The Other Side of the Wall

China's Foreign Trade (English) - - Eye On China -

and sur­pris­ing in­sights into what we had thought of as or­di­nary.

But, if we’re be­ing real hon­est, Bei­jing in the win­ter is not the most ideal time of the year in which to stroll around. The grey mist that fa­mously sti­fles the city man­aged to rear its ugly head on more than a cou­ple of our out­ings to Lonely Planet favourites like For­bid­den City, Houhai, Tiantan, and other fa­mous sites. How­ever, in a thank­ful ( but bit­ter) twist of fate, we had yet to visit the ma­jes­tic Great Wall, which on the one hand meant we had not tainted its im­age with thick haze, but on the other hand meant we were more than a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed in our hes­i­ta­tions to visit the most fa­mous site in Bei­jing. To pass the time con­struc­tively, we agreed that per­haps tak­ing day trips out­side of Bei­jing would give our vis­i­tor a bet­ter ex­plo­ration pur­pose while we waited for finer weather.

Af­ter re­search­ing day trip ideas, we stum­bled onto the bril­liant idea that the Great Wall is not just a Bei­jing based site, and that the marvellous twisted bar­ri­cade in­deed had a point to it ly­ing just a few hours East of Bei­jing, which uniquely be­gan (or ended?) in wa­ter. Our search had stum­bled onto Qin­huang­dao, and with it, the fan­tas­ti­cally trans­lated Old Dragon’s Head (Lao­long­tou). A mad rush to Ctrip to se­cure train tick­ets, as well as fran­tic ho­tel search­ing, con­firmed we were off to visit the oceanic point. While we were joy­ous at the idea of es­cap­ing Bei­jing, we were sad­dened by the pre­sumed fact that it was go­ing to be am­ply busy even dur­ing win­ter. Nev­er­the­less, we pro­ceeded on­wards.

Qin­huang­dao greeted us with slush on the roads cour­tesy of a snow­storm that rolled through the city the night be­fore. Our taxi driver swerved like Michael Schu­macher be­fore drop­ping us at our medi­ocre ho­tel in a non­de­script part of the city. We rested, we ate, and we waited for morn­ing to make our way to the throngs of peo­ple we were ex­pect­ing to meet.

The morn­ing view that greeted us was crisp, blue, sunny. We choked down a stodgy breakfast be­fore se­cur­ing a driver (not be­fore some ag­gres­sive taxi hag­gling went down), and then we were off. Af­ter twenty min­utes of driv­ing by ocean hori­zon edged with cargo ships, our driver pulled in slowly to the large, but mys­te­ri­ously bar­ren carpark edge of Old Dragon Head. We told him that we must be in the wrong place, and that the wall, the wall that draws mil­lions in by their cu­rios­ity, must be else­where, for there was no one around. He barked his good­bye, and drove off.

With only the echoes of our foot­steps bounc­ing in front of us, we walked to the ticket of­fice ex­pect­ing it to be shut­tered. When the door opened, I’m not sure if it was my vis­it­ing party, or the two tourist of­fi­cers who were more shocked. They ex­changed our money for tick­ets, and wished us pleas­antries. As we walked to the of­fi­cial en­trance, we glanced over our shoul­ders and kept our ears perked, ex­pect­ing the hawk­ing cries of tourist guides to be just around the cor­ner. The ticket of­fi­cer ripped the ticket tabs away, and dis­ap­peared back to his crack­ling ra­dio, with­out giv­ing us a sec­ond look. We had yet to meet another tourist, but just knew they were be­yond. But as we went deeper into the quiet calm of Old Dragon Head our hes­i­ta­tions less­ened, and we be­came over­whelmed at the mag­i­cal idea that one of, if not the most fa­mous land­mark in all of Asia was ours and ours alone. Around each cor­ner was end­less, serene space, un­marred by peo­ple. We walked alone to the cli­mac­tic point where the ocean hugs the wall, and stood over­look­ing the won­drous, com­plete site. With each wave that brushed the wall be­fore meet­ing the shore, our sad­ness at not vis­it­ing the wall in Bei­jing eroded, and in that mo­ment I fully un­der­stood the mind­ful­ness phrase “find calm in the chaos” brought to life in front of us.

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