11 January 2015



When Paul and I first learned that we were going to China, I immediately became excited about the possibility of seeing the Great Wall. I did not know whether we would be able to get to the Wall from Beijing, but I knew I wanted to see it, touch it, stand on it.

Since nothing in our PNG world turns out the way we expect, plans always change and trips are often cancelled, I honestly refused to believe that I would set foot in China until the day that I boarded my flight to Beijing. My brain considered the trip nonexistent until I was on my way, nose up and landing gear secured in the plane’s belly; my emotions were steady even the day before my scheduled flight. “Are you excited about your trip tomorrow,” many people inquired. “I am not convinced I am going,” I replied every time. As such, I was uninterested in researching attractions, determining which historical sites we needed to see or scouring any travel websites to discover all the city had to offer. For the first time, I was completely apathetic toward a vacation. 

Neither of us had much of a plan for our 2.5 days in the city but we were able to determine a handful of locations that we would be able to conquer in a timely manner. We had time to have cab drivers chauffeur us around the city and asked the hotel concierges to recommend popular destinations. We walked around parks, gazed at monuments and learned about China's history in the process. But the sole thing that I wanted to do while we were in the area was to get up close and personal with the Wall.

Though Paul and I have had many amazing, fabulous opportunities and have traveled across the globe to places that most of our friends and our family members will likely never see, I do not believe that I had experienced many once-in-a-lifetime moments until faced with the possibility of visiting China’s Great Wall. I have had moments in my life when I knew that I needed to do something while the opportunity was in front of me – like move to Singapore – but this moment – touching history older than my country, imagining what the world was like at the time and the battles that were fought along the seemingly endless pathway – was something I just knew that I had to do, and I was dragging my husband along with me because, whether he liked it or not, I was going to make this his once-in-a-lifetime moment as well. I think my time floating in the Dead Sea was the only other OIALM to that date.

From Beijing, we had our pick of several locations but, after quite a bit of research, we determined that the easiest location for transportation options would be the tourist mecca called Badaling. We had planned to take a train up to the point but that morning turned out to be one of those days when absolutely nothing went to plan. That afternoon Paul, with the help of bilingual hotel staff, arranged for a hired driver to take us the hour-plus trip to the Badaling entrance, and our driver’s bilingual friend on the phone helped Paul also secure a ride home.

Driving out of the city and into China’s countryside was a beautiful experience. As we drove farther north, the terrain intensified as buildings ceased and mountains extended toward the heavens, a strong, bold allusion to the Great Wall itself.

I experienced my OIAL breathtaking moment when I first caught a glimpse of the Wall, high on a mountainside. I actually gasped as my jaw dropped open and I savored the moment before scrambling for my camera.

One of my first pictures of the Great Wall outside Beijing

As we drove along, I was in awe of the structure and the history before me. The Wall was part of the mountain range, ebbing and flowing with each peak and valley, a juxtaposition of mighty, unwavering strength and graceful movement that seemingly streamed into eternity.

Paul was most looking forward to a gondola ride that would take us up the mountain so that we would not have to climb thousands of stairs. As we made our way to the building, we noticed the lack of people in the vicinity. A very large sign through the glass doors confirmed my suspicion: the cable cars were closed.

Badaling had all the signs of a popular tourist location: lines of junk shops, hagglers and signs boasting Wi-Fi availability. Yes, even the Great Wall of China has Wi-Fi.

I had read that November was the best month to visit the wall so I was eager to see a continuation of the bright amber leaves I had witnessed in the city. Once we climbed a few sets of stares and gazed out across God’s vast creation, all we saw were branches – naked branches along a russet landscape only highlighted by a few evergreen clusters that more often resembles moss than trees. The only pops of color that brightened the background were the many coats worn by visitors making their way up and down the ridges.

I noticed the majority of tourists heading one direction, so I decided that Paul and I would hit the trail in the opposite direction to avoid the crowds.

The wind was fierce at times, biting our hands and faces in the cold near-winter air. We braved the cold and again climbed higher and higher as I constantly insisted that I would scale only one more peak, lying every time.

The first of many stairways toward heaven. Not even close to the top.

I was breathless, partly because climbing steep, uneven stairs in frigid temperatures will take the breath out of a person, but mostly because standing upon the structure, living the realization that the stones on which my feet were planted had been secured to the earth nearly 3,000 years before my existence. The first part of the Great Wall was said to be constructed in the 7th Century B.C. Construction continued for more than 2,000 years.

Many areas of the Great Wall have been restored; Badaling is the most preserved section and the first area open to tourists, which is why the location is so popular. I was aware of just how many people had visited the site over the years because the only thing as prevalent as the stones themselves were the signatures etched into each block.

People from all over the world marked their names into the wall, some with permanent marker, others etched in the stone

The wall has a width that was said to be large enough for 10 soldiers or five horses to pass side by side. I have absolutely no idea how the horses would have been able to conquer the stairs from either direction. We ascended hundreds of stairs in varied condition: some held steady while others were loose under our shoes; a few spots revealed crevasses and dilapidation.

Stair height, depth and gradient levels were completely inconsistent. One stair would be nearly twice the size of my foot, requiring a little gumption to get me going, and then several smaller stairs only 2 inches high would continue.

I thought climbing up the steep slopes was difficult, but descending proved to be a bit tougher, at least for me. I grasped onto the metal pole with both bare hands, sometimes wrapping my arm around the guard rail as I took one determined step at a time. Paul found a more enjoyable escape technique.

Yes, he actually slid down the pole a few different times, a couple from a more verticle position.

Because we only witnessed a small portion of the vast structure, we did have a bit of, “OK, we have seen enough,” and, “It’s starting to all look the same from here,” attitude. However, we absolutely took several moments to pause, gaze and consider where we were and who had come before us. 

An area of a tower where fires would be lit to signal invaders. The fires and smoke signals identified the number of soldiers approaching.

Please do not steal my photos.

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