Wednesday, March 04, 2009

One Wall, Many Forms

Our love affair with the Great Wall continued this past weekend, as we added another section to our repertoire. While I consider it "one section" in word, in deed it was actually several segments, each with its own characteristics and charm.

When we reached the city of Shanhaiguan, we headed straight for the Old Dragon's Head. As the easternmost portion of the wall, this relatively short rebuilt section ceases only where the breaking waves begin. The shape of the wall itself at this point abstractly resembles that of a dragon's head, hence the name. A truly beautiful setting for a truly beautiful structure.

Where this section proper ends, the dirt portion of the wall begins. While this part would be almost unrecognizable to a visitor, given its lack of characteristic stone blocks, its use as a raised thoroughfare and exercise trail for locals is apparent.

Our question about this segment, of course, is...Where are the stone blocks? Were there ever blocks in this section, or was it always just a mound? While some research reveals stories that some of the blocks have been carted away by locals for other uses, the remnant mound begs to be included in a historical novel. It is as mysterious as the individuals who constructed it.

Next up, the beautiful reconstructed portion known as Jiao Shan. Very steep in some parts, this section is equipped with metal steps and enclosed ladders to assist adventurous tourists with the climb. (A winding, paved path up the mountain is also available for those who aren't as interested in the rigors of a Great Wall ascent.) The steepness is due to the changing terrain...from coastal plain to rugged mountain. A tough, but worthwhile climb.

The final, semi-accessible section of this area of the Great Wall is what we call the "crumbling wall." Basically made up of rocks and rubble, and climbing high to panoramic views, this part has undoubtedly won our hearts as our favorite part of the wall.

Something about the "road less traveled making all the difference" seems to be a fitting description of the feelings we all shared while scaling the sometimes hazardous areas of what Chinese twenty-somethings call the "wild wall."

In sum, while the Great Wall extends for thousands of miles, it is neither continuous nor homogeneous. The materials used and the textures visible are varied, yet all incredibly powerful in their presentation. From flat to treacherous, dirt to stone, every inch bellows the triumph that is the Great Wall.



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