It was a spontaneous decision. A surprise by all accounts. Wanda hadn’t the remotest notion to travel to China.
Previous trips had been painstakingly planned for months ahead. Not this time. This time she threw all caution to the wind and grasped the opportunity presented.
“Just go!” Her reckless Inner Child had commanded.
And here she was at the Great Wall. She took a deep breath, intentionally feeling the moment. Intentionally storing the feeling in her memory for future reference.
The trip was more difficult than she had anticipated. The stairs, the climbing, the smog! On the positive side, sites were grand and indescribably spectacular. The petite tour guide Gloria was informative, humble yet firm. Meeting times and locations were specific. After all, who would want to be lost in such a vast country?
As was her custom, Wanda traveled alone. For a while, she shuffled along with the crowd heading up the recommended block of the Great Wall. But what was the adventure in avoiding uneven stone slabs beneath her feet? Or avoiding the bumping and squeezing among bodies heading upwards on slippery slopes and steps? She looked at her watch. Two more hours until the meeting at the mammoth visitors’ centre. Too much allotted time! She took a quick look at what had been advised as a ‘must see’ including the flag. Gloria had given some instruction about that flag, her voice drifting far off into the wind. Wanda headed off.
She located a clearing, away from the throng and took the road with a familiar name, which she thought she recognized from her ride in the coach. There was a sign with a picture of food near a low building. She decided to enter. It was dark, long and narrow with concession booths on either side, selling every Asian food concoction never seen on this trip. Each vendor tried to snatch her attention. She walked on and on, descending steep steps every few yards. At last relieved to see daylight, she found herself in a parking lot filled with coaches bearing Asian names. Was this where her driver parked the coach?
“Now, that was some adventure,” she mumbled to herself as she headed back on the road with the name she recognized from before.
It was quite the climb. Reaching the top of the road, she looked around and saw a sign with a picture of people. And off she went in that direction – only ‒ to find herself at an all too familiar entrance. How could this be? An utter, if not eerie surprise! She was once more in the same long food building ‒ and this time she noticed she was the sole Caucasian. Her steps down the stairs were quicker than previously. At the parking lot she knew she had taken a wrong turn. A man approached her and asked, “Taxi?”. Well that would have been nice. But how could she explain – to where?
Determined to trace her way back, she spotted a towering lumber entrance to her right, with animal carvings at the top. Had she seen that before, perhaps from the coach on the way to the visitors’ centre? She was delighted to find various different buildings as well as families walking about heading towards a place around which crowds had already gathered. People smiled. They let her to the front of the group, as she again realized these were all Asian tourists. For the time being, however, her attention was drawn to the small black bear cubs scampering about within the enclosed area; there were also several larger bears, looking quite harmless.
“Another adventure!” her Inner Child reassured. Then reality and a hint of fear hit hard. Where was she?
Out of the gate she went. And up the road with the familiar name. And back to the same people sign – and yes, back into the same food building. There is some quote about the insanity of doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result. Yet, that was precisely her hope. How could she be in this same place ‒ again? No surprise that this time the Asian vendors looked at her quizzically. All she wanted was to be out of there, in the sunlight, in the parking lot and finally finding the right road. Perhaps third time lucky? She was. Reaching the top of the road, an older couple from her group meandered into sight.
Wanda slowly approached. With as much nonchalance as she could muster through her quivering heart, she greeted them.
The woman was friendly. “Yes. We’ve been looking about, but keeping track of the flag. Time to head back to the visitors’ centre.”
Oh that frigging flag! There it was, now in full sight. She had taken the opposite turn from what had been instructed. She remembered, as she followed the couple.
Back on the couch, her seat partner remarked. “The Great Wall is as I recall twenty years ago. But this colossal tourist centre is new. Must have been designed to impress us Westerners. When I was here before, we were dropped off at a large wooden archway with carved animals on top. And there was a pit with black bears! Too bad all that’s gone.”
Wanda smiled. Hearing this story was the best surprise of the adventure, or was it synchronicity ‒ which she decided to share with no one.