The Great Myth
I did not know much about China or Chinese culture before I visited the country, but I did know about the Great Wall. I did not know much about the wall, but I did know that it was built to keep the Mongolians out – or something along those lines. In AP World History, my teacher taught us that China’s Great Wall was a prime example of how walls did not work. I also knew that the wall is, in some ways, a giant graveyard. As the wall was being built, some accidents occurred, and people were killed while making it. Although this was true, that did not slow construction. This information fueled the wild thoughts that I had while waiting to visit the wall. Would it have skeletons scattered around the bricks? Would it be in an isolated mountain range, slowly decaying into ruin? My mind constantly wondered.
My University, Beijing Language and Culture University, offered a group trip to the Great Wall to all students who were attending their summer language classes. I was excited about this! The journey began very early in the morning, 8 am to be exact, all students were told to meet at the east gate. That was where we would all be herded into shuttle buses and then shipped to our location.
We were assigned to buses based on what class we were in and what professors would be in charge of us. I was surprised by this because I thought the treatment was similar to a kindergarten field trip, and I, a Junior in college, am usually given full rights to run free regardless of the consequences. I understood the caution, though, but I would have liked to have been given the option to get lost and find my way back on my own.
I am not sure what I was expecting the Great Wall to be like, but I would say that it was a lot more than what I expected. It was one of the first times that I felt that I was “in China.” It seemed to be a part of China that was far removed from the big city lights and western influences. It was a refined, organic thing of beauty. It was a refreshing breath of air compared to the commercialized culture that is often given to tourists while visiting China.
Of course, when visiting the Great Wall, the self is overloaded by people screaming “Great Wall T-shirts!” “Great Wall hats!” “BuyBuyBuy!”, but that chaos is removed once you ascend the wall. All is not quiet, all is not well, but if you try to meditate and isolate yourself from the commotion, it allows a little peek into China’s past.
Visiting the Great Wall was one of the first glimpses I had into China’s true beauty. It solidified for me that time is expansive, and I am just part of one little drop within a vast, ever-expanding bucket of life. This realization was beautiful and lifechanging for me. Visiting the wall was not an easy feat. The slope leading up to the wall is very steep, and there are many stairs to climb before you reach the beauty of the wall. The wall is also packed with other tourists, but this does not make the trip any less rewarding. After this trip, I feel a greater need to travel abroad and visit other cultural icons. I would enjoy visiting other countries and taking time to understand their culture both from the past and present.