Life at Sea: Meet Shuyin, local Chinese merchant

While hiking the Great Wall with students, artisan makes a living


RYAN PUGH | The Daily Evergreen

Shuyin hikes the steep mountain trail up the Great Wall every day to provide for her family who live a modest, rural life in China.

RYAN PUGH, Former photo editor

Our tour guide prepared us for the local farmers who would hike along with us in hopes we would buy some of the souvenirs they were selling at the Great Wall.

These people make a living off of tourism and I figured I’d buy a thing or two. Once we stepped off the bus we heard someone shouting, “Panda hat! Panda hat!”

We all looked behind the bus and three local women came over to us holding plastic bags filled with black and white panda beanies.

As we started our hike, one of the women saw I didn’t have a beanie on. I had mine hidden away in my pocket, so she came over and offered to sell me a panda hat. I politely said no thank you, but she kept persisting.

I laughed at her enthusiasm and the ridiculous looking panda hats. I told her, “Maybe later.” She persisted in true salesperson fashion. I heard another hiker ask for her name: Shuyin.

It was very cold in the hills and in the shade, so the thick, black layers and red shawl wrapped around her head seemed appropriate. Her short stature and wrinkled face led me to believe she was quite a bit older than myself.

We hiked for most of the day while Shuyin and the other merchants trudged along with us. The steep climbs and rough terrain was difficult and tiring for my group, and I began to wonder how often Shuyin and the others made this trek.

“Every day,” she said.

When she told me she was 60 years old, I was impressed at her resilience. Most of the 18- to 22-year-old students on this trip were feeling the toll of the Wall and the steep hike, yet we had only been going for a few hours.

Shuyin continued, explaining that this was her only job. Her husband back home grows corn and she sells things to tourists on the Wall. She told me about her family of six, all living in her home with her. She has a son and daughter, along with two three-year-old twin grandchildren.

As I climbed higher along the mountain trail, I heard what sounded like children screaming behind me. It was Shuyin playing a video of her grandkids. She wanted to show me what they looked and sounded like.

Shuyin explained that she has to walk 10 kilometers — about 6.2 miles — from her home to the village of Gubeikou, which is a two-hour walk. Gubeikou is the small district town nearest the Great Wall.

From Gubeikou she hikes the six-mile route across the Wall with that day’s tourists, helping them along and selling trinkets.