As we ran across the dam and onto to the trail leading up to the Wall, our friend was yelling, “They have guns! Oh no! They have guns!” I almost peed my pants, mostly because I was laughing so hard and was trying to hold it, so I didn’t have to use open air facilities.
I have been to the Great Wall at least 12 times. I never tired of it and it was one of my favorite things about China. The first time I saw it, I was filled with the same awe and child-like wonderment I felt when I saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time. Both were much bigger than I had imagined, and while I knew the Great Wall snaked thousands of miles, it wasn’t until I was standing on it that I truly understood it’s scope. Just imagine, standing on a wall that is almost as wide as a two-lane road, 20 feet high, or higher, and that winds along mountain tops as far as you can see. By the way, did you know it’s a myth that the Great wall can be seen from the moon? It’s true, Google it and check NASA’s website, they have a section about it.
Anyway, it was Winter and we had a couple friends visiting us from the States. Other friends who lived in Beijing also happened to have visitors, so we all decided to rent a van and driver to see the Great Wall at a place called Huanghua. It’s a less touristy part of the Wall near a small village where most of the population makes extra money by charging a 35 cent toll to have access to the trail leading up the the mostly unrestored sections. Technically, no one is allowed on these parts of the Wall, but local government turns a blind eye just as long as they get their share. We had gone many times before and were prepared … or so we thought.
The day we happened to arrive two women were selling firecrackers near the path to the Wall. A couple of Chinese tourists were haggling for some as we passed them on the way to the trail that leads up to it. At this section of the Wall, you must go over the mouth of a dam, which at the time, was just a bunch of concrete blocks set at large intervals across the rushing water. It was easy going to get across since the water was frozen. As a group of six, we were making our way across the dam when we heard a lot of popping. One of our friends, known for being a troublemaker, started yelling, “They have guns! Oh no! They have guns”!
It’s hard to describe what happened next, other than to say in our minds there really was someone after us and it was a matter of life and death to make it up the trail to the Wall before we could be caught by the toll taker of the day. It happened to be an older lady with an axe.
This lady was on the older side and was grouchy. Not just grouchy, but ticked off grouchy that a bunch of “kids” were trying to blow past her without paying the toll. She started yelling and waving her axe and I just got past her when she hoofed it up the trail, breezed by me with our gang leader in her sights. I was laughing and trying not to pee my pants … everyone else was screaming like little girls as we all stumbled up the trail with the axe lady determined not to let us on the Wall. If she beat all of us, then we couldn’t get away with saying some of our friends didn’t have to pay, so we all shouldn’t have to. Oh no, we were going to pay. The determined axe lady beat us to the top, climbed the rickety ladder scaling the Wall and started yelling at us in a dialect we didn’t understand. One by one she came up to us and waved the axe around for good measure to show us she meant business. Our troublemaker friend, who had wound us all up into a frenzy, made a half-hearted attempt to reason with her that “the Wall is open to everyone and should be free”. It took little convincing that we needed to pay up after she waved the axe around some more.
The axe lady stayed on the Wall to monitor us after she got her money and, while she wasn’t looking, someone hid her axe from her. When she noticed, we all got another verbal assault. She didn’t stop yelling until her axe was returned.
All’s well that ends well. By the time we left, she knew we were harmless … just a bunch of crazy foreigners who brought our remote control cars to drive on the Wall.
My husband, one year old son and I will be returning to Beijing in December for a visit and are planning a trip to the Great Wall. Will the axe lady be there? We shall have to wait and see.
See Myra’s personal blog: The Interactive Expat