We don’t need no preservation. We don’t need no crowd control.
First off, you can’t see the Great Wall of China from space. And if you could, it certainly wouldn’t be the only manmade object you could see from orbit. That’s just stupid. Highways are longer and wider, the pyramids are more distinguishable. Blame Trivial Pursuit.
The various stretches of wall were built as long ago as 2200 years ago, and the total length of all the loopy hilly runaway domino tracks runs over 4,000 miles. Some sections very orderly. Others look like the architect was an anxious child with a caffeinated crayon—zigs and zags and diversions and dead ends. I wonder if there was ever a point when a conqueror got over the formidable Manchurian landscape only to stare from outside the wall and mutter, “You’ve got to be frickin’ kidding me…”
Although the Wall is one of China’s biggest tourist attractions, it was only back in Mao’s time that the public were encouraged to dismantle it as they pleased for their own masonry needs. But since the 1980’s, the government has favored renovation over preservation.
There are at least half a dozen sections you can book day tours to from Beijing. To say that the most visited stretches, such as at Badaling, are thoroughly renovated is a gross understatement. Just gross. I’m told those sections feel sterile and are overwhelmed with tour groups and touts selling miniature Great Wall models and “I Climbed the Wall” t-shirts every 10 feet who latch on like Velcro. Impressive all the same, I’m sure, but kinda hard to get lost in the moment.
Only a few years ago there was a 10km stretch that was open between Jinshanlang and Simatai with very little renovation. It was apparently a great hike until some tourist fell off and went dead or something and ruined it for everyone. I bet he was Japanese.
But Jinshanlang still has a reputation for limited renovations and hawkers amid beautiful mountain scenery, so I went for that.
My expectations were kinda low. It’s easy to get too excited for places you’ve seen a million photos of and then get there and think, “Yep. Just like in the photos. When’s lunch?” But with fresh snowfall and interminable lines running off in both directions between the empty spaces, as soon as I reached the wall in the flesh, I couldn’t help but dash from tower to tower full of young lust to see what was around the next bend, sliding down the slippery stone on the thin ice between hills.
Being so late in the season and the lesser of the heavily visited sections of wall, there were brief “Is there anybody out there?” periods, entering towers with nobody home where I had a 360-degree vision to myself, which is enough to make you wonder how it felt to be a sentry there way back when. Not that I really have an idea, but it’s nice to play pretend and ponder these things.
Unfortunately, my excitement may have hindered my attempts at photographic creativity. I found myself with comfortably numb fingers, snapping the shots that we’ve all seen before but you feel compelled to take anyway because it’s just so darn cool.
Eventually we reached the Tower of Five Holes (windows, it turns out), the point we were told not to pass. Would’ve been nice to keep going or linger but alas, the show must go on. And we had no desire to run like hell to get to the minibus that would bring the boys back home to Beijing. So, with a few last snaps and encroaching clouds, it was goodbye blue sky and back to the minibus for lunch and three hours back to the big city.