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This is Saturday and a day dedicated to some serious sight-seeing–the Great Wall, a jade carving factory and retail outlet, the Ming Tombs. Overnight a light snow had fallen in the city but this did not significantly impede traffic. The temperature was in the mid-20s as we began our 25-mile drive north to what Astronaut Neal Armstrong callled the “only man-made strcture” he could see from his space craft. Our BC group was in high spirits to see what was probably the touristic highlight of this Interterm adventure. The common saying in China is “One hasn’t seen China until one see the Great Wall!”
On this cold, gray day, with light snow continuing to fall, tourist traffic to/at the Great Wall was lighter than usual. This structure, undulating like huge a dragon across the mountainous terrain of north China, dates from abut 200 BC and at one time snaked over some 3,000 miles from the Gobi Desert in Western China to its eastern terminus on the shores of the East China Sea. Today only a small length of the Wall has been rebuilt. The part we were visiting was characterized by high, unevenly-spaced steps–some as high as one’s knee–and proving a particular challenge to the short of stature! The Wall-perhaps 25 feet high and 30 feet wide at the top–is a breathtaking achievement! It is believed that as many as one million workers (perhaps 20% of China’s population at the time) labored in its construction.
Interestingly, the Wall proved almost totally ineffective in protecting the Chinese heartland from incursions by barbarians from the north. As Genghis Khan reportedly said, “The strength of the wall depends on the courage of those who defend it!" The economic and human costs of construction are sobering. At the entrance gate, aggressive vendors hawked an amazing variety of tourist articles. Everyone of our group negotiated some part of the fairly steep inclines of the Wall–and some of the more athletic went to a distance and height where they were almost invisible from the entry gate. Perhaps the most astounding achievement of our group was by our soon-to-be 94 years old–Jake Goering. He, without any needed encouragement, and with little physical support from us, walked up to the second of the three towers that are reasonably accessible from the entry point–a one-way upward journey of perhaps 800 steps–and coming down is generally considered more difficult than the ascent. Along the way, I told a watching and somewhat solicitous security guard nearly that this man was nearly 94 years of age! The guard’s reaction: “That is truly amazing. Have him take it very, very slowly on the way down!”
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