All five of us knew going into this trip that there would be challenges. The challenge of living with less (although I’m not so sure we’re actually living with LESS, considering all of the souvenirs we’ve picked up in China); the challenge of homeschooling; the challenge of keeping in touch with friends; even the challenge of just being together 24 hours a day. Of course, we’ve been having so much fun, too, but there are many times when I just want to go home. “What am I doing here, in the middle of China in November? We’re crazy,” I think.
Being 13, it seems that these challenges are hitting me the hardest. It’s much more difficult for me to live with less than my sisters or parents. Really, what 13 year old girl wants to wear the same thing every day? Homeschooling is extremely frustrating for me too. How do I find time everyday to do an entire math class worth of lessons plus the days homework, plus required reading, PLUS journaling and blogging? Then there’s the situation of keeping in touch. Trying to call friends and cousins 12 time zones away is not easy. It’s always the middle of the night somewhere! And of course, the challenge of being together all the time. There’s nowhere to go for alone time. It’s usually just us, 24/7, which can get a little annoying.
When China rolled around, three months in, we were all feeling the difficulties of the trip pretty hard. There was more bickering and silly disputes. We all were craving more alone time, which was nearly impossible in the hostel room with six bunk beds where we had been staying. By the time we got to Beijing, the weather in Northern China was cold and dreary, which didn’t do much for group harmony.
The Great Wall goes through Beijing. It is not something to be missed (or so all of the guide books said), so we signed up for a tour with our hostel. The weather the day of our tour was particularly ugly, and we were already annoyed at each other by the time the bus dropped us and the other guests off. But it was too late to back out now. Our tour bus drove away and the five of us (a young Finnish couple, a friendly Spanish/Puerto Rican couple from Chicago, a thirtyish Filipino guy, and our bubbly tour guide Emily) were left shivering in the freezing rain.
There was a rare quiet moment when we stopped our bickering and stared up at the enormous wall looming above us. It stretched so far that we couldn’t even see the ends. This was when the magic began. Ten or fifteen minutes later, I found myself standing on top of the Great Wall of China. Let’s take a minute to appreciate this: the Great Wall is the longest man made structure in the world, and can (allegedly) be seen from space. From outside of the Earth! I just couldn’t believe it. I was standing on the GREAT WALL OF CHINA, something that, at this time last year, I had been reading about in a textbook! All of the stress of the trip melted away as I stood there, in the rain, gazing out at China. Finally, this trip seemed real. I was glad I was where I was. Of course, I knew this didn’t mean I wasn’t going to fight with my sisters or parents. I knew it wouldn’t make trying to fit a year’s worth of clothes in my pack any easier. I knew it couldn’t change the time difference between wherever we were and home. But I did know that everything would be okay, and that I would definitely benefit from this trip in the long run. And at that moment, I was happy. I was alive. I was in awe. I was in China!