Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Great Wall of China

Today, my class took our first field trip – we went to 长城 (The Great Wall)! As you may know, the wall dates back to before 200BC and was built to protect China from invaders. It didn't work very well for that purpose – China was successfully invaded in the 13th century by the Mongols and in the 17th century by the Manchus – but it did help the Chinese to transport supplies and to communicate over rugged mountain terrain.

These days, the wall is the world's longest tourist attraction. We visited a portion of the wall at Mutianyu about 90km (56 miles) from Beijing, which has fewer tourists than other parts of the wall near the capital. Although there were only a few other tourists visiting, there were very many merchants, selling souvenirs and trinkets. Getting from the parking lot to the base of the mountain was like running the gauntlet with people blocking my path, grabbing and pulling me. They must consider commerce to be a contact sport!

I knew that we had to 'climb' along the wall, but I really was not expecting such a steep climb just to get to the wall. At Mutianyu there is a ski lift to make the ride up or down easier, and there is also a sled ride to get down. I considered taking the ski lift, but I wasn't sure of the quality of the workmanship that went into building and maintaining it. And besides, my classmates were climbing (see photo), and I wouldn't let them climb alone.

Once we got onto the wall, we saw some amazing views. I've tried to include a couple of pictures to capture what I saw. Looking out onto the mountains and the countryside is great, but I found it even more impressive to see how the wall climbs up and down the mountains for miles in either direction. Climbing along the wall, I tried to imagine how hard it was for people 2000 years ago to build it, and how difficult the soldiers' lives must have been defending it. Simply walking along with my backpack was a strain in some of the steeper places - carrying weapons and supplies would have been really tough.

After a few hours of touring the wall and inspecting the various guard towers and fortifications, we headed down the mountain, through the gauntlet of merchants and back to the bus. We returned to Beijing, and now the work begins. I'm writing a speech in Chinese to present in class, describing my experiences at the Great Wall.


No comments: