On the Wall

Yesterday, I had a picnic on the Great Wall of China.

An elaborate selection of food wasn’t necessary. In fact, the main components consisted of a pack of Chip’s Ahoy chocolate chip cookies, a bottle of green tea and Minute Maid orange juice for my friend. It’s strange that there are vendors on the Wall who sell these things. But the day wasn’t about business, and it certainly wasn’t about the food. It was about the spot, the view — the insanely wide scope of the wall that I was sitting on.

My friends and I had taken a cable car up to the top of the Wall, and we were prepared. We had heard about the bitter cold and wind. I had about six shirts on — long sleeve shirts, sweatshirts and a winter jacket I had bought a few days before in preparation. I even bought a pair of knock-off Uggs just for the occasion. Earmuffs, gloves and hats were also involved in the wardrobe creation. I had been warned by Semester at Sea, friends and family who had been to the Wall before, and I was ready to brave the elements and hike the wall in freezing temperatures.

But, after all of my preparation and expectations, I realized that the Great Wall gave me more than I could have ever prepared for. It wasn’t the Arctic beast that I had thought I would have to hike and conquer.

The air wasn’t bitter. The sun beamed proud in the afternoon, and I started to wonder why I had spent so much time and energy bargaining down a pair of earmuffs the night before. I didn’t need earmuffs. Besides, there was no one else on the Wall.

The Wall was quiet. There was no one else walking near me. It was warm for a crisp fall day. It was special. And I sat on it enjoying my green tea watching the path ramble into infinity through the mountains before me. It seemed too easy to be here.

During my time on the Wall, drinking my tea and eating cookies by a cannon on the Great Wall seemed like a secret that no one knew about. It was easy to forget all of the late-night specials and National Geographic photographs on the Great Wall of China. It wasn’t the wall that my history books talked about. I know so much history took place there, but that day, no one else was here. It didn’t seem busy and historic.

It was just one of the most mountainous and Zen places my friend and I had ever had a picnic, in the mountains on an architectural phenomenon that ran hundreds of miles ahead of us. We could never keep up. I could never cover this majesty. I was just small and looking. But it was letting me look.

All I needed was what the Wall gave me — and that was not just cookies and drinks. It was pure amazement. It gave me breath and calm and photographs and smiles and silence. The Wall surprised me with its grace and touched me with its depth.

– Ashley May

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