From the files: Taking on the Great Wall of China

It feels pretty surreal to be done j-school. And after browsing through my Google Drive, I found an old piece I wrote in Gr. 12 about my summer in China. I decided to use this as one of the pieces I would submit for my Ryerson journalism application.

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Mutianyu, China-A Canadian youth’s challenging adventure to the top of one of the world’s greatest wonders.

It was a scorching summer’s day as I looked up the long fortress ahead known as the Great Wall of China. Built and maintained for over 300 years, the wall, made of a series of stones and earth fortifications, stretched for over 8 800 kilometres.

Already dehydrated, my peers and I were not even close to the start of our climb, as we had to walk up a steep hill just to get there. As we ascended, vendors bombarded us trying to sell their bargains at ridiculous prices.

“I give you these postcards for 100 RMB! You’re a student I give you a discount!” one told me. In Canada, 50 renminbi (RMB) would have cost me 10 dollars for 10 postcards.

Afraid of bargaining, my friend Carson decides to do it for me. “Sorry, we’ll only take it for 10.”

“What?” the woman exclaims, “You’re funny!”

We walk away. Realizing we were serious, she runs after us and sells the postcards to me for 10 RMB, around a little less than 2 dollars worth in Canada.

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Though China is a great place to find bargains, it is also the home of one of the wonders of the world: The Great Wall of China. This structure is not actually a continuous wall, but a compilation of short walls run from a crest of hills from northern China to southern Mongolia. Built over four dynasties, the purpose of this structure was to protect the Middle Kingdom from northern invaders. With a history filled of blood and war, the Wall now remains one of the world’s most well-known tourist attractions. All around the world, people challenge themselves to climb it. Traditional Chinese farmers’ hats on our heads, my friends and I were lucky to be the next ones to brave this new adventure.

Beads of sweat already rolling down my face; it was a relief to realize that my peers and I would get a ride up to the Great Wall in orange cable-cars. Once we reached the top, my challenge stood ahead of me as I looked to see what I was going to face. The climb was going to be just over 22km to the peak. However, much of it was closed off as maintenance needed to be done close to the top. Nonetheless, our mount to the summit was going to be a fair amount of exercise.

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The Great Wall has come a long way since its days of earth, stone and wood. In recent years, the wall has been maintained by bricks, lime, tiles and stone. The watchtowers sprawled along the structure not only served as a way of communication between army units back then, but also proved to be a nice, shady pitstop for us to rest from climbing in the scorching sun.

The actual ascent was a bit difficult as there were hundreds of stairs that were at uneven levels. Not wanting to trip or twist an ankle, I had to watch my every step. Deciding to take a break, my friends and I headed to the nearest watchtower. The shelters themselves were bustling with activity as men sat in the shady area gambling while there were others selling drinks for thirsty climbers. At the side, there were stairs that led up to the top of the watchtower that to my curiousity, I decided to go up.

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The scenery from up top showed me the remaining section of the brick wall to which I had left to climb. I was so close, but also so far. Towards the summit, there stood a steep flight of stairs. Around the wall, I received an incredible view of the other large mountains in the distance. Realizing that I needed to continue, I persuaded my friends to finish the climb with me.

Tired and dehydrated, I carried on. My legs trembled as I hiked up the wall which got higher and steeper. I looked up each time and watched the summit while muttering to myself like the Little Engine Who Could,” I think I can. I think I can.”P1000608

The climax of this adventure came near the end of the climb. As I looked up to the top, I saw that the hardest part came at the end. The last section of the challenge was a steep granite staircase of over 200 steps, and each step was not a little one. There were no longer any pitstops, and that meant I had to endure the rest of the journey in the sun.

I took a deep breath and put myself to the test. I decided to do this strategically. Taking each step slowly, I got closer and closer to my goal. With only about 50 steps left, I had to stop and lean onto the wall for support.P1000711

“You’re almost there!” my friend Ray yelled from the top. Camera in hand, he was already snapping photos of the beautiful mountainous ranges and trees that stood below him. Wanting to see it for myself, I trudged up the tall steps once again.

By the time I reached the final steps, I could hear the others’ words of celebration as yet another person conquered the Great Wall of China. After a celebratory photo, I bought a bottle of water from a lady who I felt sorry for because she climbed to the top just to sell drinks to the climbers.

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Below me, grassy mountains surrounded the Great Wall as it continued on for thousands of kilometres. It was hard to believe that we climbed only a couple of kilometres as opposed to the hundreds it had felt.P1000715

Tired but also feeling very accomplished, I was extremely happy to have completed the challenge. Climbing to the top gave me the sense of how hard it must have been to construct the wall over 300 years ago. As a Chinese Canadian, this was a rare opportunity to experience a part of my culture. Travelling so far away from Canada just to experience the Great Wall of China made me realize that climbing to the top was an absolute must. Besides, accomplishing such a feat gives me something to brag about back home to family and friends.

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