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A Girl Abroad: We Can Be Heroes

Words by: Shirley Yeung


Location: Beijing, China.

Imagine you’ve just spent the greatest years of your life helping your emperor build the longest and largest wall known to man, so you can support your family while also not being sent to war. It’s taken longer than expected to complete, and along the way you’ve lost some of your greatest friends while gaining a few. At least you could afford to feed your family and were able to provide them with shelter… would you have chosen any other life?

They say there is an old saying in Chinese proverb: ‘One cannot be a hero if he has not conquered The Great Wall [of China]’; so, I guess today I will become a hero… or at least partly qualify as one.

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To set the scene, it is currently -13c degrees, but it honestly feels more closer to -30c. My hands are burning from the cold, my cheeks are completely numb and my body can’t seem to retain any heat at all – no matter how many layers I am wearing; I am wearing four. The crisp air is drier than your laundry that’s been hung up outside for 2 days now, and the sun hidden behind clouds is somehow burning into my iris. Luckily there is little fog today, so a somewhat clear view is in sight. I  take my first step and look at what is before me and I’m thinking this can’t be too hard… that is until  I finally get past the first step of stairs and I’m already in a bad state. I’m probably not the healthiest or most active person known to man but I can still get through a cardio session that I may or may not be crawling out of the gym to my car. Regardless, I tell myself that this is possible if I just keep beliebing… I mean BELIEVING.

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After I reach the first tower, I’m pretty much on the ground gasping for air but while my face is externally freezing and I still can’t feel my face, I look at my surroundings and it is honestly so breathtaking that I am left breathless (from the hike probably, but just go with it). I’m happy to inform you all that I reached the third tower which probably didn’t even make up more than 5km in distance, but it felt like I just ran a 20km marathon. yes, 20km. But you know what was the funniest part of all this? It was the going down part that was so much harder and worse!

Coming down from the great wall was literally another struggle on its own. The stairs all seemed so much more steeper than they were before going up, and the different levels and distances of the path seemed to grow more as each step was taken. Interesting thing is that although there is quite a massive amount of surveillance on the towers and around the walls, there is actually so much graffiti on the wall; there are so many love locks to the point that they’ve made their own hand rails from it.

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From this experience, I’ve learnt:

  • Make sure you’re wearing easy to tear off clothes, because on the way up you’ll be cold; but it is a cardio workout so think of all the sweat!
  • To the left, to the left – do yourself a favour and listen to Queen Bey. STAY LEFT!
  • Go at your own pace and save your energy. All the steps are uneven and some are definitely a lot more steeper than others.
  • Don’t buy a coffee at the end of your quest after half conquering the wall. The damn coffee was not worth the $10AUD
  • Bring a marker so you can be a kewl graffiidot and mark your name; for the millions of people who will walk the wall and have no idea and probably give no fucks as to who the hell ‘$ean Connorz was ere 2015’ was.