Higgins: Significance in a rural getaway

BY CHRIS HIGGINS | JULY 13, 2015 5:00 AM

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DI staffer Chris Higgins is interning abroad at China Daily this summer.

The following is a list of those who can accurately be described as “saviors”:

• A local intern who managed to snag an internship at a local expat brewery: Your phone had data credit on it, but more importantly, you speak and understand Chinese at a level I truly aspire to. That’s not hyperbole; you were able to speak with the construction workers littered throughout the Great Wall to get us to some path, any path off the Wall  — any way to reach a vertical descent.

As the steps grew steep in the July sun and, at times nonexistent, you kept us on track to keep moving forward (even if it meant carrying another intern on your back for the final stretch). You’ve solidified my decision to finish learning Chinese.

• The construction workers littered throughout the Great Wall: In China, expectations should be completely disregarded. They end up thoroughly debunked, anyway. For example, at any spot off from the tourist-clogged and maintained stretches of the Great Wall, expect a hike that is rather strenuous — or, as one intern put it, “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.”

Don’t expect pure tranquility, for that matter. In the quest to save said Wall, much of our journey was marked with piles of concrete dust and vats of acid labeled “corrosive” (in English). Of course, they join scores of constructions works repaving sections of the wall. As we clambered over each stone, pausing for simultaneous breathers/photo opportunities, the workers were friendly faces to give a simple “ni hao” to and provided the necessary inspiration to keep moving forward (and the necessary directions to keep moving down).

• Those two guys at an unexpected entrance to a path leading to the Wall: This certainly came as a bit of a surprise to me (remember, no expectations), but their generously offered sugar water was truly a blessing. We unfortunately didn’t catch their names, and we’re left to assume what their jobs are in the concrete garden at an entrance of the Wall.

Our brains were a bit addled and a set of pastel-colored pennants waved in the wind by the road, celebrating our successful emergence to the wrong parking lot after a nearly seven-hour hike up, down, and around the Wall. By this point, I was coated in a fine sheen of Great Wall dust.

The steaming sugar water, poured liberally from a thermos, gave me just enough energy to wait for Mr. Chen, of the local expat brewery, and his arrival to reflect on what we had all just done. It felt surreal, with only the tingling sunburn reminding me of reality. Maybe we didn’t grab their names, but that little parking lot outpost, little bit of water, and little bit of shade will be forever etched.

• The Chen family, with their air-conditioned Volkswagen: And back to the farm we went. Going with the whole “no expectations” theme, I expected to leave Beijing to hit, say Shanghai or another major city, but in this case, my first time out of the city in a month led me to the Chen family’s property, part of which the couple has converted into a B&B-type place named “Great Wall Fresh.”

They helped save me from my own expectations of my trip to China, where I dreamed of subways and dumplings— and not blue-tongued dogs named Tiede in rural Hebei. Bleating sheep at the foot of a mountain. Souvenir honey. A magnificent time, nonetheless.

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