“Just a little bit further up, Big Sister! Come on!”
I looked up towards the clambering figure of my younger brother, both admiring and grudging his childlike energy and stamina. The stone steps ahead of me were almost as steep as a ladder’s, its surface cold and biting to my hands when I touched them. Looking upwards, I could only see more steps, seemingly endless and reaching towards the clear winter sky, the very thought of trying to conquer them all made my knee sockets ache. It was only when I looked to my back did the scenery reminded me that I was in no mere quest. I was right on the Great Wall, one of the most iconic monuments in the world and the crowning glory of China’s history.
As I sat back on the steps to admire the view, I touched the brick wall on my right, brown and worn down by
time and nature. The walls on either side of me were smooth stones and had been reconstructed during the Ming dynasty, but the history surrounding these walls has existed as far as 5th century BC. It was built mainly as a defensive measure against nomadic tribes to prevent them from attacking the kingdom. A sadistic addition to the legend of the Great Wall of China stated that many a thousand workers died during the construction of the wall during the reign of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. There was an additional version of this story saying that the dead workers were buried underneath the walls to save cost on burial, one which Hollywood had adapted into the third Mummy movie in 2008, Tomb of The Dragon Emperor.
Whatever the true story is, nothing about the Great Wall is short of majestic. Stretching across the mountains, it reminded me of a large dragon snaking across the landscape, prowling for its enemies and prey, eyes menacing against anything and everything that could ever threaten its peace. From where I sat, it really does look as if the wall goes on and on, and one could actually believe that this wall could have surrounded the whole country once a long time ago (although in truth it only covered the west and northern sides of the kingdom). In the valley between the two mountainsides, the lands could have been stretched bare in those times, the silence broken by the rare appearance of supply caravans for the guards. Or there could have been a tiny village there. Occasionally I caught a glimpse of a lone scouting post among the dry greens, seemingly unattached to the wall. It’s not hard to imagine the soldiers staying up in turn, eyes bright and alert for anything and everything suspicious, of perhaps they would each steal a snooze while on duty when their commanding officer weren’t looking.
The side of the Great Wall where I was is called Juyongguan Pass, the northern section of the monument and the nearest to Beijing. It is also the most visited, the highest point here being the Beibalou- a good thousand metres above sea level with the breathtaking view of the mountains of northern China. But that was as far as I go, as much as I would love to conquer the whole place. It is said that to walk across the whole Great Wall of China, one could take up to eight or nine months, depending on the speed!
Ah… well. Mother and Father were already waving from below, hollering for me to bring down my two siblings so that we can hurry to the next destination. I stood up and prepared to go down the stairs… wait a minute. Didn’t I just said that the steps were steep? Looks like it’s going to be a looong way down. Gulp!