Alison Godfrey, née Reidy
Blame Alison, it was all her idea. There we were, casually discussing where Brendan and I should go for our six-month break from jobs and everyday life, when she pipes up with, “I know, how about the Great Wall of China?” I sent a text message to Brendan outlining the plan in four words – “Great Wall of China” – and what was merely an idea snowballed from there into a two-year project.
Alison, a very talented and relentless journalist, and husband Chris Godfrey have returned to Australia from a working stint in London. We wish them the best of luck on their transition, and look forward to the odd Sunday afternoon game of soccer … followed by a pint or two.
Eddie C. Davis and Beau Bacevicius
Eddie, left, and Beau, right, coming in from a sandstorm on the Great Wall
So we had this brilliant idea to walk the Great Wall, and we’d read a few books and surfed the websites. We let a few friends and family know about our vague plans. The reaction, was – well, skeptical is probably the best way to put it. And fair enough; we didn’t have a single contact in China.
Eddie and Beau stepped into this void. Not only were they familiar with China, they had walked the wall themselves in 2000. They offered practical advice on gear, weather and water, and more importantly, a ton of enthusiasm and encouragement. They were absolutely confident we could pull this off, and their confidence became our confidence.
You can read about Eddie’s and Beau’s hike by clicking on “The Great Walk: Hiking the Great Wall of China.”
Once the decision was made to choof off to China, we realized we would have to start learning Mandarin. Writer Mabel Lee recommended Bi Xiyan, known to us as “Vivian,” an extremely dedicated teacher at Sydney University and Ascham Girls’ School. Tirelessly Vivian drilled us on characters, vocabulary, reading, writing and speaking. Well into the night and often on weekends she demanded the best from us.
Without Vivian’s help, our move to Beijing would have been fraught with uncertainties. But through her we made some friends and had enough language to start a life there. We thank her, her husband, son, cats and Zoe the dog for putting up with our after-work, late-night visits.
Brian “Buttkick” Bucsit
After we rented an apartment and settled into life in Beijing, we knew the time had come to get off our backsides and start preparing our bodies for the trip. Fortunately, there was a gym attached to our apartment block and an excellent trainer attached to the gym. His name was Brian Bucsit, soon to be known as Brian Buttkick. Because that’s what he loved doing most.
Brian, from the USA, is the most personally dedicated, interested and thorough personal trainer either of us have ever had. Always laughing and smiling, he has a knack of making you want to do your best, for yourself and for him. Who else could make the chin-pull look like fun?
Connie and Beijing Mandarin School
Connie was our tutor at Beijing Mandarin School, devoting time and humour so that we could improve our language skills. Her help was invaluable in preparing for the wall and everyday life in China. Now we know how to ask for half a kilo of apricots AND how to barter on the price. Make sure you check out her site at www.mandarintree.cn.
Andy McEwen, Ed Jocelyn and Yang Xiao
Andy, left, and Ed, right
Andy, Ed and YX are the doyens, the elder statesmen, the éminence grises (yes, it is a word) of long-distance walkers in China. In 2002-03, Andy and Ed (with assistance from YX) walked the route of the Red Army’s escape from Chiang Kai’Shek’s Nationalist forces in 1934-35, commonly known as the Long March – a journey of over 6000 kilometres. As we write this, Ed and YX are finishing up The New Long March 2, which follows the route walked by the little-known Second Red Front Army in 1935-36.
All of them generously took time out of their busy schedules to provide us with the benefit of their experience and contacts, leavened with plenty of snottily irrelevant side commentary.
Without Bruce, this website wouldn’t exist in its current home, as part of the Great Wall of China exhibition at the Powerhouse.
Bruce is an Adjunct Senior Fellow engaged in The China Heritage Project at The Australian National University and co-editor of the e-journal, China Heritage Quarterly, and he is the person who helped introduce us to the Powerhouse staff. He also introduced us to a lot of great people in Beijing, helped us feel at home there, and designed the amazing business cards we use to introduce ourselves to people in China.
Karen, Dawu and Hannah
Dawu, Hannah and Karen from left to right
You may have seen a few comments on the blog from Beijing family Karen Patterson, her husband Dawu and their daughter, Hannah. Karen and Dawu are our absolutely invaluable support base back in Beijing. They have fed us wonderful food, are currently housing all of our excess luggage, receive many packages sent from us on the wall and are just there for support, translation and help. Karen keeps threatening to put on our gear and join us on the wall. Maybe we’ll see her for a day or two as we get closer to Beijing.
Brian K. Pilbeam, President of Telstra Asia
As many of you know, Telstra (Australia’s largest telco) is an official partner for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and have an ad campaign involving the Great Wall. So it was only fitting that Telstra should sponsor us in the form of a satellite phone for the duration of our hike. After we approached him, Telstra Asia President Brian K. Pilbeam didn’t hesitate in offering us the phone and handing it over to us personally. For emergencies and sending in our coordinates by SMS, the satellite phone has been invaluable. We thank Telstra for the added security this phone is giving us.
The Powerhouse Museum
Last but most certainly not least, we owe a great debt to everyone at the Powerhouse. Dr Claire Roberts and the curatorial staff took a chance by letting a couple without much experience in travel writing and photography put a blog on the Powerhouse website, and they gave us plenty of latitude to experiment with as we found (are finding) our voices. Seb Chan and the Web Services team designed a great website, taught us how to use it, and provided tech support. And Mark Gowing Design put together the fantastic promotional cards that will be distributed at the Powerhouse Museum’s Great Wall of China exhibition.
We encourage anyone reading this blog who can possibly make it to Sydney for the exhibition to quit diddling around and go! The opening is this week, and we can’t wait. For more info, Visit the Exhibition.