Throwing Up on the Great Wall of China

During the summer of 2015, I spent a month in China traveling, teaching, and observing classrooms with other students from my university. We flew into Shanghai for sightseeing, traveled by bus to Jinhua where we taught English at a summer school, then took a bullet train to Beijing for more sightseeing and teaching observations.

If you’ve never been, let me tell you that summer in China is hot. Like, really hot. And humid. So humid, in fact, that I desperately attempted to cut layers in my hair in my bathroom so that my poofy, curly hair (I’ve never had curly hair in my life) would become any shape other than a triangle.

The morning we arrived at the Great Wall of China, I had not eaten a lot and was probably dehydrated, but I felt great and made the commitment to climb to the farthest point that we were allowed, which was the 13th lookout tower. My excitement must have gotten the best of me because as my friends and I started making the trek up the very steep stairs, my stomach became more and more uneasy.

I was not unfamiliar with this feeling– while hiking the Camino de Santiago, I would often feel nauseated in the morning if I had not eaten, but a chug of water and a snack usually cleared it right up. This time, however, I had left my water and protein bar on the bus.

The higher we climbed up the steep stairs, the worse I felt. Sweat gathered at the back of my neck and chills vibrated through my body, despite the temperature being over 90 degrees. I stopped where I was standing and knew that there was no coming back from the nausea; I was going to vom right then and there. I lunged two feet over to the opposite side of the wall from where I was standing, retched, and felt the relief of an empty stomach, watching my breakfast splatter on the foliage yards below.

To my surprise, tourists who ordinarily had no sense of personal pace (at least an American’s version of personal space) backed up and waited until I had wiped my face and involuntary tears before trying to push past me on their way back down the steps.

I quickly regained my composure and ended up making it to the halfway point, though I still had hoped I could have made it to that 13th tower. Though many can say they’ve gone the whole way, not many (I assume? Maybe this actually happens a lot?) can say that they lost their breakfast on the Great Wall, and I guess I’ll own that.

Moral of the story: eat and drink enough to give you the energy you’ll need. Maybe bring a water bottle too. Actually, definitely bring a water bottle.

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