I totally didn’t expect to post anything while on vacation, but felt I had to after having such a fun day at the Great Wall.
My family and I are on a week long vacation in Beijing for the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival break. Through Marriott, the hotel we are staying in, we found this extremely nice driver who not only provided us transportation, but also the most pleasant conversation, tour guide experiences and practical assistance. His humor and wittiness transcend the limits of any language barrier.
Here is why I liked him: he went above and beyond his job description and made sure we had a good day. The day before our trip to the Great Wall, he called me and suggested a list of things to bring: water, snacks, etc. because everything sold on site is overpriced beyond belief.
And we learned that first-hand.
Sellers are scattered at various sections of the Wall, selling water, snacks, souvenirs of all kinds. Since we packed water and snacks (thanks to our driver), we didn’t really need to stop at any. But upon seeing us, one of the enthusiastic sellers picked up a couple of his trinkets and started jingling in front of our children. It was a cute plate on which “I Have Climbed the Great Wall” is engraved. I asked him how much it was sold for. 25rmb ($4), he said. After a round of fun bargaining which is customary with all street vendors in China, I bought it for 20rmb (3rmb). Not bad. A great souvenir, especially when the seller inscribes your name and date on it.
Just when I was finishing up the transaction, a fellow tourist, an American – I gathered from her accent – walked by and wanted to buy a mini Snickers bar, the size you would pay 3rmb for, this lady bought it for 50rmb!
While she was looking at the plate in my hand, the seller became very nervous and whispered in my ear, “Don’t tell her how much you paid for.” OK, I said, knowing right away why he said that to me.
You see, almost all sellers in China have two sets of pricing system. Lower prices are basically for the locals, i.e. the black hair mass; while a much higher price is reserved only for those foreign folks.
Even though I promised the young seller I would not reveal the good deal, my husband who almost never bothers about how much I pay for things, asked at this very moment, “So how much is it?” Twenty, I blurted out, having no choice but out with the truth.
Now it was the seller’s turn to be very displeased with me. “You ruined my business! I wanted to sell that to her for 120rmb ($20)” From 20rmb to 120rmb, that is big profit! Even though his accusation was not entirely emotionally charged, I could sense the resentment. I grabbed my souvenir, and my children and fled the scene, leaving my husband there, alone and confused.
Not sure why I felt so uneasy.
Is it because I felt I had exploited the seller? After all, the man needs to climb thousands of steep stairs in the scorching sun, with his heavy goods, not only plates, medals, but giant bottles of wines and cans of beers. Isn’t he entitled a little profit? I even haggled with him!
Or was I troubled because I would have concealed the great bargain from the American lady if I had a choice, and she would have paid a crazy price for something that is worth only a few dollars.
I felt so much better after leaving that scene. Our driver was certainly right about the overpriced goods on the Wall.
He was also right about another fact – the climbing to Mutianyu (the section of the Wall we chose to go) is very steep and challenging. Mutianyu is the middle section of the wall, the older wall, too, between Badaling (the most well-preserved and touristy), and Simatai (the less known one). That’s what he told us along the drive to the foot of the Wall. He also described the starting (Shanhaiguan) and ending (Gansu province) parts of the Wall in great detail and vigor. Even though his version may not be entirely true to the historical or geographical facts, I am quoting him because it must be popular beliefs among Beijingers.
The climb up is steep but manageable. Many times we stopped for rest and water breaks. The sun was sizzling, our sweat was poring, but our two children were real troopers. Even though we didn’t make it all the way to the top of the mountain, we managed 3/4 of the climb. We walked and stopped, stopped and climbed more. It’s really like what Nelson Mandela said: “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. …”
While climbing, our two children really admired the Wall, awed by its colossal size and marveled at the fact this great wonder was actually made two thousand years ago when mankind could not rely on the help of modern technology. My son pondered at the splendor of the enormous project, as to how long it might have taken to complete it and how many laborers had participated, how many didn’t make it to the end to see the complete work, etc.
On the way back to the hotel, the boy said with pride, “Now I’ve REALLY been to China!”