It was in 3rd grade when I started sketching different world landmarks at the back pages of my notebook as solution to the lethal boredom during math classes. Eifel tower, Statue of Liberty, Sydney opera house, pyramids of Giza and my favorite, The Great wall of China.
Up to this point, it still amazes me that a construction of this enormity took place out of some twisted idea of an emperor consumed by megalomania. But this paranoia byproduct transcended through time, generations and inspired an entire cultural identity.
Originally built to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire against intrusions by various nomadic groups such as the Xiongnu from the north and rebuilt and maintained between the 5th century BC and the 16th century. The most comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has recently concluded that the entire Great Wall, with all of its branches, stretches for 8,851.8 km (5,500.3 mi).
It was built by over a million people who happened to be frontier guards, peasants, unemployed intellectuals, disgraced noblemen, and convicts. In fact, there existed a special penalty during the Qin and Han dynasties under which convicted criminals were made to work on the Wall. Thousands of them died in the process.
OK Stop! Too much text book!
I initially intended to check-out the Badaling portion of the wall. Apparently, it is the most popular among tourist, so expect a very crowded FB picture. Badaling wall is actually new, so in essence it’s nothing but a good replica of the real thing. So, Badaling–out the window.
That left me with three options: Mutianyu, Simatai and Jinshanling. But when they told me that the Jinshanling wall will take 6 hours to traverse its steep ups and downs, and the fact that few days before that, I was climbing the highest mountain in South East Asia. So I straightforwardly refused. That narrowed down the options to two.
Until it dawned on me that I actually had no choice but to join a group tour to save on transportation expenses, and the only tour available that time–was the one heading to Jinshanling.
GREAT! I guess I’ll just have to brave another 6-hour death march.
I shed-off around 350 RMB which includes the bus ride from the hostel, breakfast, lunch and park entrance. I joined a group of backpackers, all of which are from Europe and the Mainland US. I was the only one from the Asia Pacific region.
Fed, a chef from Rome Italy, who happened to be at his last leg of a three month Asian backpacking project, walked along with me as we were the only two guys among the pack who smoke, we instantly cliqued.
We were all excited, (who wouldn’t?) Fed and I were singing and goofing around while we climbed up the first observation tower. We both stood there looking at the wall reaching as far as the horizon, We uttered words of amazement.
The Jinshanling Great Wall is located 140 kilometers (87 miles) northeast of Beijing, a literal wall barrier between Luanping and Inner Mongolia. It features complicated and well preserved fortification systems. The walls are more solid, the watchtowers are taller and it retains its original Ming Dynasty appearance. Here you can see the Wall relatively undisturbed and in its original condition. The wall follows the contours of the mountains, and stretches off into the distance. The wall has not been restored, so it has a special beauty. It is the section that foreign visitors like the most.
The Jinshanling section of the Great Wall is 10.5 km long with 5 passes, 67 towers and 2 beacon towers. The initial section of the wall has been restored to original condition, but the condition of the wall deteriorates towards its natural state as it approaches Simatai. The entrance fee is 40 RMB. A cable car has been constructed to take visitors to the highest point along the wall. There is an additional admission charge of 50 RMB to continue on to the Simatai section (all inclusive in our package), except for the 10 RMB fee to cross the suspension bridge.
Fed and I took our time walking, we were stopping to sit every once in a while, took our cameras and sketch pads out and started clicking, doodling or simply, sitting quietly, thinking nothing. He was singing what seemed to be like an Italian opera and I was singing… err… a Katy Perry. We were having a blast, until our non-english speaking guide started sending hand signals asking us to hurry up.
But NO! We were both adamant, we were not hurrying to catch up with the rest of the pack. For god’s sake we waited all our lives for this moment and nobody, not even Tim Gunn, will hurry us up. We savored each and every step of that whole 10 kilometer stretch of the wall!
The whole 10 km is enough to have the chance to get acquainted with other travelers. And that’s my favorite part of backpacking, getting to know different people with different backgrounds and stories. I got some 30 minutes of chatting with a guy I called Texas, who called me Hawaii in return, he also took most of my photos on the wall. I also had around an hour bonding with two young students from Sweden who are both in their year-long sabbatical leave before continuing on to becoming a physician and a sound engineer.
But the most interesting hour of that whole trek/acquaintance party is the one with Marlena, for some reason she effortlessly compelled me to a profound and more sensible discussion. We talked about culture, fashion, work and we exchanged views on topics from traveling, to principles and a more serious subjects like life. A huge part of that conversation made me think and reflect on the past years of my journey.
This trip to the great wall became more meaningful, it was more just another fulfillment of a childhood dream. The journey on the wall was like a representation of my life as it moves forward somewhere.
Beverly Sills once quoted, “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” All the mishaps I braved just to see the wall (the long train ride from Shanghai, the struggles in communication and the cold nights at the terminal) was after all, worth it. I had a practical application of the virtue patience and it definitely taught me a good lesson on perseverance. Life doesn’t end on reaching your projected destination, you can’t just look at it and enjoy the view, you should walk through it. Because it is a continuation of a journey.
When the trail finally ended, I paused for the last time. I wasn’t sure if I am going to see this wall again in this lifetime. In life, second chances are rare so make the best out of the first. So I literrally hugged a part of the wall terrace and kissed it goodbye. Xiexie Zhege Lucheng!