My toes are numb, I’m not sure I even have toes anymore. We have elected to take a tour to “the secret wall” somewhere along China’s nearly 4000 mile “Great Wall”. This is in the dead of mid April, Spring in many parts of the northern Hemisphere, but here winter’s icy tentacles are far reaching and we are bundled up in multiple layers of clothing. We are all huddled in an old van for 3 hours to this “secret spot”. The dense, grey gloomy fog of Beijing becomes noticeably worse as we reach the mountains. Visibility drops as does the overall light and a gloomy mist and fog soon blankets everywhere. Passing Badaling, the main drop off point for tourists wishing a cursory glance at the wall – we see floating shadows in the mist, those poor suckers are not able to see 10 feet in front of them.
The misty Great Wall of China
We reach our destination after passing through several barely seen villages in the mist – a drop off point next to the dirt road. We gasp as we step out of the van, ice clinging to the bare bushes, a few faded brown leaves coat the ground, remnants of last year. A wizened short old Chinese lady, well wrapped to guard against the chilling cold meets up with us. She quickly shouts what us non native speakers judge to be “lets go now, if we walk fast maybe we warm up”. The narrow trail quickly climbs and as we walk, branches grab our clothes leaving frigid unwanted gifts of ice and water stuck to our clothes and heads.
After an hour of steady climbing we reach a small wall which we clamber up on the ruins of rocks that have fallen off. This is our introduction to the “Great Wall”, or what is left of it as its height over time has been reduced by at least half. With the incessant fog we can only see mere feet in front of us as we start hiking our part of this, the world’s first and longest mega long distance stone trail. Compared to relatively nearby Badaling, we have it good here. We run into no other people in our 2+ hours of hiking.
We’ve heard about this exotic market, a bustling place where one could sample snake and scorpions and a bunch of other odd things locals deem fit to put in one’s mouth. A fellow tourist said find the large Mao image on the north part of Tiananmen Square, take a right, then a left then a right and after a few lefts and rights we were utterly confused as to its location. Rather than walking we found a bicycle driver and after a few minutes of heated exchanges and multiple drivers wedging their way in front of us we found one who fended off the attacks from his fellow drivers and offered us a much lower price.
Upon arriving at the Dong Hua Men night market we could quickly see that “bustling” was an understatement. Perhaps words like ant farm and lack of moveable space would more appropriately describe the situation here. Wall to wall crowds fought for space coupled with the fact that most people were eating odd foods on sticks while they walked, all made for a chaotic experience. Within the span of 5 minutes I had eagerly thrown back snake, scorpions and fat juicy cocoons (thick skin on the outside with lots of tasty protein on the inside dribbling down ones lips if one wasn’t careful to keep one’s mouth closed), all of which were presented live on a stick before being doused in boiling water or fried in front of you.
The chaos presented by the local Asian tourists was somewhat under control yet an underlying hysteria was present for the exotic and the unique delectables – or perhaps the greater interest was in actually watching tourists eat these foods. And locals tourists flock to this market in droves – a quick glance at numbers of buses lined up was testament to that.
Don Hua Men night market