China's Great Wall: A beautiful barrier
China's Great Wall: Built to keep outsiders out, the wall has now become the draw for much of the world—this writer included.
It's a decision I had to make, and time was running out. My husband, a reporter, had been asked to move to Beijing, and the question loomed over a two-week visit I made as he was working there temporarily, but wanting to make the move. And wanting me to want to make the move.Skip to next paragraph
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Our plan was to mix sightseeing with an attempt to get a feel for the city and the area, meeting folks, wandering around neighborhoods, shopping, checking out local newspapers and magazines, even looking at a few apartments.
But it was the visit to the Great Wall that seemed to combine both purposes – it was an item all tourists check off the must-see list, but also to me a necessary element in understanding China. For me, geographical landmarks – whether it's the majestic Hudson River of my hometown, the Catskill Mountains surrounding my college, or the smiling fields of sun-flowers in southern France – become welcoming friends, always there, reliable and comforting.
Although we had visited a touristy part of the wall called Badaling, this time we chose something quite different: a visit to what wall-enthusiast William Lindesay calls the "Wild Wall," an unrestored segment only about 60 miles from Beijing but feeling far more distant. Mr. Lindesay organizes hiking tours from his rustic barracks, a former school that he and his Chinese wife, Qi, converted into a country inn.
The plan was to rise at 3 a.m. Armed with flashlights and warm clothes, our group of Americans, Germans, and Chinese set off in the predawn stillness. I think we woke up a local rooster at a farmhouse as we trudged up the mountainside. Even that early, the sky was beginning to show the promise of the dawn, although most of us kept our flashlights firmly aimed on the dirt path in front of us.
As we climbed, local warblers began to trill through the quietness and dogs barked in the distance. Lindesay pointed out a few murky knobs topping the hill we approached, saying they were some of the wall's thousands of watchtowers, but it was still dark enough to imagine that they could also be rock formations.