Monday, April 27, 2015

Home from China


And did I walk upon the Great Wall?

Yes, children, I did.

I was on one of the restored/reconstructed sections, obviously. But it was still a moving experience and possibly the one single experience that the traveler to China must have or else regret missing forever. Samuel Johnson (did you know?) was among the many who yearned to see the Great Wall but could not. As James Boswell recorded:

“Johnson once talked with uncommon animation of traveling into distant countries; and that an acquisition of dignity of character was derived from it.  He expressed a particular enthusiasm with respect to visiting the wall of China. I catched it for the moment, and said I really believed I should go and see the wall of China had I not children, of whom it was my duty to take care. ‘Sir, (said Johnson,) by doing so, you would do what would be of importance in raising your children to eminence. There would be a lustre reflected upon them from your spirit and curiosity. They would be at all times regarded as the children of a man who had gone to view the wall of China. I am serious, Sir.'”

The wall was, as you can probably tell from the photograph, thronged with tourists, almost all of them Chinese. The young bounded onward, pausing every now and then to take a selfie. The old clutched the rail, climbed a step at a time, and took frequent rests. Somewhere in between, I ascended through four guard houses, rising to the highest point visible from where I started.  Occasionally, Chinese tourists would stop me with a request that I pose with them for a photo.  Not, obviously, because I was so famous there that they recognized me but because anyone of non-Asian descent is in most parts of that country a sight worth seeing.

Halfway up my trek, a crowd almost stopped all forward passage.  There were three young women, quite lovely and very dark-skinned, having their pictures taken. Tourists would thank them and leap back into the crowd, to be replaced by someone new wanting to record his or her glancing meeting with them.  I had to admire their courtesy to utter strangers.  They were remarkably good sports about a situation that must have happened to them quite a lot.

When I got to the furthest point in my excursion, I could see the wall stretching out ahead, down and then up again to the next mountain ridge and felt the urge to go on and on, deeper and deeper into China.  But that wasn't practical.  So instead -- and I realize this was whimsical of me, but we are all allowed our foibles now and then -- I clutched the cold stones of the wall, every one of them scratched with the names of visitors, overwhelmingly in Chinese.  I stared out into the mountains and at the Great Wall stretching ahead of me.  And I whispered to the unheeding air, "Sam, I am here."

And I've got a lot of catching up to do, so . . .

The Great Firewall of China is no joke.  I could not update my blog during my journeys in China. So I'm going to be doing a series of posts retracing my steps across that great nation, starting this Wednesday with my return to Chengdu.

In between, if I can find the time, I'll be posting non-Chinese blogs.  Just because there's a lot of stuff going on.

Stay tuned.



Mark Pontin said...

Good to have you back, illustrious one.

JL Stillman said...

Mrs. and I visited the wall twice, and came back with children who's luster reflects on us.

JL Stillman said...

Welcome home.

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