great adventures on the great wall

For the past year I've been trying to work out the best course of action when it comes to resting before early morning flights. I've slept in the day before and lounged around the house until it was time to get ready for my flight. I've increased by caffeine intake and ran on coffee alone. The best method thus far seems to be staying up late the night prior, waking up early, and then sleeping all afternoon. Even this plan is not fool-proof. I've yet to perfect my methods, and 3 am flights are never done without great fatigue.

It was 1 am and I was on my way to yet another grossly early flight. I'd typically be crawling into bed around that time of night, so to be heading off to work is never an easy task. Fortunately, I was going to Beijing, China. I was motivated by thoughts of cheap shopping and determined to persuade some of the newer crew members to finally go to the Great Wall with me.

It was a long and extremely quiet flight. I was the only girl in the back galley and the guys were far less chatty than my typical mostly-girl crews. We did mention the fact that it was Ash Wednesday, thus the first day of Lent, and that as Catholics we should be giving something up for the next 40 days. In my tired state I agreed to sacrifice chocolate without fully thinking my decision through. Goodbye my lover, I'll miss you until Easter! The few passengers that we had slept as we sat in the galley thinking of ways to stay awake. I found myself pacing up and down the aisles several times in a desperate attempt to find some hidden energy. I was full of energy very briefly as I looked at the live map to discover that we were cruising past Mt. Everest. I ran to my door to open the window, where I was blinded by the bright light shining into the pitch black cabin. After my eyes had the opportunity to adjust, I was rewarded with an incredible view of the Himalayas below… they seemed so close! I grabbed my camera and took a few shots. Everest was buried in a blanket of clouds but many other snowcapped peaks were visible standing in all of their glory. This image brought me back to flights in my own country, so of course I muttered on about Canada and how I spend my weekends in the Rockies and about how excited I was to be going home next week. Nobody really cared, but I've grown accustomed to that. I'm a bit overly patriotic sometimes.

Landing into Beijing was a bumpy ride and the large volumes of coffee I'd consumed were not sitting too well. I felt a bit ill but I chalked it down to fatigue and felt much better after a nap on the bus ride to the hotel. I agreed to meet the boys for shopping (yes, I just said that… and they were both straight!) in 20 minutes and rushed to my room to rub off the lipstick and attempt to tame my hair. I stood at my door for what must have been 5 minutes, frustrated with the fact that my key card was not working. "Why does this ALWAYS happen to me?!", I thought. Annoyed, I proceeded to reception to complain. Halfway there it dawned on me that I was in fact staying in room 804, not 820. I don't really know how I confused the 2 being that they aren't similar at all. I probably was in no state to be out in public, but I went downstairs to the lobby where the rest were waiting patiently for me.

We caught a taxi to Newmarket, the tamer version of the absolutely insane Silk Market. The sales people were still pushy and persistent, but at least here they didn't attempt to drag you to their shops and get angry when you bargained for lower prices. My first stop was the DVD shop, as my roommate Kim and I are becoming increasingly devoted couch potatoes lately. I searched for the second season of Glee, but when I was able to find it I picked up seasons 1-6 of Grey's Anatomy, which should keep us entertained for quite some time!

It was on the the main shops, and tagging along with me was Ilatia from Fiji. It was his first time in Beijing and he was slightly overwhelmed and unsure of where to go. I gave him a basic run down (Do not pay more than 1/3 of their original asking price, do not buy more than you can fit in your suitcase, and DO NOT let them make you feel guilty for trying to get a lower price), while secretly hoping that I could take my own advice. We parted ways so that I could head to the basement…. shoes and purses! I bought a few pretty yet unnecessary items and I was proud of my bargaining skills which were a vast improvement from my first journey to the Chinese markets. It was time to meet the boys, so I proceeded to the entrance with my purchases and found them both standing empty-handed and flustered. They had such high hopes of finding great things, but they needed more time. We agreed to go for dinner and then continue shopping, although I was already toting more than I needed to own. For dinner, I settled on kimchee fried rice and fried dumplings, both of which were delicious. I wandered the tourist level with Fiji (far easier to pronounce than his actual name) as Alex from France rushed to finish his shopping. We came across a shop with small colourful lanterns, which we needed to own. After bargaining to a fraction of the asking price, Fiji bought 5 and I grabbed 2. They'll look beautiful in mine and Ryan's home, some day! We were all shopped out and I was tired of hearing "Lady, come I give good deal!", so we went to the entrance to wait for Alex and return to the hotel. We waited, and we waited, until finally we saw him rushing through the crowd apologizing for taking so long. He had bags in his hand and he was satisfied, so it was back to the hotel. Bed time was long overdue. I barely had the energy to shower, but once I'd done so I plopped into my bed and dozed off into dreamland.

