Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Great Wall is a Great Scar on a Great Mountain

Saturday morning was our much-anticipated trip to the great wall. The trading company organized the trip for us. We employ the help of a girl from this company who’s helping us out with ‘logistics’ for our stay in Beijing named Jenny. She helped me get my hotel reservations for my weekend in Beijing (which were under the wrong name, but it was easily cleared up). Rumor has it is that she’s pretty good looking, so was looking forward to kickin it with a hottie for a day. Luckily, I got pretty wasted the night before so I knew that I’d be looking and feeling my best. I choked down some breakfast at the hotel buffet. As usual, most of breakfast was spent trying to get the attention of the coffee caddy guy. I know I must do something to improve my mood for the weekend, but massive amounts of coffee are the only thing my brain can comprehend. I know Jayson and I will have fun despite everyone else being around. Xinlei backed out at the last minute; he sent me a text message saying he was too hung-over to go. Good boy. I can respect that. Xinlei has done so much for us (especially me); I don't know how I will ever be able to repay him.

With each sight seeing trip I am reminded of how little I care for ‘sights’. We should take a sight seeing trip to an orphanage or a prison. The sights should reflect reality. I am well aware of China’s long, long past. But what seems to be put to the back of everyone’s mind is the troubled present of China, of how they are barely sustaining a standard of living, of how they are entering a whole new revolution, a revolution of Capitalism, of how they continue to push their weight around Taiwan and Tibet. Those are the sights that we need to stare at in awe and wonder and a concerned eye.

Jenny didn't disappoint, she was pretty smoking. I think this may have been part of the reason for Laura’s negative mood for the day, and the only reason I was in a good mood all day. I’ve noticed a lot of women get really uptight when they’re around attractive women, it’s the same principal that makes men get extra-macho around them. So as I walked through the lobby towards Jenny and the rest of the group I made sure to stop and pick up a table (strong) and kiss a baby (compassionate) while sucking my fat belly in. If I knew that on the elevator to the lobby I was about to take my last comfortable breath of the day, I probably would have enjoyed it longer. My hangover disappeared and my eyes brightened and I stepped off into the world of reluctant tourism.

Laura’s to the point now where she’s got a certain level of overconfidence and doesn't want to be shown around to anything. I feel the same way when people make me listen to ‘this album that you’re going to love.’ It’s a form of snobbery that we all suffer from from time to time and I’m probably the worst in the world about it, so I shouldn't cast stones. First off, we were taken to the Ming Tombs and she complained pretty much the whole time. She just wanted to go the Wall and taken back to the hotel so she could go off and do other stuff again without all of us ‘westerners’ around. I’ve been like that before, so I can’t fault her, in fact, I’m like that most of the time.

Mr. Feng, the project manager for PetroChina, provided us with a van for the day, yet another very gracious gesture that went largely unnoticed by everyone. He even showed us the courtesy of sending one of the safer drivers, not Honky McCarcrash. Mr. Feng has gone out of his way for Xinlei & myself to help us be comfortable and safe. I’ve noticed this in every country I’ve been to (except America of course). You really have to watch your mouth around people and think twice about what you say. I’m always making fun or bitching about stuff (99% of which is just to get a laugh or to hear my voice), in these places, they actually listen and pay attention to you. Everything said is heard loud and clear and several times already I’ve had to stop him or Xinlei or someone in the hotel from running off to flog someone or get me clean sheets or buy me a camel (sarcasm is a lost art in the eastern world). True hospitality has been put to lonely rest in America.

The Ming Tombs are sort of on the way to the portion of the Wall that we were to visit that afternoon, so it was a nice, simple side trip that I’m glad we made. My favorite part of the day was that we were actually out in the countryside. Beijing is a very flat city, with zero relief and I think that’s a part of the reason I don't really care for it. I’ve started to realize over the past couple of years that my heart is really in the mountains and not in the flat concrete wastelands of cities. Until I began visiting these enormous cities, I always pictured myself living there, being part of the scene, be and be seen, meet and greet, but I think I just need something simple for a time.

