Dinner Reservations at the Great Wall of China

Friday, July 19th 2019

Great Wall of China, Table for Eight

I didn’t find anything approaching profundity or enlightenment at the top of the Great Wall just a couple hours outside Bejing, but I did find an old man selling Snickers bars for three dollars.

I walked along the wall for a good long time, leaving the older tourists and the little babies climbing steps much taller than they were. Even the little boy in a hat who kept waving and couldn’t seem to stop staring—maybe not sure what to make of my western features.

Part of me expected something profound waiting for me at the top of one of the ramparts. When I arrived, seemingly away from people, there was an old man sitting there with a blanket full of candy and snacks. I pointed at the snickers bar. About $3. I laughed and kept walking…. “$2!” He said as I kept walking. It’s a tactic you have to reserve for the end, but the walking away is an important and necessary step in any bargaining.

Editors Note: I wrote this many years ago, before Donald Trump was president. Reading those words now I hear his voice, talking about how you have to be willing to "walk away" and it makes me angry.

But I wasn’t really hungry so I kept exploring. I wouldn’t have time to make it all the way around the loop.

It’s not a magical place like Machu Picchu or other ruins. It’s preserved. It’s purpose is tactical and purposeful; not divine. You can tell. It’s beautiful but didn’t quite inspire the same wonder and mystery as other places. It's made by people to protect some people, and keep others out. It is not holy. There is wonder here, but not a long-forgotten question as to why the place was built.

I stepped through a doorway into an open air courtyard and saw a wooden table with 8 chairs around it. I looked around. Nobody in sight. Utterly surreal — like a secret room or mystery to solve in Myst. A honeybee buzzed by my head. I flicked it away, wondering how it got up here with all the wind. Other than that we were alone. Me, the honeybee and eight chairs at the table.

I descended the wall and made my way back. The first bus back to Beijing left without me, without much of an explanation. But I made it onto the second one, and made it to my debriefing in time before making my way to North Korea the next day.