Cosmic Climb on the Great Wall

Beijing, China

Autumn 2002

They say you can see the Great Wall of China from the moon. Only the Man in the Moon can tell. However, I can say I glimpsed the cosmos from the Great Wall of China.

(Barely) Scaling the Great Wall of China

It was bright and nippy the day I scaled one of man’s most magnificent structures with my family. I was living at that time in Shanghai, where megastructures changed the skyline constantly. But from the watch tower, I realized that the view of the Wall snaking through a panorama of mountains had not changed much for over 3,000 years.

Clouds blew in through the merlons. I cupped my gloved hands on my nose for warmth. Soon, the clouds broke up into fluff, descending to spread a soft mantle of snow on the stone fortification. My first visit to the Great Wall was made more magical by my first snowfall.

Group Hug on the Great Wall: Me, Mom, Bro-in-Law, and Sister

As it was still autumn, the snowfall was light, merely a frozen drizzle. I held out my hand and caught a snowflake. A white speck settled on my glove, its edges sharply defined by the white-grey contrast. A closer look was an eye-popping revelation of a perfect hexagon: six stems with bristles radiating out of an embossed center. The complexity, precision, and uniqueness packed in such a tiny ice crystal were no less incredible than that of spinning galaxies in the vast expanse of the universe. The identical signature of deliberate symmetry in this seeming randomness came from the same hand that designed them.

For a moment, I had forgotten I was on the crowning glory of the oldest continuous civilization in the world. A snowflake had upstaged the Great Wall. The minute and the ethereal stole the thunder from the centuries-old, country-defining, terrain-conquering, panorama-spanning, weather-defying, sky-scraping, hundreds-of-years-in-the-making icon of human ingenuity and power.

The Transcendental Tourist and his Sister: No Great Wall can separate us.

That moment of awe, even at the littlest miracles of nature, has never left me. I’ve never looked at the rain, the falling leaves, the sky – or the monuments of man – the same way again. It was that moment on the Great Wall that defined this traveler’s worldview.

I found that the universe can be contained in a particle and eternity in a moment. A great wall had fallen.

58 thoughts on “Cosmic Climb on the Great Wall

  1. AJ, what a wonderful adventure this must have been! It is one of the places I am dying to see. How many steps are there..just curious! I can just imagine the view…the snow..oh WOW!!!!

  2. nice, first time to visit The Great Wall, and first time din ma experience ang snow! nice nice. the scanned photos add more to the appeal of your story (teka, parang nasabi ko na ang linyang toh. hehe) still, really nice to look back and recall memories of our first time ;p

    • Now you’re talking, Ed. The first time is ALWAYS memorable! :D Oh, and obviously, I didn’t have digicam then. You got it – the blurry photos should add to the nostalgia.

    • Winter is too hardcore for a trip to the Great Wall! And summer would be punishingly hot and spring comes with sand storms, I think. So that leaves autumn as the best time. Cold, but not biting cold.

  3. A very creative and imaginative read AJ. And yes the scanned photos added to the nostalgia.
    BTW you know there is another great wall, a bling wall in Africa?

    • Not heard of the bling wall, Jim. You should blog about that, sounds interesting. And you should be out now taking photos!!! First snow in 40 years is a milestone!

  4. Aaaah. I should have had my photo taken the same way as your first pic. Scaled it too (like your trooper mom) in 2000 —- and promptly got a nosebleed on my way down. Too cold. But no snowflakes, you lucky xxxxx. ;-)

    I really love the way you express yourself in your writings, AJ.

    • Suerte lang na nag-snow nung andun ako. I think it was October pa lang, so I didn’t expect it. Pero light lang eh. Di puede mag-dashing through the snow kasi sobrang nipis lang. :D

  5. I am so glad you decided to share this story..When you told me this a yer ago or more, I was so moved and again reading this reminds me nothing can upstage the miracles of the creator. Some may have missed it..Glad you were noticing the small details. Lots of love and thanks for sharing!

    • Credit goes to you, Deanne, for inspiring me to write a post about this. Only when I started to write did I realize how much this experience has shaped my worldview, not only as a traveler, but as God’s creation beyond the circumstances of my birth (race, gender, economic status, etc). This certainly was a God moment.

    • According to Wiki, it’s more than 5,000 miles long! But it’s not continuous, I think. We were on the Wall for just about a couple of hours. It was getting uncomfortably cold (mostly due to wind chill).

  6. Wow, snowflakes, Great Wall and Family Bonding all in one, even just experiencing snow is enough for me or just seeing the Great Wall or just a holiday overseas with my whole family :)

    In short, I love your adventure, hitting three stones with one bird ;)

  7. On the first picture, that small figure on the right side sitting on the lowermost step is me, while A.J. was charging up the steps !

