Staying in a hostel in Beijing, I befriended a couple of guys in my dorm and went to see the Great Wall of China with them.
Joey and Chandler were fun travel companions. (OK, only one of those names is real. :)) Joey lived up to his name by being the only person I’ve met on my travels who was more lacking in the common sense department than me. I think I always automatically assume that if someone is off travelling the world on their lonesome, they must be really worldy-wise, sensible, logical, and practical – forgetting, of course, that I am one of those solo travellers and have none of the aforementioned qualities. Because of this, I tend to follow the lead of anyone I happen to pair up with, naturally expecting them to know where things are, or remember the way back to the hostel, or be able to understand the subway map.
With Joey, I quickly realised that I’d made a mistake. When, on our second evening together, I blindly followed him into another underground road crossing only to emerge on the wrong street for the 4th time in our two-hour hike to the train station that was a 20-minute walk away, it suddenly dawned on me that I was actually the more competent traveller. It was natural to me to leave the navigation to him, because that’s Just What I Do. And he – like everyone else – had an air of casual confidence (the kind that says “Hey, I know what I’m doing!”) that I never have. However – unlike everyone else – this confidence was in no way justified. He really had no idea how to read a map or work out which way he should be going based on his surroundings. I was somewhat surprised to find myself becoming impatient with his cluelessness, and even more taken aback when I heard myself saying “Erm, no… you see, that’s the road we’ve just been walking along for the past 15 minutes… give me the map.” It seems that being lost by yourself in one big city after another does wonders for your ability to think logically and find your way. I looked at the map, looked around us, worked out where we were, and got us to our destination without any further confusion. And Joey followed meekly, looking relieved to be no longer in charge.
Good grief, what’s happened to me?! They say that travel is all about self-discovery. Up until now, I’ve found it to be more about constantly losing myself, but I guess the experience really is changing me!
Poor Joey. He managed to get himself lost at the Great Wall. Chandler and I found our lungs struggling to cope with the incredibly steep climb and the painfully cold air, so we took it at our own pace and stopped frequently to get our breath back. Look, it really is very steep, that wall thing.
Joey, filled with boyish enthusiasm and manly bravado, tore ahead with great, loping strides and a look of pity at his weakling roommates, leaving us watching in admiration as he became a small speck in the distance. Chandler and I met each other again back at the bottom entrance to the Wall, after a pleasant morning of strolling, taking pictures, resting, and taking in the spectacular views.
Joey was nowhere to be seen. We searched for him in every nearby coffee shop and rest spot, but eventually had to get on to a bus back to the city, fearing frostbite. It later emerged that he had, in fact, been overcome with cold and exhaustion approximately 5 minutes after bounding off energetically ahead of the weaklings. The weaklings made it to the highest point of the wall and returned with many photos and no aches or pains. Joey, although somewhat unforthcoming with the exact details, presumably collapsed in a heap and spent the rest of the day half-crawling, half-falling back down the Wall, and then ended up somewhere in the suburbs of Beijing because he couldn’t remember where he was meant to get off the bus and had failed to bring his map.
He remained smiling and cheerful, however. I found his shrug-it-off-and-march-into-the-next-disaster attitude quite endearing, possibly because it reminded me of myself. Ah, how far I’ve come! I thought as I observed him in a big-sisterly sort of way.
Then I got utterly lost in Xi’an, despite having a map, because I came out of the underground road crossing on to the wrong street and completely failed to notice this for at least half an hour, becoming increasingly alarmed that none of the streets on my map were where they were supposed to be. I was a little disappointed in myself, but mostly oddly relieved. Being a bit of a dippy wanderer is who I am, you see. I’m not sure that I’m ready to part with that just yet…