IMAGINE: SLEEPING IN A SMALL TENT WITH AN ABSOLUTE STRANGER.
"Up and out of my tent by 6am, still weak from fever, I’d walked approximately three miles when the early-morning silence was broken by a loud clatter overhead. The sound grew louder every second and I was reminded of the sounds my grandmother’s old metal mixer made---each time she used it.
Glancing upward, I saw a vintage helicopter, faded green in color, with Chinese Characters on its under-belly. Clearly the pilot had spotted me and intended to land the loud machine somewhere close by. Somewhat prepared for this moment, I felt my body tighten with apprehension.
I stopped walking, loosened my grip on the items in both hands, and waited. What I had dreaded most… was about to happen. I’d always known the Chinese Government could remove me from their Wall at any time, thereby ending my quest to travel ALL THE WALL. I watched as the old helicopter spun crazily above my head then suddenly dropped-- like a heavy rock—very-near me.
As the propeller’s long arms continued to thrash up- down- and-all-around, the doors opened and---through the haze of flying dust and weeds--I saw a young Chinese jump to the ground. Looking directly at me, the man ducked his head to avoid decapitation and began running toward me. Almost instantly, the old and tired helicopter---sounding like a junkyard dog-- slowly lifted itself straight up then paused, mid-air, momentarily--- before flying away.
The young-looking Chinese male, wearing a bright-colored jogging outfit and sparkly white tennis shoes, smiled as he approached me. “Hello Miss Sally. My name is Arthur and I’m here to help you make the Great Wall Dream come true!”
Each time I relive that moment when the ancient Helicopter dropped Arthur into my life….I smile. My journey of The Great Wall took on a different “look and feel” from that day forward.
Arthur tried his best to keep up with me on our first day’s journey together but-- it was clear-- Arthur was no athlete. Every mile or two, Arthur would stop to catch his breath, readjust all my bags he was carrying….but he never complained. After a full day of hiking, with the sun quickly-dropping from sight and the night's coldness moving in around us, I pitched the tent. A light snow had begun falling as I placed my sleeping bag in the tent and directed Arthur to get inside.
Arthur continued to stand there, unmoving, and when I looked at his face, I saw his eyes were full of tears. I insisted he would freeze to death if he didn’t get inside the tent. The temperature was already freezing, but Arthur just stood there, crying. Limited on time and patience, I demanded to know why.
I could hardly believe his words: “Miss Sally, I’ve heard scary stories about American women and how aggressive they are with men! I’m afraid you will rape me if I climb inside that tent!” Suppressing my desire to burst-out laughing, I realized this child-like Chinese was serious. Cold, tired, and concerned, I knew it was time to develop a damn-good plan--and soon!
Minutes later, I proposed an idea to Arthur. After several minutes of thinking about it, he said okay. Finally, Arthur crawled inside the tent and arranged his blankets as far from me as possible. Leaning forward, I placed the long chain containing my whistle and my Swiss Army Knife, around Arthur’s neck. Then, very-matter-of-factly, I directed Arthur in an abbreviated version of self-defense.
“Okay, Arthur, if you sense I’m about to “make a move” on you, start blowing the whistle again and again, fast as you can and---if I continue to move in your direction, open the knife and use it!” My words seemed to convince Arthur I was serious. From that moment forward, we were instant pals and the best of tent roommates.
Once I gained Arthur’s complete trust, he opened his heart like a flower and unloaded his true confessions. Arthur revealed he was a homosexual; he had absolutely no interest in women. Night after night he talked, in explicit details, about his love affair with Bruce, a street-wise Chinese in Beijing who was--in Arthur’s words--a male “slut” and totally unfaithful. Arthur hoped the long journey with me would help end his physical addiction to Bruce.
Arthur spoke beautiful English with a slight British accent. He explained that he’d learned his second language by listening to radio broadcasts of the BBC and Voice of America.
Each time I tried to question Arthur about who had arranged his sudden appearance in my life, he refused to comment. I had every reason to believe the Central Government—learning from the American Embassy I was struggling with pneumonia----- decided they couldn’t risk an America woman dying on their Great Wall. After selecting just the right person, they chose Arthur to rescue me.
How often do you read about sex scandals in China? Chinese are brilliant in their thinking and they leave nothing to chance. I give them credit when they chose Arthur as my Great Wall companion.
Sending a committed homosexual to “camp out” with an aging beauty queen on The Great Wall was…..fool-proof…. scandal-free…and Simply-Perfect."