I saw a wall. It was great.

That pun is an understatement! As the title humorously gives away, I visited the Great Wall of China. The part I visited was called the Mutianyu section, which sounds a little bit like the word mutiny. ANYWAYS!! While I was there, I met two German girls, two Brazilian guys, a dude from Venezuela, and a British couple. Everyone was friendly, and it was lovely being able to speak with people in my native language. As much as I enjoy my colleagues and students, being able to have a conversation with these new and strange people was refreshing and terrific.

While talking with Alex and Michelle (the aforementioned British couple), we talked about traveling. I voiced an opinion I formulated a few weeks ago. I said; “We’re incredibly lucky and privileged to be able to do this. There’s so many people who dream all their lives about being able to travel and see the world, and they never get to.” It’s a sad thought, to which Alex replied (more or less); “I never thought of it like that before.” While we were sitting, I took in the horizon. I could see lakes, at least three villages in the mountains’ valley, the wall, and the faintest outline of Beijing and its skyscrapers. The view was awesome in every sense of the word, but rather than feeling small and tiny, I felt spectacular and more powerful than I had in months.

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After living in a smoggy city for six months, seeing buildings, and hearing traffic, being on the Wall in this almost pristine and untouched part of China just within Beijing’s eyesight, I felt simply amazing and rejuvenated. The Wall took my breath away, but scaling hundreds of knee high steps is breath taking. In the middle of my break on the wall, I saw that the skies were the brightest blue I ever saw; the wind was wonderfully scentless and chilly, and speaking with all of these new people I met gave me a peaceful joy.

I spent the second day in Beijing–there were clear skies thanks to all of the wind–just walking around and relaxing. I didn’t go sightseeing. Sightseeing is fun, but it doesn’t leave much time for me to really appreciate a place. I stayed close to the hostel, but I felt like I saw more around that little block area just by wandering around corners, peering into doors and windows, and listening to people go about their daily lives than visiting a tourist attraction. Sightseeing feels incredibly rushed, and I didn’t feel like rushing myself, so I simply strolled along and swiveled my head to look around. If I hadn’t done that, I don’t think I would have spoken at greater length with these two people.

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Michelle and Alex

Michelle and Alex visited China to attend a wedding (Alex’s cousin in getting hitched). They let me talk about home, and I was able to learn a little bit about them. They’ve been a couple for three years now. They work together making Victorian era portraits, not unlike the Wild West portraits people can get at Gatlinburg. Alex talked about a place called Sheffield; he’s not from there, but he mentioned it at length. Michelle was raised in London. They’re having a blast in China.

They’re probably expecting a letter from me.

The simple idea that wandering around led to the three us bumping into each other and going for coffee and cake…well, under other circumstances, I wouldn’t have been able to speak with them. We talked on the Great Wall the day before, but we were really able to have an amazing conversation on the 15th of February, 2015.

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A picture I snapped from the train. The sun was just setting behind some mountains.

It was on the train ride home that I reflected on just what happened and what I did. I hiked the Great Wall. I talked to people representing Europe and South America and four nationalities. In Baoding, I’ve met people representing five continents and several nationalities. I’ve befriended a guy from Lesotho (a country land locked by South Africa) who calls himself Maps!

People always say traveling makes a person feel small, but traveling itself doesn’t really do that. When I was in Harbin, I didn’t feel small despite the fact that I was traveling. But meeting Michelle and Alex made me feel small because if we had been anywhere else, we wouldn’t have talked and I wouldn’t have made two new friends/pen pals.

There’s much more I could write, but I’m going to refrain so I can save those thoughts for another day and another time. For now, I’m going to leave you with a picture of some of the people I hiked the Great Wall with.

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From left to right: Eduardo (Brazil), Anna (my American colleague), Raphael (Brazil), Sabrina (Germany), Cia (Germany), and Carlos (Venezuela)
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