I know I should be writing about my recent Singapore trip, but I feel like taking a quick detour down memory lane instead.
Beijing was one of the most exciting cities I visited when my family and I lived in Asia. Every day we spent there was an adventure, a shock, a mind-blowing revelation. Not long ago I found a journal entry from that trip, dated 22 October, 2003, and I wanted to share it with you.
Today was a day I’ll never forget as long as I live: the day we climbed Chang Cheng, the Great Wall of China. The section we visited was at Mutianyu, built during the Ming dynasty in the late 14th century and about a two-hour drive from Beijing. Our first glimpse of the Wall snaking through the hills in the distance sent us into a frenzy of excitement. We had to take a cable car to reach it, and even my combined fears of heights and enclosed spaces (the dreaded double whammy) couldn’t dampen my mood.
Once we set foot on the Wall itself, I swear to God, time stood still. I was overwhelmed by the reality of being there, and particularly by the fact that my children were blithely skipping along THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA. I kept saying, to total strangers, “Can you freakin’ believe we’re on the Great Wall of China?” Most of them, carefully avoiding eye contact and wary of making any sudden movements, backed away slowly. But what can I say? The day had that once-in-a-lifetime feel about it.
About two hours in, the going got rough. The last bit was so steep my legs felt like jelly by the time we got to the top, and they ached for days afterwards. It was almost as hard as climbing Uluru in Australia [edited to add: yes, I was terribly out of shape], but it was worth it. The other wanderers had long since turned back by this point, so we enjoyed the spectacular view quite alone — the only time during our trip to China that we weren’t hemmed in by the multitudes. The wall stretches for thousands of kilometres, and from where we were standing it felt as though we could see every last brick.
My favourite photo from that trip is of my girls, their eyes crinkling as they smile happily in the sunshine, Chang Cheng unfolding endlessly behind them. “This,” Younger Daughter said contentedly on the way down, “is the best holiday ever. Can we climb it again?”