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.
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.
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.
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.