lengthening and improvement for the next millennium to reach a final length of over 1,200 miles the sheer audacity it takes to even conceive of such a project is tremendous. The millions that died building what would eventually prove to be a fruitless attempt at maintaining national security give it the nickname the “longest cemetery in the world.”
At the Juyong Pass you can either take the western stretch of the wall which is a gently rising run that rises at what I would estimate a 20 degree angle, or you could go east and hike up a 60 degree suicide run almost straight up the side of a cliff wall. Needless to say, being a couple of people who often forget that our teenage years are all but unrecoverable, Dorothy and I took the east climb while everyone else strolled west. After 10 steps up I new we mad a big mistake. No two steps in a row had a rise that was even close to being the same which means that any hope for building up some sort of rhythm while climbing was impossible. We climbed up for an hour and maybe travelled no more than a half mile to the top. This was about the most exhausting thing I have done in the last 10 years.
Other than the exhaustion, it was an amazing experience. there are stretches of the stairway the make a 180 degree turn with barely enough room for one person to turn, never mind the several hundred people crowding the wall on this cold snowy day. If anyone ever lost their footing, they were going for a good couple of hundred yards on their face down the stairs before hitting a turn taking out everyone else on the way down. Imminent death has a way of invigorating one’s spirit.
Dorothy and I made it up and down in about an hour and a half feeling quite smug, especially when we met back up with the other less macho members of the group. We were tired but proud of ourselves. Mostly for not killing ourselves or anyone else on our day at the great Wall.
After the Great Wall, it was time for lunch. We went to the restaurant in the nearby friendship Store which would afford us some time to shop before our next destination. Needless to say I was taken aside by Dorothy and given a pep talk on how I was to behave. Suffice to say I was told to be very careful.
Lunch was yet another tasty meal punctuated by the spiciest dish we have been served yet. A Szechwan chicken dish that was not among the hottest things I have ever eaten but very tasty nonetheless. After the meal we were off to shop. Now I know I may have been a little hard on Dorothy in some of my previous postings but I now take it all back. I am scared to death of my wife. She is a force of nature. I can safely say that there are more than a few saleswomen at the store still bent over trying to catch their breath unsure of what just happened to them. Dorothy bargained these people down to depths that none of them have ever been to. More than one got glassy eyed during the negotiations and I was sure one of them was going to cry at one point.
We have a pretty good system going. Since I am so obviously a sucker, I stroll up to something we want to buy and let the girl give me her price. I look real eager like I can’t wait to be taken for a ride than out of nowhere Dorothy strikes! “What are you doing?” she asks me. I explain that we need to get something for person A and I think that he/she would really like this, beside this nice salesperson just gave me 5RMB off the marked price. I say all of this with a big smile like I just made the deal of the year with the salesgirl absolutely positive she just hoodwinked another sucker. Then Dorothy says “what are you an idiot?” You have to see the face of the salesgirl change when she does this. It must be the same look that a mouse has the split second before the mousetrap closes on him and breaks his neck. “We are not paying that price!” she says. I look apologetically at the girl who is too far in at this point to save herself so she asks Dorothy what she wants to pay and Dorothy gives her some outlandishly low price that sucks the wind out of this poor girl who starts looking at me pleadingly. “Sir, that is too low. What is your next price?” she will say to me trying to get the sucker back in the mix. “There is no next price,” Dorothy says. “We don’t really like it anyway,” and we start to walk away. Then the girl just caves and gives in because she has come too far to walk away with nothing. Dorothy hands me the money to pay and walks away leaving me with this girl who went from a 100% markup 2 minutes ago to maybe a single digit profit margin. It’s an outstanding con. One I am more than happy to look like a total wuss boy pulling.
After our shopping spree, it is off to the Ming Tomb. While the tomb is nice there is nothing really new so we walk around for about an hour and head back to the hotel. This is our last day with Bonnie as our guide and riding in the Death Bus with the madman Wang and they will be missed. We had a great time touring Beijing under their guidance and protection but we are here for other reasons and tomorrow we leave for Nanjing to get our daughter the day after that. So the next time you hear from us we will be mere hours away from expanding or family. So until next from the land of Mao…