|Photo by Paul Wisenborn|
The first ascent up Jiao Shan is typical of any other Great Wall site: vendors hawking hats, beads, and "waterbeerjuiceicecream" all vie for your attention. Stepping onto the Wall the first thing you notice is the height: steep and formidable. It's a wonder people ever traversed it, never mind built it. Russian graffiti is chalked onto some areas of the Wall and signs posted every so often warn "No Running," as if you could anyway. Even the heartiest among us looked like he was fighting against a non-existent wind as he lunged up the abrupt incline.
Jiao Shan, at least the newer, reconstructed part, comes with its own peculiar, unpleasant smell, different to the peculiar, unpleasant smells of the city. Likely the fumes from one of China's plentiful factories, the air stinks of a mixture of wet cat food and cat pee that has been set ablaze. Even breathing through your mouth doesn't quite eliminate the permeating aroma.
On the way down, you stop at a Buddhist monastery where friendly dogs, one young and chipper, the other older looking with a disgruntled underbite, greet you and show you around. In the center of the monastery is an immense willow weighted down with wishes strewn on red ribbons tied around its ancient trunk.
The walk down is easier, but still not easy. It's a steep path that puts
pressure on your toes as they collide with the tip of your shoes. The Wall is to your left and you are under its protection. You know you're almost down when that permeating stench returns, before things even begin looking flat again. You're back to where you started - back on earth, ready to traverse the quiet road back to Shanhaiguan and then back to the city, leaving behind you a mountain taciturn and allegiant.