    • Humpty Dumpty sat on the Great Wall so Humpty Dumpty wouldn’t have a great fall. :D

      Mom, you remember more about this trip than I do!

    • Thanks Jam! I guess I should thank your friend too.

      Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll read the Diary of a Modern Maria Clara. :)

  8. I found that the universe can be contained in a particle and eternity in a moment. A great wall had fallen. ~Chichang

    That’s profound! super like the pic with your your sis! :) that’s sweet!

    BTW, When I was in Tugegarao, a friend encouraged me to go to Aparri and bring a powerful binoculars of if possible, a telescope. He did see the Great Wall of China in Aparri using powerful binoculars! I wasn’t able to do it. Will try next time :)

    My Chinese friends came this week-end and invited me to visit them in Hong Kong next year. I told them if possible, I wanna visit the Great Wall of China too! I know it’s crazy, but I wanna vandalize it by making graffiti! LOL! Guess what I would write…haha!

    ~Curly

    • I can still imagine that the Great Wall is visible from the moon, but from Tuguegarao?! Pinoy talaga, di papatalo kahit sa buwan. :D The Great Wall is up north and inland. Baka Batanes lang makikita from Cagayan. Haha!

      Oh, and the Wall is still a long way away from HK. You’d have to get a visa and fly to Beijing. And better think twice about that graffiti; it’s China, Curly – who knows what the punishment is for that!

      Btw, it’s Chaching, not Chichang. :)

      • haha! yeah I mean Chaching! sorry for murdering your nickname :( hope your mom and sibs won’t read it misspelled.

        I still wonder nga, it’s in Aparri , and it’s not too far from Tuguegarao. I will check it out nga someday! :)

        Yeah! My friends said I need to travel by air for three hours to reach Beijing…oh and the visa! I’m just kidding about the vandalism, I am actually planning to write on the Great Wall, “I HATE VANDALISM!, I LOVE THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA!”, maybe I will be sued in court, or worse, I would be buried alive haha!

        ^_^

    • Bam, Romelo, Violy: I recommend that you go to the less visited parts of the Great Wall during peak season. Less crowds and less stress. I went to Badaling, the most touristy site, but I guess the freezing temperature that day kept most tourists off the Wall. There weren’t as many people as I expected. :)

    • Hi Mark! The Great Wall is around 8,800km long. In contrast, the length of the Philippines from north to south is just 1,850km. The Great Wall is about 4 times longer than our country! No wonder they call it great. :)

      There are many points in different provinces where you can see the Wall, but of course the most iconic parts are in Beijing. Many parts of the Wall outside Beijing have not been restored yet, I think.

  9. The great wall had not only “fallen”, but it stands out more than a century to unite everyone, every nation, kindred, tongue all over the world. This amazing, man-made structure is a part of the great plan of the Lord. It has a “purpose” only God knows!

    • Irene and paliiits: Yes, glorious is not hyperbolic when used to describe the Great Wall experience. And sharing the experience with family truly made it more glorious!

  10. I have been dreaming of going and visiting great wall of china. I want to experience what its like there. My main concern is the communication cos chinese people speaks english a bit hard like what happened in HK. We were completely lost! hahaahhaah. Nice post! Tnx for sharing!

    • Oh Novie, language barrier should be the least of your concerns. A day after I first came to China, I was already taking the subway by myself. No read, no write (and no speak, hehe) in Mandarin but I managed. You would too. :) The Great Wall is too great a place to pass up just because of language barrier.

  11. I love The Great Wall too AJ and it was a dream come true for me when my boyfriend brought me there on New Year’s Day of 2008! I will always remember it as the backdrop for our 6-mensiversary! so like you and your sistah,no great wall (or long distance!) can separate us haha.

    • @Atty Mhe-anne: You should celebrate future annivs at the Berlin Wall and the Wailing Wall to keep the tradition. :D

      @Edmar: We are descendants of Limahong, that’s why! :D

    • @Stacy: Not necessarily. I think it’s even harder when you don’t sweat and you have layers of clothing on your back!

      @Kathy: True, di lang pampamilya ang Great Wall, pang-isports pa! Wall-climbing. :D

      @Simurgh: You put it so succinctly. Family bonding + the Great Wall + snowfall = magical moment.

      @DG: Hahaha, puede. But with CebuPac servicing Beijing, it doesn’t cost much to go there. Believe me, you wouldn’t spend more than P10k if you know how to budget your travel expenses.

  12. wow! we were just talking about this last night! Dan told me that if I want to go to China I should visit Beijing first.. hehe I think I really have to! :D nice pics!!!

    • Right, Beijing is not just the political capital, it’s also the cultural center of China. It’s a good place to start any first trip to China. Anyway, China is like the US. It’s huge, and many of its provinces are as diverse culturally and environmentally as, say, California and Connecticut. There’s so much to see and experience in the largest country in Asia. :)

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