Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Visiting the Great Wall has been a tourist “must” for centuries, and it has to be admitted that the experience is unforgettable. Apart from the fact that the wall can be seen from deep space and that it is possibly the most massive thing built by man, it has in its way a kind of beauty that grows on one.
Seeing it recently right after the heaviest snow that Beijing had seen in sixty years, we found it especially beautiful. The snow intensified its massiveness and outlined it against its background of mountains stretching on for miles. On the wall itself, where we all tried to walk uphill, the snow was treacherous enough to make us wish for ropes to hold on to or boots that dug deeply into the crust. Yet everywhere we looked, the scenery exalted the vision of the wall winding toward the horizon.
Several things impressed us. First, the wall was filled with tourists, but not primarily western tourists. Far and away the largest number of tourists was local or consisting of groups of workers, all wearing red baseball hats, or groups of citizens with their families and their children. We were amazed when some of them came and photographed us, then placed their wives next to us for another photograph. They placed their children between us and took our photograph. Then I began taking their photograph and giving them my camera to have them photograph us with their wives and children, usually with their arms around us or holding hands. Young couples insisted on having their photographs taken with us and then older couples came and followed suit. I don't remember anything like this happening in an American tourist spot.
We shook hands with many people who simply smiled and spoke a few words. Almost none were in English. But I had the impression that there was genuine good feeling between the Chinese tourists and us American tourists. Everywhere I looked there were smiles and good cheer. It was encouraging on many levels. For some reason it made me think of Samuel Johnson. In his home in London there is a large brick supposedly taken from the Great Wall and given to him as a remembrance. I suppose a good photograph is something like a good brick.