Jun 4th, 2010 Contributed by: Ivette Figueroa

BEIJING, PRC —In the back of my mind, I knew I was standing on a piece of ancient history.

But somehow, I couldn’t determine the significance of it all. I simply soaked it in.

The mountains dressed in forest greens, the smell of stone, the constant clamor of people—talking, laughing, taking pictures.

I had always imagined the Great Wall as a silent sentinel, or filled with the sounds and smells of war—clanking armor, heavy hoof beats, and smoke from fire beacons.

The sun made tiny beads of sweat creep down my neck as I concentrated on climbing the uneven steps.

The incline alone was treacherous, with only a steel handrail to help keep your balance.

I trekked upwards towards the fourth checkpoint, my calf muscles protesting the entire way. My camera bag felt heavier with each step and I couldn’t help but wonder how the soldiers managed to maneuver around in their heavy armor.

When I reached the peak and hit level ground again, I took a break to take in the scene. It was not how I had pictured it at all.

I didn’t expect the graffiti that covered every available inch of stone. Or the sliding car ride—a roller coaster that transported you down the side of the mountain. Or the vendors that set up shop five feet from the wall itself.

Somehow I couldn’t reconcile this commercialized, vandalized place with my image of ancient China.

A part of me was in awe at the structure itself … and the spectacular view. But the disparity from my vision and reality really took me out of the moment.


Of course, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. Despite the mass of people and the modern additions, climbing the Great Wall is every bit as rewarding as you can expect.

As I watched the people pass me by, I realized how important making this trip is to the Chinese.

Whether they were a child being guided with a firm hand or the elderly that clung to the handrail, the majority of the crowds were Chinese.

It is such a culturally significant part of their history that they have a saying, “If you do not make a trip to the Great Wall at least once in your life, you are not a good Chinese person.”

In my opinion, this shouldn’t simply belong as an exclusively Chinese icon—but as a symbol of what can be accomplished through human ingenuity.

The Great Wall is a milestone in not only Chinese history, but human history itself.

Reposted from The China Journalism Project, University of Miami: labs.com.miami.edu/china

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