Today my classmates and I took a trip to a section of the Great Wall of China about an hour and a half away from the city of Beijing. The section of the wall we went to was at 慕田峪 (Mutianyu), a city about 60km from the center of Beijing.
The day started off with my cellphone alarm clock rudely interrupting my sleep at rather early 7AM. Anyways, I ran outside to grab some food off the streets. The main gate of this campus, at all times of day, has 3 or 4 little food and snack carts (fruit too!) waiting to fry you up some cheap and tasty food (cleanliness of these carts is arguable). This morning I had my favorite snack of thin fried bread with egg in the middle with some spicy meat and pieces of lettuce. I still have not figured out exactly what kind of meat is inside (chicken, pork?) and am too lazy to ask but it tastes delicious every time.
After eating breakfast, we hopped on the bus and started our journey. On the bus I first did some class readings and then quickly fell asleep. I was awoken when we finally arrived at the Great Wall by a tap on my side. The girl sitting next to me also felt it necessary to tell me, “You were completely out the entire time and your mouth was wide open”.
Now worrying at the possibility of someone having took a few “Chris is sleeping and looks foolish” type photographs (has already happened a few times in China), I climbed off the bus and entered the concentrated alley of people aggressively hawking goods. Everyone made a concentrated effort to dodge the people selling t-shirts, fruit, drinks, necklaces, scarves, wall hangings and all other sorts of merchandise at startlingly inflated prices. Our big group met by the bathrooms for one second and then our Resident Director handed us our tickets and we took off in smaller groups to climb the trail through the forest to actually get to the wall.
We hiked up these stairs through the forest for about a half an hour.
Finally the trees began thinning out and the trail started running parallel to a section of the wall. We kept walking and ended up taking some stone steps and then abruptly popped out right on top a section of the wall. The first impression of the wall that I had was that it was thinner than I initially expected. Maybe its the “urban legend” that the Great Wall is identifiable from space and the moon that made me think it would be this hulking wide structure. While the wall cuts a giant path straight through trees and mountains and winds itself over the terrain, it just wasn’t as wide as I expected. That fact that the wall winds up the sharp face of mountains is extremely impressive in itself when thinking of demands of engineeering and construction over such difficult terrain. However, I was led, perhaps, to believe it would this incomprehensible wide, hulking structure.
Here is the view from the highest point that we climbed to.
View From the Top
It took some serious work to get to this point. We walked on the wall for an hour and a half, up steep stairs and rickety ladders all under the continuously pulsing afternoon sun (yes I am sunburned). The views of the surrounding mountains were fantastic and the day was very clear with no clouds in sight.
Jagged Mountains in the Distance
It was amazing to be able to climb the wall and see the surrounding area but I sort of came away wanting to understand why so much effort was put into creating this structure meant primarily to keep people out of China. The wall is actually a collection of many smaller walls that began being constructed in the 5th century BC. It was expanded and maintained until 16th century AD. The wall’s purpose was to keep various nomadic groups and tribes, most notably the Mongols out of China. The Great Wall which is so firmly embedded in Chinese culture sort of laid the foundation for many xenophobic thoughts and movements that continue to this day. During Mao’s era and even today China works very hard (using internet filtering for example) to contain the people and “harmony” within China while not allowing outside forces to enter and affect the country and its people. I couldn’t help being awed by the size and scope of this object which kept people out of China which definitely contributed to the historic evolution of “Chinese” thought. For me the wall is an important historic structure which really shaped the course of Imperial and Modern China. It was truly amazing to see it in person.
After we hung out on the wall for around 3 hours, we made it back to the bus and drove to a restaurant (we were all STARVING at this point) and then back to school. We got a firsthand experience of how horrible Beijing rush hour traffic is but ended up making it back in one piece. Today was a very enjoyable day learning more about Chinese history while exploring, having great conversations, and just having fun with classmates on the Great Wall.
Great Wall Below