China :: The Great Wall (Visit #1)

“Building the Great Wall thousands of workers suffered; when will the end be of Meng Jiang’s lonely crying.”
Chinese Proverb

I have finally seen the Great Wall of China with my own eyes… Some in my group found it underwhelming. I didn’t.


The Great Wall group

TTC’s Spring 2019

The Great Wall is called “The Longest Cemetery on Earth” because of how many people died during its construction. Reportedly, it cost the lives of anywhere between 400.000 and 1 million people.

You can not see the wall from space without aid.

The construction of the wall took place in periods spanning around 2000 years.

“The Great Wall of China is the longest building on earth with a length of 6350 km (3945 miles). The main wall spans 2400 km (1500 mi). It consists of several sections, sometimes not connected, that differ in age and construction method. It was made primarily to protect the Chinese Empire from raids and invasions from various nomadic tribes. It also worked as border control, enforcing duties on goods transported along the Silk Road, regulation/encouragement of trade and the control of immigration/emigration. The defensive characteristics of the Great Wall were enhanced by the construction of watch towers, troop barracks, garrison stations, signaling capabilities through the means of smoke or fire, and the fact that the path of the Great Wall also served as a transportation corridor.

Several walls were being built from as early as the 7th century BC, these were later joined together and made bigger by Qin Shi Huang (220–206 BC), first Emperor of China. Little of that wall remains. Many successive dynasties have repaired, maintained and built more border walls. The most well-known of the walls were built during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644)”

Shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia

Shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia

As for our tour of the famous wall, we didn’t actually plan or book any of this ourselves, so I don’t have any nifty tips on how to get there etc, sorry…

We were woken up early at the school we were staying in in Beijing and taken to the bus to sleep away the hour or two it took to drive to the point of the wall we were seeing. This was a renovated part of the wall, obviously well kept for tourists. Some people in my group were disappointed in this, I still wasn’t. They managed to get us there before the rush so I had some solitary moments along the wall that made the trip for me.

But I’m getting a head of myself. We arrived around 8 am and piled into the area, pretty giddy with excitement. Matt, our TTC staff person, told us to be back in 1,5 hours and that if we wanted to reach “the top” we’d have to hustle. This was the only disappointment for me. We only had 1,5 hrs at the Great Wall of China. The Great Wall of China. My number one reason for coming to China and I doubt I’m alone in that. An ancient landmark belonging to an exclusive group of historical symbols so famous you’ve constantly heard of them your entire life… I was facepalming at this.

I tried to get to the top, but I couldn’t. It was too hard. The steps are insanely uneven going up and down, I can’t even describe the difference properly.

The “intro way” was renovated and evened out, like this:

First part of the climb

First part of the climb

But pretty soon we realized the rest of the climb was made of steps that varied so much in height it felt like the most grueling aerobics class you ever attended. First step was 20 cm high, the next one 48 cm, the next one narrower and 30 cm in height, then one that was broad, but 43 cm high… You get the gist. Joseph pointed out how hard this must have been for the soldiers back in the day, being even shorter than we are today and in full armour getup…

There are several guard towers all along the way, we made it to number 9 before we had to call it quits to have enough time to get back down. Again: All I wanted was more time there at the wall… It’s such a shame they cut it so short…

Fair warning... ;-D

Fair warning… ;-D

Inside one of the "towers"

Inside one of the “towers”

I was lucky enough to find a spot on the wall where I could be alone for a good while though. No tourists, Chinese or foreign around me, I just stared into the distant valley and started contemplating how it would’ve been to be a Chinese soldier/guard back in the day. Standing on the wall, on the lookout for trade caravans or intruders. How it would feel standing there seeing a large group or even army of potential enemies approaching. How I would sound the alarm. How I would feel… the fear that must’ve gripped people, you could see the enemy from miles away from up there. It was an epic experience for me.

This is why I love visiting ancient ruins/landmarks and buildings like this. It connects me with a narrative. It might not be completely real, I have no way of knowing how far off the mark I was envisioning the life of a Chinese soldier on duty at the Great Wall around 200 BC, but in some weird way it still gives me perspective. It gives me almost a tangible feeling of times passing.

Feeling history at the Great Wall

Feeling history at the Great Wall

History is fascinating because it is over and done with, it’s rigid because it cannot be undone or changed, but still fluid because we are still interpreting it’s causes and experiencing its effects. History is powerful, not just for the lessons it teaches us or the “time travel perspective” it affords us, but because the choices of those who lived before us still affect us today. Something we should think of too… Our own part in all this.

History is fascinating because it is over and done with, it’s rigid because it cannot be undone or changed, but still fluid because we are still interpreting it’s causes and experiencing its effects.

Ok, so that meandered into a “zen-speech”, I sound like fortune cookie now… Sorry.
At least it can help explain why I so enjoy these places, even if they have been restored to their former beauty and/or even if it’s just a hole in the ground by the time I get there.

Some people in my group were disappointed the wall was so “fresh”. One even said “I bet that’s been built just for the tourists” (he was a bit of a “negative nancy”, so I didn’t much mind him) – For my part, the visit to the Great Wall was really good. I just wish we could have stayed much longer. I could have spent all day there… For this reason I am tempted to go back already on this trip.

2 thoughts on “China :: The Great Wall (Visit #1)

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