Saturday, January 8, 2011
Going to the Great Wall and Becoming a True Man (不到长城,非好汉)
From the top of a hillock about 70 km northwest of Beijing, my family and I gazed westwards across an undulating Great Wall of China winding itself like a dragon along the ridges of the Jundu Mountain on a cold and windy morning; as it was 10 below zero with the chill wind factor. I stood there dumbfounded at its size, the setting and the spectacle of its history that made me and everyone fell silent as we approached and joined other tourists at the entrance of the Badaling section of the Great Wall. Stepping onto the Wall for the first time was awe inspiring. Nothing can compare with the immense human labour and arduous hardship that history tells us, which seemed compressed over a period of many centuries into the construction and almost constant renovation and expansion of that monuments as a symbol of Chinese civilization, and one of the wonders that the Chinese people have had created.
After travelling two hours from Beijing, we arrived at the entrance of Badaling Section of the Great Wall. We walked past the hawkers selling beanies and woolen scarves and the bears in a sunken enclosure huddling together at the foot of the Badaling section to board a "roller coaster" to get to the top. The views here were astounding. Vast mountain scenery extended in all directions, Stretching before us was the the Great Wall, which was constructed almost entirely of bricks and stones.. Some of the stones had a height of two metres and I reckoned they could weigh over a thousand kilograms. My son, who has always had an interest in ancient history, pointed to us how the parapets were crenellated and the lower section of the walls had loopholes for defensive fire by the archers.
According to our guide, Badaling was probably the most popular tourist spot on the Wall. Made famous by a visit from Chairman Mao, Richard Nixon and a host of other visiting dignitaries, Badaling now sees more tourists each year than any other part of the wall. As for me, this part of the wall was more a tourist attraction. The incline was much steeper than I thought and the stone beneath me was worn smooth by the vast numbers of tourists who came here to "become a real man" as visitors were inclined to feel a sense of accomplishment when they reached the top.
We had come here to begin a two weeks tour of China that would take us through ancient Forbidden City of Beijing and the modern Shanghai and hoping to see the rich history and varied food and lifestyle of each city with our own eyes.