The Great Cemetery

The Great Cemetery

10/05/2009

Ensconced with the blood and bones of countless, the Great Wall is so much more than what its name so bluntly implies.  The immense structure, which spans 2,400 miles and consists of a network of walls and towers, is more likened to a holy pilgrimage than a mere tourist spot.  Our visit to the daunting Jinshanling (Jinshenling) section made the trek even more inspirational.   Unlike the more populous sections where tourists are deployed in an orderly line, the ten-kilometer-long Jinshanling was practically isolated.

Perhaps the immense disparities between quality and difficulty over the span of the thirty watchtowers that comprised the sector were a deterrent.   Only the strong can survive.  Steps crumble beneath my feet as I cross from one tower to the next.  At one point, the steps are a mere three inches wide—worn over the constant pounding of feet.  At another, the steps are nearly a foot tall apiece and shoot up like trees creating a massive wall of stone that I must literally use my hands and knees to climb.  Yet another set is so eroded that the grooves and crevices have all but worn out, creating a treacherously slippery slope that one must navigate slowly at an odd angle to avoid plummeting down the mountainside.  This is definitely not the Great Wall that one sees in photos. 

The level of difficulty and struggle associated with this climb gave me immense rush: Thoughts of completing this trek bombarded my mind as I crept behind the rest of the group.  The local villagers, seeing the sweat on my brow and the anguish in my step offered their help.  One tried to show me a shortcut.  Determined to be able to honestly say I had completed this journey on my own, I declined.  Another tried to offer me a hand on some of the less secure stairs.  “Bu yao, xie xie” I would reply, determined to complete this obstacle independently.  However, this second villager was quite persistent.  A woman of at least 50 of petite frame, she gingerly leapt from stone to stone effortlessly maneuvering throughout the structure. 

Though I continually declined her offer to help, I grew quite accustomed to her sturdy presence.  Unsurprisingly, her acquaintance came at a price.  About halfway throughout the climb, she requested that I purchase something from the souvenir bag she was lugging so she can return home.  “Local farmer.  No work, no job.  Walk the wall everyday,” she said in broken English.  While I certainly didn’t like feeling pressured into giving, I felt genuine empathy for this woman.  It wasn’t until I heard other villagers vying for patronage recite the exact same story verbatim that I realized the magnitude of the soliciting enterprise.  But I couldn’t dwell on this notion for long.  As the end of the wall came into view, my pride swelled.  Though I was the next to last to complete the trek, the personal triumph was no less sweet. 

 

 

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