The Tombs were on the outskirts of the mountains and in a very pretty landscape (the word ‘pretty’ may make me sound gay or like a little girl, but that’s the only word I can think of). There was a long walkway to the tombs on a little mini-Great Wall (apparently, the Chinese like to build walls that are thick enough to be walked on). The Tombs themselves were kind of bland, basically underground cement warehouses with some boxes in it that hosted (past tense) the bodies of a few emperors and empresses. They reminded me of the warehouse at the end of Indiana Jones.

My continuing showing off (picking up villagers, throwing donkeys, dancing with policemen, posing for pictures with vegetables, singing Bob Dylan songs to a hip-hop beat only heard in my head, snapping trees in half using only my thumbs) has already paid big dividends with Jenny. I was posing by a sign that said ‘Way Out’ talking with Jayson and she came up to me just laughing her ass off.

“I like you because you’re so funny and so tall and so fat!” Hee-hee-hee.

Of course Jayson was right there and about spit beer out of his nose laughing. Marlow, laughing, Marla, laughing, Jenny, laughing, Laura, who knows where she’s at (probably negotiating with a street vendor for a musical instrument made out of pig toes and bamboo). Luke, bright red.

There it is, first impression. Funny and fat, all in one extra-large package of fat, rolled up in a tunic of lard with easy grip love handles. What about strong? Didn't you see me break the head of that 4000-year-old lion/turtle statue? What about nimble and loving? Didn't you see me walk across three kilometers of telephone cable just to rescue that kitten? I DID IT ALL FOR YOU JENNY!!!! Nope, still fat.

Of all the thing’s I’m self conscious about, the first is my body, so this hit particularly close to home. Not enough to make me bulimic or anything, but ouch anyway. Turns out that ‘fat’ is the only word she knows for ‘not-Minute Bol.’ Ok, she’s forgiven, for now. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go juggle those Ming Sarcophagi, are you watching Jenny?!

There are actually 13 tombs here, we only went to one. That was plenty in our minds. We spent about an hour walking around the area and decided to hop in the bus again towards our next destination, which we all assumed would be the Wall.

It was actually about noon already, so Jenny thought I’d be a good idea to stop for lunch, just a quick bite before heading to the Wall. We stopped at a pretty questionable restaurant near the Tombs and ate a questionable lunch. None of us ate a whole lot; I was slightly hung over from the previous night and taking care of my stomach. I never thought that I would have to think of availability and quality of bathrooms for the rest of the day when I choose my food. After lunch, Jenny thought it would be cool for us to go to a peach orchard & pick our own peaches & eat them right off the tree. None of us were really that excited about it, but what the hell, it was a big deal to her & she was very hot, so I was on her side. Laura just wouldn't let it go though, mumbling under her breath from the back of the van, but still loud enough for me to hear. It was quite annoying. I’m usually not surprised by my rudeness, but other peoples always kind of gets me. I live my life by the double standard and it’s one of my worst personality traits. Unfortunately, we couldn't find a place to pick fruit, everyone she asked looked at her like she was crazy and I wanted to go and stab them for looking at her like that. Jenny was disappointed but the rest of us were pretty much un-phased.

On to the Wall. We were pretty sure that we were on our way to Badaling portion of the wall, which is the most popular area, which means there would be several million people wanting to get the best view of the Wall. When I say ‘we’, I’m referring to everyone else because I don't really care and am really not paying attention. Laura and Jayson were trying to talk Jenny into taking us to a ‘better’ place according to the Lonely Planet guide, but she said it was a long ways away. So we just assumed we were on our way to tourist-central. The area we actually stopped at was pretty desolate and there were maybe a couple hundred people there and about 198 of them looked like they live there.

