Jyanni Steffensen Her feet covered many cocoons...
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Perpendicular Journeys (The Wall)

Beijing is (as Roland Barthes once wrote about Paris) "Adorable!" [6] While Orlando Jones was writing this Maria Callas was singing the "One Fine Day" aria from Madama Butterfly to a background Spring Festival fireworks exploding outside in Jinzhou, scaring away the nian - the monsters. She remembered Barthes perhaps because the first thing Orlando Jones had done in Beijing was to go out early in the morning in search of French bread (baguettes), cheese and drinkable wine (in this case a bottle of Jacob's Creek Chardonnay). These she had found in the Friendship Supermarket in the Sanlitun embassy area. It was not that Chinese food was not adorable too, but that Orlando Jones no longer felt like a visitor to China from outside. She was now an insider, a traveller from her hometown of Jinzhou.





On that Spring Festival morning (now to the sounds of the "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves" from Verdi's Nabucco), Orlando Jones recalled her journey to the Great Wall. Everyone (she imagined) had a story about visiting the Great Wall. She was a perverse tourist (she liked to avoid other tourists). She had travelled to Beijing in winter and chose a weekday to visit the Wall instead of a weekend. As a further guarantee, Orlando Jones decided to go to Mutianyu instead of the more popular site at Badaling. The guidebooks insisted that the Mutianyu segment of the Great Wall in Huairou County, 79 kilometres from the city proper was less familiar to visitors than the Badaling section. Things looked very promising, as Orlando Jones was the only passenger on the bus to Mutianyu that Thursday afternoon. When she arrived, she discovered that one could access the Great Wall (which ran along a mountain ridge at that point) by cable car or by climbing the mountain. There were very few tourists milling about and she guessed that most of them would take the cable car anyway, and elected to climb the mountain. As it turned out there was a well built climbing path with steps and small intermittent rest areas with little stone tables and stones on which to sit on the upward journey. Her estimation of the behaviour of the others of her kind was fairly accurate, and after climbing for a while Orlando Jones finally found herself alone on the side of an incredible mountain. About half way to the top however, she wish for a fevered moment that she had taken the cable car. The mountain was very high and very steep. It was also growing colder and colder and the air was thinning a little. However, Orlando Jones climbed faster and feaster as her desire to reach the top where the torture would end increased. She was breathing painfully when she suddenly saw it (The Wall) through the trees above her. She had stopped to regain her breath when suddenly a voice from nowhere (Orlando Jones believed that she was alone) said, "Water, water. There's water up here."

There was a weathered, older Chinese man grinning at Orlando Jones over the top of the wall and urging her on with promises of "Water, water." To access the top of the wall Orlando Jones had to step off the climbing steps and mount another short flight of stairs that led to the doorway of one of the towers. As she was about to enter this door, another weathered, little Chinese man suddenly appeared in the doorway. Orlando Jones nearly fell off the mountain. He was dressed in the costume of the soldier/guards who obviously patrolled the wall in times past. In his hand he had a long handled and quite lethal looking curved axe. He merely said, "Photo? Photo?" These two (in Orlando Jones's mind) became the "Water man" and the "Axe man." The Axe-man was accompanied by a very tiny, very cute, grey, wire-haired dog. As she was considering what she was prepared to pay for a photograph, Orlando Jones turned to look back the way she had come. She had been climbing with her back to the valley and now she had one of those moments in which a minute or maybe half and hour passed while she just stood, speechless. The view out over the valley to the next blue mountain range was spectacular - pristine and extraordinarily beautiful. Orlando Jones assured the Axe-man that she would catch him on the way down and continued upwards. At this point she had not seen Peter, the donkey.

