Finding Nemo

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Off the Wall

Great wall as seen from ESA's Proba satellite

Of all the grand structures in the world, the Great Wall of China is the most tragically comic.  It was built by the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, 1500 years ago, and then expanded and maintained for 1000 years more.  Millions of people were used in its construction, and when the emperors ran out of men they used women.  And it didn’t work!  Genghis Khan simply bribed the sentries, and its huge span meant that of course it couldn’t be defended entirely along its length.  When Japan and then Europe invaded from the sea, the Wall was about as much use as a hairdryer.

The Chinese call it the longest cemetery in the world, as those who died in its construction were simply used as more bricks.  An infamous poem goes:

“The wall is so tall because it is stuffed with the bones of soldiers,
The wall is so deep because it is watered with the soldiers’ blood.”

Endless Awesome-ness.  I'm in the picture somewhere I think
But I have to say, there is only word to describe it today… Frickin’ Awesome.  OK, two words maybe, but at 10,000 li, the Wall is the longest man-made structure in the world.  I went and saw it with an Irish guy named Logan from the hostel, and they hooked us up with what is considered the most beautiful and least touristed section at Jinshanling.  And the hostel was right, it was beautiful, remote, and very untouristed compared the circus at Badaling (literally: Badaling has a sad zoo and cable car).  In fact, our bus was the only one there at the time we pulled up, which is shocking when you think about the billion potential tourists in the country.

We wandered quickly past the group to see if we could get lost a little bit.  Unfortunately, that turned out to be impossible because the battlements are still manned.  Of course, instead of soldiers, the sentries were old women squawking “Cold beer!  Water!  Coke!”

But for the most part, we had it to ourselves, standing upon the Great Wonder in all its crumbly glory.  It is 7m tall and 7m thick, a huge square bulk snaking off in both directions until it disappears far off in the misty mountains.  It has 25,000 battlements!  And each of these are multi-storey mini-houses, complete with living quarters.  The mind-boggling construction is almost entirely over rugged mountainous terrain in the hills north of Beijing.

Whatever you do, don't trust this guy's directions
Standing atop it, watching it wind and bend up and down and back upon itself over the steep ridges, endlessly, is to know the meaning of Empire.

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