Normally, I would have been completely ecstatic to report that after years of anticipation I have finally made it to that wonder of the world I’ve wanted to see for so long. But, unfortunately, I’m not.
My visit to the Great Wall of China – Badaling part – in Beijing will mostly be remembered for the two things that make almost every single trip I take to mainland China impossible to enjoy – pollution and the Chinese masses.
I have tried my best, I really did, to find one decent photo of the walls to be able to show its grandeur, its overwhelming magnificence, its demonstration of Chinese greatness, but all I’m left with are photos of pollution mist covered masses of people pushing their way through.
Sure, it’s worth a visit. There’s no doubt that the Chinese have something here that everyone should see – a tourist mecca. Climbing up those walls does live up to all the clichés – you see history, you feel history. But you have to fight hard to maintain and remember that feeling, as it mixes with extreme emotions of disappointment and irritation.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the pollution. The whole experience requires every last particle of patience you have left in you. It’s those endless traffic jams – that even leaving very early in the morning wouldn’t help with. It’s the hordes of local Chinese tourists I remember well from the Shanghai Expo who show anything but face, respect, and humility. It’s the over-sell commercialization of the site with horribly misplaced amusement park rides to go down. It’s not hard to imagine how this could have been much better.
And we’ve really tried our best. We took an exclusive Novotel posh tour with a decent private guide and van. We chose the best possible time of the year, with the best possible weather we could find on our few-days visit to Beijing and it was a weekday. I can’t possibly imagine how things are on a weekend, or a Chinese holiday, or on a normal pollution day. It must be a real nightmare.
With all that said, I believe my father had a fairly good time. The attention he got from the Chinese masses was unparalleled to anything I’ve seen before. When I left him for half an hour to venture further down the wall and then came back to find him, he was surrounded by Chinese tourists lining up to take photos with him. Even after a couple of weeks being a celebrity in China, my father still had no idea how to deal with all that attention and the Chinese tourists simply did not take no for an answer. It took some insistence to be able free him away from the demanding turned disappointed crowd.
So, there you have it. Enjoy my polluted memories of the Great Wall of China.
Really hope one day, some day – hopefully not too far away – things will be different in China and I’ll be able to return to all those high-expectation-big-disappointment sites and see them in their full glory.