The Great Wall

The gates open and a vicious, demented, stream of ravenous individuals surges. These are scenes from World War Z. All along the platform I can see people sprinting. I started in the middle of the crowd but there is avenue along the outer edge of the platform. I use it to my advantage and overtake whomever I can.

As I run I see an Indian man turn to his struggling family. He shouts: "you must run."

There is desperation in his voice.

There is pleading in his eyes.

"If you want to make it, you must run fast".

I don't look back.

I'm overtaking those whose feet are weary from queuing, I overtake the sick, the elderly and the infirm. I overtake many. We are running because one person can reserve six seats on this train. A family will send their fastest, their strongest.

I run towards the far end of train. I know the carriages will fill up closest to farthest. I dash in.

No good, I am stuck behind denialists who think there is a seat hidden somewhere in this crowded carriage. I squeeze past and the next carriage is no better. Finally, the third carriage I search, two seats. I dive into them and use my bag to reserve for Jess. Across the way a man speaks at me in Chinese. He probably tried to claim the seat. He should have put something on it. Possession is nine tens of seat allocation. I'd feign ignorance if I wasn't ignorant already. He may have said: good job.

And so we ride backwards to the Great Wall. All the seats in our carriage are like this. Backwards except the last kilometre or two. They do this on the way back too. Most of the trip backwards, for no discernible reason.

We talked to a young man who is taking his mum to visit the wall for the first time.

"You made a good choice. The buses spend most of their time stuck in traffic."

The train takes 90 minutes.

It's now time for us to climb the wall. I don't mean just Jess and I, I mean everyone on our train and the various buses that have arrived at the same time. The Great Wall of People forms and you need to thread your way through it to ascend in any enjoyable time.

Along the way at speakers blaring a distorted traditional tune. Other walkers bring their own portable speakers and share their opinion of the best Great Wall tracks. I'm sure it's a common drinking topic. Our equivalent of three albums to take to a desert island.

When you're done with the Great Wall, you can take the toboggan down. It costs twice the price of admission and takes you nearish the exit. Some how the absurdity of a toboggan fits into the ethos of the whole place.

The trip back involves a more frantic crowd trying to crush their way to the front of the queue. A little old lady turns her back and tries to use Jess as an armoured car.

Others jump out the window only to be caught and told to jump back in the window… further up from where they were caught. The guard who sees them getting ahead only asks to see their ticket. He lets them stay ahead in the queue. The system works.

Gates are closed and we are grouped into pens where, like anxious animals we produce a lather chomping. The gates closing seems to be an odd feature. There are two sets of pens on the side I am on. People who made it through are now on the platform split up into new queues of one per carriage. Not that I know this yet.

Our gate is opened and we're pushed from behind and again we rush. I run out in front and discover the eight queues. Which one? Which one? The second seems underfed and I add my presence.

Here we queue for another fifteen minutes. The train arrives. Still we wait, tense, excited, waiting for the command to chomp the biscuit we have been asked to balance on our nose.

Jess and I have a plan. We have access to two carriages from the door. We split. If we get seats wait. If the other doesn't they will come to find you. If we both get seats, Jess will relinquish hers after 5 minutes.

Our third rush and the strongest press so far. It's all in good fun though as the frothing horde laughs and whoops. I'm through early and have seats.

Facing forward.

If only for the first kilometre.

when: Thursday, March 12, 2015