Sunday, October 09, 2005

Lost and Found

Our last few days in China were a blur. We flew from Yichang back to Beijing on Tuesday night and spent the next two days exploring Beijing. We spent our last day at the Great Wall.

It was in Yichang that we last spoke with Chinese nationals who weren't trying to close a sale. While resting in a park near the Yangtze, we were approached by two men who spoke English. Their language was rough, but Yichang is rarely frequented by Westerners, and I was impressed that they had learned so much with so few native English speakers to practice with. We talked about God, we talked about organized religion, we talked about quality of life and the hours most people work. We talked about family and about the real buying power of Chinese and American paychecks. We talked about Capitalism and American politics. My new Chinese friends even asked about what I thought of the Chinese government. I carefully explained that my guide book warned me against talking to Chinese people about their government because such a conversation might get them into trouble. They laughed and changed the subject.

We spent nearly two hours talking in the park. Most of the time we were surrounded by crowds of Chinese people who couldn't understand us. Even so, they were curious. Occassionally the crowd would disperse and a new crowd would appear. Just as we had for the past week, we were learning about a new part of the world by living an afternoon there. I even learned a few more Mandarin words.

Returning to Beijing was a shock. Our time was mostly spent shopping and bar-hopping in the upscale touristy districts that we had missed two weeks earlier. At shopping markets and expensive lakeside night spots we were targeted by every Chinese person who could say "hello." The shopping was great. Prices were low and there were so many exciting mementos to choose from. Learning to bargain is an important part of learning life in China and I'm glad that I had a chance to try it, but our rapid-fire consumerism felt sadly familiar. It was in Beijing that the curious solitude of traveling in a foreign country began to melt away.

On our last day in China we made the four-hour trek from Beijing to the Great Wall. Hands down, this was the most breathtaking sight of our tour. The wall itself is settled proudly along the top of a mountain range. It separates the lush green of China and the golden rolling hills of inner Mongolia. We had plenty of experiences to rival seeing this wonder, but the Great Wall produced the best views and the best photos on our trip. Kodak moment? You bet it was.

We tried to venture off the beaten path and visit the Simatai section of the wall. Unlike the section which is nearest to Beijing, the Simatai section hasn't been restored and still stands in its ancient form. This section of the wall was still pretty touristy. When they are not needed on their farms, Chinese women earn extra money by escorting tourists along the Great Wall. They start following Westerners, refuse to go away, and guilt people into buying expensive souvenirs after assisting them across kilometers of the wall. Needless to say, Devin and I were not overlooked. Perhaps because we were the only Americans amongst many Europeans along the Great Wall, we actually ended up with two women guiding our trip.

The wall follows the peaks and rivets of the top of a mountain range, so traveling the wall involves a lot of climbing up and down. We were lead off of the wall by our guides who promised to show us a short-cut through the Chinese country side. They delivered. The walk through the country side was so interesting. I met skinny, wizened farmers and was allowed to pet their livestock. We returned to the Great Wall 17 towers ahead and well in time to catch our bus back. We were duly ripped off shortly before climbing back onto the wall. Our guides made us feel so badly about 'leading' them on a long hike that we paid 100 Yuan for a book and a T-Shirt. They need the money, and we were greatful for the shortcut, so I have no hard feelings. It's just hard to eventually say no after already buying several expensive things from poor people.

We climbed the last few towers in our tour and ziplined down the side of the mountain away from the Great Wall. Yes ziplined. As in, I flew by the seat of my pants down a cord several hundred feet in the air. Devin flew with me, so at least I wasn't alone.

We rode our bus back to Beijing and returned that evening to a shopping center to pick up suits and dresses from our tailor. We were targetted even harder to buy and spend. We rose early the next morning to visit the Beijing antique market. The goods were beautiful. Even more English speakers wrangled with us to buy and spend. A man actually grabbed me and tried to keep me from walking away from his booth. At noon, we boarded a twelve hour flight to San Francisco and arrived in the city at 8am on the same Saturday that began in Beijing 16 hours earlier.

As we moved into the English-speaking crowd I was overwhelmed by nearby conversations that I could understand. My cell phone signal picked up and I had messages to check. The steady whir of a familiar world filled my mind. Yet everything seemed less urgent than it had before I left.

Yesterday I washed my crummy old car and imagined what it would be like to have a new one. I won't for a while because I blew the money on China. But I didn't really blow it. A new car payment would strengthen the ties that hold me to the swarm of uneccesary obligations that buzz in my head. Get thin, find a showy job, make more money, buy a new car. Insyead, I spent some money on getting lost and I remembered to spend time finding myself.

In China, I remembered that the world is an awesome place, and I learned that no part of it is ever really out of reach. I always have options. So many of us do. I am so wonderfully and incredibly privileged. So many of us are. I've built my world as it is, and each of the decisions that I have made are important reflections of what I want. If they aren't, there is always room to begin a new path in life. And as long as I can go without a new car, the rest of the world and every opportunity it offers are never far away.

Photos, Photos, Photos!!

Everything you never wanted to read about but sorta wanted to see.
For the bored and the curious; the quicker versions of my thousand words.


  • At 9:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    welcome back!

  • At 9:10 AM, Anonymous sharon said…

    welcome back!

  • At 1:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Dear Pam,
    This is my third attempt to share my comments with you. Thank you to Devon for helping me through the registration. Your closing thoughts about losing and finding oneself is so true and that "experience" is repeated throughout one's life if the individual is aware that it is important to change and adjust to the passages of time. Devon's pictures fit your journaling so well. It is wonderful to gain a new perspective of the world by traveling. I hope the two of you can continue your travels.
    Love, mom


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