Orlando Jones climbed to the next tower where the climbing path ended. From there she had to climb up through the tower and continue on top of the wall. At the point where she exited the tower there was a smallish group of people standing on the wall. As she was still in 'avoiding other tourists mode', she took little notice of them except that the group included an elderly Chinese man and an elderly Chinese woman. The older man was sitting on a little folding canvas stool. Orlando Jones was concerned because the climb to this point was very steep, and the couple were not so young. However, it appeared that there was no need for alarm and that the great wallolder man was simply resting. Orlando Jones continued up to a higher tower. From this vantagepoint, she could see over the top of the mountain that she had just climbed and the view was even more breathtaking. The section of the wall on which she was standing ran along the top of a mountain ridge, down into the adjacent valley and up onto the top of the next mountain range. It snaked along this range and out of sight in the far distance. Orlando Jones desired to describe this scene, but could not. It was not just that the wall was a marvel of engineering (or folly) but that the 'scenery;' through which it cut a small swathe, the mountains and valleys were also so spectacular. The whole thing was beyond speech somehow. Orlando Jones behaved exactly like a tourist and ran about taking many photographs. While she was there two young Chinese women passed her on their way down towards the tower where the small group of people were standing. She decided not to venture further along the wall in the other direction because she could see that there were many tourists milling about near the cable car stop. After a while she started back down to the lower tower. Now the older woman was resting on the little campstool, and Orlando Jones stopped nearby to take some more photographs.

As she was leaving (the next bus back to Beijing was to depart in 45 minutes) Orlando Jones passed the small group which, by now, included the two young Chinese women. As she did so, she distinctly heard someone say aodaliya (the Chinese word for Australia). Orlando Jones knew that they were not referring to her, but she was curious and she examined this group more closely. The man who was trying to explain to the others that he was from Australia was an Aboriginal man. Orlando Jones was stunned. There, on that remote mountain, on top of the Great Wall, on that particular afternoon, the only other perverse, non-Chinese, mountain climbing visitor was an Aboriginal man. She was speechless, rapt. He was the first other person from Australia that she had encountered since boarding the plane for Beijing in Kuala Lumpur six months previously. She was pleased that he was not white.

On her descent, Orlando Jones paused for a visual moment (10 yuan) with the Waterman, the Axe-man and the little dog - the dog insisted on being in the photographs. A little black donkey now accompanied the trio. The donkey was called Peter and he belonged to the Waterman. The water was carried in the donkey's little saddlebags. During Orlando Jones's ascent, the little donkey had to have been on top of the wall or she would have surely seen him. The Waterman mounted the little black donkey and they started off down the mountain. To her surprise, the donkey walked nimbly down the steps. When the steps became too steep, the donkey veered off through the trees and tacked diagonally across the mountain- side and then tacked back to where the path was shallower. The little dog was not into this tacking manoeuvre and trotted down the steps alongside Orlando Jones. About half way down they met a PLA soldier sitting on a rock in the sun. Orlando Jones did not know where he had been when she had climbed the mountain, but he was obviously there to look out for stupid tourists who insisted on climbing remote mountains. A little further on, Orlando Jones pause at a pagoda roofed lookout for one last look. She never saw the Waterman, the little dog, Peter the donkey or the Aboriginal man again. It was as though they had only existed on the mountain- side.

Before leaving Mutianyu, Orlando Jones purchased one of those Northern Chinese/Russian hats with the clever flaps that one can either button or tie up on top or lower over one's ears and the back of one's neck. The People's Liberation Army soldiers wore them as part of their winter uniform. Orlando Jones by-passed the green ones with the red star on the front and settled for a jet black rabbit fur one. She hoped fervently that the rabbit died for food and not for her vanity. The hat was warm and soft and superb. She felt like a Siberian Cossack. In a little boutique in Jinzhou, Orlando Jones had tried on a very glamorous black alpaca coat that she desired madly. The coat was trimmed (discreetly) with grey fox fur, and she lost her nerve. She feared that the fox had not died for food, but just for its fur. Perhaps it expired of old age, but Orlando Jones had no guarantee and she was afraid of being harangued on the streets of some Western (probably a warmer) country for wearing animal pelts. Sometimes, on a bone chilling day in Northeast China, Orlando Jones saw someone wearing a fur coat and was envious - not for the fur but for the elusive luxury of warmth. Reluctantly, Orlando Jones had stroked the alpaca and fox coat and put it back. Later, she passed a woman on Jiefang Lu wearing that coat.