2009 TNT Travel Writing Awards entrant.
Author: Lauren Kraus
The Great Wall, despite doing an excellent job of ‘keeping the rabbits out’ was actually built on China’s border 2000 years ago. The section of wall we climbed used to divide China from Mongolia at the time it was built. The wall is 6000km long and can be seen from out of space! The friendly locals follow you like a shadow and ‘help’ you climb. However payment comes later in the form of overpriced souvenirs. After being clued up by our tour leader, I confidently informed my Sheppard that I wouldn’t be requiring any assistance today. Only to be scammed by the cutest 70 year old farmer from Mongolia who was sitting at the top of the wall, alone with his walking stick, contemplating the world. I couldn’t help but strike up a conversation with this small old man and soon he had charmed me into purchasing a bottle of water for 10 Yuan (normally priced at 1 Yuan). I have always been a sucker for cute old people. The lines on his face told of a lifetime of smiles. I wish I too could one day be scared in such away from laughter. He powered along in front of us with his walking stick. He still had a boyish twinkle in his eyes and on occasion he would put in a little ‘let’s go!’ as encouragement, pumping the arm not holding the walking stick in the air. It wasn’t soon before others in the group warmed to his charm. Between us we purchased hats, shirts, postcards and beverages. When he had run out of things for us to purchase he let us go on our way. Soon we ran into another young guy who was fully stocked with merchandise having been unable to sell anything all day. We did however purchase a cold beer for 3 Yuan (a third of the price I had purchased my un-chilled water for).
At the Terracotta Warriors we got to look into the eyes of soldiers that were set in stone over two thousand years ago. Each warrior is unique and has stood patiently protecting the tomb of their emperor. This treasure was only uncovered in 1974 by a farmer digging a well.
As they say, when in China do as the Chinese do. This means squatting and spitting. As my friend puts it Chinese toilets ‘are all about personal growth.’ To assist in national plumbing, toilet paper does not get flushed with the rest of your business, instead people leave their small pieces of art in the basket beside the toilet for the next lucky exhibitor to marvel at. Most of the toilets in China are squats. With all the steps leading up to the door you think you are about to find a thrown, only to be greeted by a hole in the ground, a smack in the face (bad smell) and if you are lucky a hand rail to hold onto and a shovel for bad aims. In Xian a whole new level of personal development and character building was reached, with toilets consisting of a small canal which you would squat over. If you went on the end you could wave to everyone else’s business as it floated past.
Pollution envelopes China’s cities drowning out the sky. This is a recipe for charcoal flavored flem and snot that resembles boot polish. The cheeky Chinese seem to have ‘a better out than in’ mentality. Why waste a perfectly good tissue, when you can just block one nostril with your finger and blow. When we travelled on a local bus we were greeted by a sizable bucket in the isle. I felt re-assured that they catered for people like myself that commonly get motion sickness. No sooner had I had this thought that a local kicked the bucket forward and landed a massive flem missile. Bam! My friend, embracing local culture and ‘getting amongst it’, studied the local’s techniques including voice inclination and neck rotation. By the end of the trip he was taking a small run up and getting his whole body behind it to shoot to impressive distances, not to be outdone by the locals. By the end of the trip I stopped ducking every time I heard someone starting to hock. It is like hearing the sound of a car’s screeching brakes you hold your breath and cringe a little waiting for the bang. When you hear hocking behind you, you know what is coming, you just don’t know where?