Regrets Are Teachers

Me and the Great Wall of China

Bullrushes with brown seedheads
Bullrushes forming a great wall around Evergreen

As I’m being dragged irresistibly towards the first day of 2022, I’ve been thinking about regrets.


I keep regrets to a minimum because I consider them almost pointless. Their only benefit is to prompt me not to make any more. But although I seldom bathe in the murky waters of regrets, I’d like to tell you about me and the Great Wall of China – a wonder of the world that I chose not to see – a decision I now regret.


It all started when my daughter Lara phoned and asked if I’d ever wanted to go to China. A frisson of excitement engulfed me from my grey hair to my tangerine-coloured toenails, and my voice shook as I said, ‘Of course! But it’s just a dream.’ She bought tickets for the two of us and within weeks we were strolling around Lake Wu in the province of Hangzhou, eating divine food at a Shanghai restaurant aptly named ‘Lost Heaven’, then catching the bullet train to Beijing.


Unbeknownst to me at the time, my major life regret began before we did all these wonderful things. It was as the plane soared above the Pacific Ocean between Australia and China that a man in the seat in front turned around and asked what we planned to do on our holiday. He was an English journalist returning to work in China who knew a lot about the country.


When I mentioned the Great Wall of China, he pursed his lips. ‘You can do a day trip, but it’s not worth it. It takes about two hours, and the driver will drag it out by stopping at shops and stalls along the way – probably owned by his relatives – where you’ll feel obliged to buy overpriced things you don’t want.’ He shook his head. ‘Don’t go is my recommendation.’


We met up again in the line in the terminal. He was behind me this time, leaning forward and whispering hoarsely in my ear, like my own private devil. ‘It’s a hot, dusty, boring journey. And you might not even get taken to the real Wall, just a bit that’s not authentic.’ The line crept forward slower than a tectonic plate. ‘A waste of time and mo