Chairman Mao once said that in order to be a real man, you must climb to the top of the Great Wall & we were all bound and determined to do it. It looks so peaceful from the road, nice sloping wall, bounding into the horizon. After we got our tickets, we saw it as more of a straight up staircase as far as the eye could see. This Stairway to Manhood was one of the most painful walks of my life, but dammit, I really want the dead communist leader to realize that I am a man. Every stair was different, some one or two blocks tall, some five or six, some a foot deep, some six inches, some two feet. But all of them were slightly moist & very slippery & they all headed straight up. Don't let the pictures on the postcards fool you, this wall is not something that would be fun to ride a skateboard on or take a leisurely stroll with the loved one of your choice on a Sunday afternoon. As I was throwing up off the edge of the wall, I remember thinking that the popular places are probably popular for a reason, some for their scenic beauty, some for their impeccable bathrooms, some for the fantastic rides, some are likely popular simply because there are no stairs.

It took us about an hour to reach the top & become men (even the women were given complimentary balls). We were all sweating and hot, Marla was about to pass out, Jenny was sporting one of those famous welders-masks-sunglass-windshields that is all the rage here, Jayson and Laura were dying, Marlow looked like he was a step away from a heart attack or stroke. My legs were hurting pretty good, but I was probably the least torn down by the trip, which is not saying much for everyone else. Jenny is crazy, she did the whole thing in jeans & high heels (and windshield), she should receive two sets of balls for that.

Marlow brought along his video camera today. I absolutely hate video cameras, I can barely look at pictures of myself, but watching me in real-life-awkwardness is simply too much. I tried to explain this to him, but it didn't matter, he had that thing to his eye the entire day. Every time I turned around, that camera was on me. He kept saying, “Do one of those funny things that you’re always doing.”

“You mean throw your camera into the lake? Or how about that funny thing where I shove it up your ass? Yeah, I like that one better, it’ll he hilarious.”

I’m really not that funny most of the time, but people often see me as nice comic relief. I think it’s because of my way of making fun of myself; it makes people feel happier for some reason. In his mind, I was going to talk into my shoe like a phone, or wear a lampshade, or maybe dance a jig, or drop a little “What’s the deal with Chinese people…” Give me a break. Unfortunately, instead of me telling jokes & riding a unicycle he got me giving Jenny the stalker-stare down all day and trying to hit on her. So I guess technically, he did get me on camera doing on something funny.

The view was fantastic, even though it was still very overcast. The mountains are where it’s at; forget the stress and pain of the city give me Desolation Angels and pick me up in three months. My heart always rises along with the mountains and fresh air. I try to figure out why I have this sudden urge of isolation. I’ve been feeling my ‘people skills’ falling away from my personality gradually over the last few years. I think part of it is that my self-confidence has been shot to pieces by heartbreak and despair caused by other people and disappointment in what I’ve made of myself. I go through seemingly happy periods where I make the mistake in believing in others and of course it always ends in disaster with my head and heart and soul paying the price. My hopes are built high in a friend or a woman who I think may be special and it turns out to be the same as ever, the thought of happiness clouds my mind from the truth of my life. Mountains are eternal wisdom. They represent something that I cannot destroy with my hopes, they breathe confidence from their peaks, a confidence that I wish I could replicate. Peaks that have seen, valleys that have done, slopes that have and will be.

The walk down was much quicker and all was good in the world for that brief time. I kind of pulled myself away with my thoughts and took it all in, knowing that in a few mere hours, I would be back in the land of distractions and noise of voices that I cannot understand coming from eyes that I can understand.

After the Great Staircase of China, Jenny took us ahead to the real tourist part of the wall, but none of us were in the mood to see any more brick, steps, umbrellas or anything that was farther away than a refrigerator. We walked around the place for a brief time and decided to head back to the city. After dropping us off at the hotel, Jenny was off and once again I was unsuccessful at rustling up any female support. We talked quite a bit throughout the day and she was pretty cool, but the writing is on the wall and I will probably never see her again.
Anyway, back to the heat. Back to the flood of people. Back to the humidity. Back to the pollution. Back to the work, the flies, isolation and sad energy of life.


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