I remember being told the entire structure could be seen with the naked eye from the moon. I believed this, like I believed other urban legends as a child. The truth is, because the wall is very slender, it can only be seen from far away using super telescopes.
True or not, I saw it with my naked eyes, and I walked it! It was one of those moments when you feel the need to pinch yourself to make sure you aren't dreaming. Walking on this remarkable masterpiece that stood as witness to the rise and fall of China for over 2,000 years was a unique experience.
I went to the Mutianyu section of the wall, about 90 kilometers from Beijing. I was thrilled we revised our itinerary. Many tour operators take their groups to the more touristy Badaling section because of its proximity to Beijing (70 kilometers), and for the Ming Tombs which can be visited en route. Taking into account the advice of friends and online travelogues, we opted to forego the tombs and the wall at Badaling for the more scenic and less crowded Mutianyu.
Let me tell you what made this experience even more unforgettable for me. A freaking bee! Yes folks, I got stung. Having just arrived, we were making our way up the steep road to the cable car, lined with souvenir shops and markets. I was happily shooting my camera, mesmerized by the colors of the dried fruits. Then, I felt a sharp pain in the palm of my right hand. I saw the little stinger hanging there in the process of injecting its venom. I was wearing a thick coat, jeans, socks, a cap and sunglasses; the bee still managed to find some exposed flesh.
I screamed and unleashed a torrent of profanity, frantically tried to shake the bee off. It wouldn't budge. The pain was intense. I finally flicked it off with my other hand. Someone squeezed the wound to remove the stinger. I assumed it was one of my friends, so I was surprised when I looked up to see a complete stranger. Before I could thank her, she was gone, disappearing as fast as she had appeared.
Our guide, Kevin, did not seem worried. He assured me I'd be alright. I didn't want the episode to ruin my visit to the Great Wall. Off we hopped on the cable car for the middle part of the section. We spent the next hour climbing the wall, passing through watchtowers. I kept trying to ignore the throbbing in my hand, practice psychokinesis, mind over matter. My hand was getting bigger by the minute, making it increasingly difficult to press the shutter of my camera.
Every inch of my body was beginning to itch – a severe great-wall-magnitude itching! I must have looked odd, scratching my head, slapping at my thighs at the same time. People stared. I pulled up a sleeve; my forearm was covered in clusters of round blister-like bumps. I felt welts on my neck, down my sweater – huge and irregularly-shaped, white on red. I was covered in hives! I looked like Martin in the movie, Pure Luck.
Kevin went into panic mode, ordered us to follow him. We went back to the tourist center where there was a small clinic. Through a conversation between Kevin and a nurse, I found out I had been poisoned. No prescription at this clinic for antihistamine. After more discussion, we left to find a hospital. And my friends picked this moment to shop for dried fruit and nuts. Unbelievable!
We found a clinic, more a tiny pharmacy with a thin cot in the back. A small elderly woman appeared from behind one of the shelves laden with Chinese potions. Just as I thought, we were in the wrong place. Back into the van, searching for that elusive hospital. We were nearly two hours away from Beijing. I needed relief now.
The hospital was deserted, no one at the lobby, in the halls. We searched for a doctor, a nurse, anyone. The twilight zone theme invaded my head. Finally, a doctor, looking as though he had just woken up, saw my predicament, and led us downstairs to one of the treatment rooms. More discussion. I yell out – antihistamine – hoping the doctor would understand. He whipped out a syringe and a vial. I am terrified of needles. Ask my brother.
Whatever the doctor squirted into me, worked its magic. Ten minutes passed. Hives were gone, but the memory will never leave me.