The next day I woke up early and opened the curtains, relieved to see that it was a clear, sunny day… much unlike my last layover here, when the smog was so thick the buildings across the street were barely visible. Over the course of the flight I'd managed to talk 3 others into going to the Great Wall with me, and I was thrilled to finally be going. Of course, by the time we had landed in Beijing 2 had already ditched the plan and only Fiji and I left wanting to visit. I'd been in this exact situation before, and the higher per person cost with a smaller group led to the other person changing their mind and no Great Wall of China for me. Fortunately, whether through my guilt trip or an actual desire to go, Fiji was still in. We booked a tour and met in the morning for our adventure. Inside the bus, the tour guide told us a bit about the city as we peered out the windows, tourists in China. I giggled at fact that I used to always find it funny when bus loads of Chinese people drove through my country staring wide eyed out the window. I wondered if the people in the cars though the same thing, trying to figure out what was so interesting and photo worthy to us Westerners. It was a long drive to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, which the tour guide assured us was the most beautiful part since Prime Ministers from various countries have visited. Clearly if it was good enough for them, it must be great. To get to the wall we were given 2 options: We could buy a ticket for the cable car, or we could walk up a mountain. I was quick to toss over the cash for the cable car. When it was our turn to get on, the men operating it had us stand in front as it approached, and we were shocked as they actually pushed us into our seats and sent us flying. You'd never believe that we were flight attendants given our nervous expressions as we hung on a cable climbing the steep mountainside. When we got off we found ourselves on the Great Wall of China, and it was pretty phenomenal. Naturally, I went camera happy! We began walking and taking photos along the way. The wall winded up the slopes of the mountain, curving and stretching as far as we could see. After a good deal of time walking, our pace had become drastically slower. At first it had seemed easy, but hundred of tiny steps later we were feeling the burn. I hadn't felt so out of shape in a long time.

We decided to turn back, knowing that all the distance we'd already covered we'd have to do again. As we were trekking back, I felt as though I wasn't going to make it. I'd went from wearing a winter jacket to breaking a sweat and walking in a t-shirt. I was convinced that I'd fall over and never get back up, right there. Fiji wasn't coping much better, stumbling and gasping for breath with each flight of stairs… I swear, there were far less on the way!! We gave in to one of the people selling drinks and snacks, eagerly handing over our money in exchange for bottles of water. As we whined about how difficult it had become, we imagined how anyone could have ever possibly built this wall that stretches for over 7,000 km. The walk back felt longer than the way there. After awhile, we realized that it in fact was longer… due to the fact that we'd somehow missed the entrance point for the cable car. We turned around feeling defeated and began trekking in the other direction. Finally, we'd made it to the beginning! My legs were feeling like jelly as I eagerly took a seat on the first bench I'd seen. I felt quite pathetic at my obvious lack of physical fitness, but I was glad I'd hung in there! And to think, I had contemplated going to the gym upon returning to the hotel! To get back down the mountain we had the choice of taking the cable car again, or riding down a "toboggan" down a track! It looked like fun, so we got in our tiny little little slides and rode down, having no control aside from a brake in front of us. I screamed like a girl as I swerved around corners. I'm sure that I wasn't going very fast, but I'd occasionally pick up speed and feel like I might just slide right off the edge. We reached the safety of the bottom and suddenly our energy was back. The bus was in sight! We were quite hungry from all of our walking, so we went to grab some lunch. As random as it was, the only place to eat was Subway. It seemed out of place amongst the tiny stalls filled with cheap souvenirs, but I happily wandered inside and got my usual order. Trusted Western food is often a very welcome sight in the middle of China. Once we'd ate it was time to get back on the bus, and we were quick to fall asleep until we were back in Beijing. We woke up to the tour guide pointing out the Bird's Nest and the Water Dome, the 2008 Olympic buildings. Like most tours in Asia, this one included a stop at a random place where we were encouraged to spend money. Unlike most, this one was actually remotely interesting, as we were taken to a silk factory and shown the process of getting silk from silk works and making products from it. We were then led into a massive warehouse full of silk goods for purchase. It was at this time that our tour guide asked us if we'd like to stop at another shopping street on the way back. We declined, explaining that we needed to be back to our hotel to catch our flight. She explained that we'd be the last hotel that we'd stop at and shook her head when we told her that the tour desk at our hotel had promised we'd be back by 5. Due to a convention and massive traffic jams, she informed us that it would actually be closer to 7. We stood there, slightly alarmed wondering how we'd managed to get stuck somewhere in this massive city unable to ensure that we'd be back in time for our pickup. She suggested that we take a taxi, and despite having spent the majority of our money already we opted to do so. We could NOT wait until 7. Both of us were feeling pretty antsy in the taxi, crossing our fingers that we wouldn't get stranded in a massive traffic jam. How could we possibly explain to our Captain that we weren't to blame, it was a silly convention's fault. Fortunately, the taxi had us back in 15 minutes, much to our relief. We had plenty of time to spare, which I put to use by taking a nap before the flight.

The flight back was quiet once again, filled with the odour of 427 pairs of feet in economy class. On this particular flight everyone takes off their shoes the moment that they sit down, which makes for one smelly cabin. We kept each other awake late into the night with silly jokes and games. By the time that we'd landed I was barely conscious and my legs were quite sore from the day's adventures. After retrieving my suitcase I said goodbye to the crew, many of whom will be joining me in a few days as we head to Bangkok! I'd had a great layover, but I was beyond exhausted! After staying up too late catching up on Facebook, it was off to bed.

Next week at this time I'll be en route to Canada…. I'm coming home!!