Journey to the Lofty Peak: Update from China

By: Mark Whittaker, `14

Today, we started the day on a great note; Rui had to go to the clinic to check out a sinus infection on his birthday!  When Rui finally returned we went to the Ming tomb.  It was quite the long drive, but it was well worth it.  The Ming tomb consisted of beautiful buildings in the ancient imperial style that we have come to love.  Along the way, we had a chance to toss some coins into urns for good luck.  Fortunately for him, yet unfortunately for the rest of us, Chris was the only one to make it.  At the tomb, we saw an exhibit on the Ming emperors, which we could all trace back to our Foundations of World History course.  From the Ming tomb, we went to a jade factory for lunch. Despite the fact that we did not have much time to spend there, we still saw some beautiful jade that cost upwards of $100,000.

The Great Wall of China at Badaling
The Great Wall of China at Badaling

Then, it was off to the highlight of the trip for most, the Great Wall.  It was a misty day, as I’m sure it often is in the mountains north of Beijing.  Despite being faced by the daunting task of climbing a steep wall into the clouds, we all wanted to conquer the wall. The particular section of the wall we visited is called Badaling.  Chairman Mao himself had climbed to the top at Badaling and he had said that anyone who made it to the top was a true hero. With Mao’s encouragement in mind, we set off on our journey to the lofty peak.  Within an hour, we had all made it to the top.  However, Mr. Llanque, known only by his Chinese name, Wictor, saw that we could climb higher.  Being the strong-willed cross-country runners that we are, Rui and I both volunteered to join him.  We left the others and started our trek to new heights. We were sweating profusely when we made it all the way, but the feeling of self-fulfillment that came with facing down the challenge was more than enough to overcome our bodily pain.  At the peak of the mountain, surrounded by clouds, we stood and soaked in the beauty of China. We all took some wonderful pictures.

Rui and I called our mothers, which probably annoyed them at first because it was 3 o’clock in the morning for them.  However, I think that they will look back upon that moment and appreciate it one day.  The trip down was incredibly easy and we each took one or two small pebbles from the wall to commemorate our journey. On the bus ride back from the wall, it got too dark to read so I took to sleeping and thinking about my trip to China. I saw some amazing and beautiful monuments and people, but I also saw totalitarianism and poverty.

Despite China’s long and storied history, we came to China at one of her most interesting moments. She is struggling to both modernize and preserve the past, to Westernize and keep the communist ideology pure. There are those who are rich and those who are extremely poor.  Next time I come back, be it two or twenty years from now, China will have changed dramatically.  Perhaps the gap between rich and poor will be narrower and China will be democratic or the gap will be wider and China will be more totalitarian.  Either way, we came and saw a piece of history that will forever be unique.

Happy Birthday, Rui!

After such a lengthy contemplation, I promptly fell asleep. When I awoke, it was time for a dinner that included some Chinese minority ethnic dancing.  We went back to the hotel to have a “final trip reflection”, which ended up being a birthday cake for Rui.  Finally, at around 8 o’clock we went to a place that is not a monument, yet it is still a piece of history, the Chinese park where old men and women play Ping-Pong. Being a relatively good Ping-Pong player, I was pumped.  At first, I played one old man and one woman, both of whom I beat. I was getting pretty confident, so I challenged another old man.  I couldn’t return his serve and he just slammed my serve right back, which is unusual because most people can’t touch it.  Having been sufficiently humbled, I returned to the hotel with the group, watched a nice Chinese dating game show, and retired for the night.

Journey to the Lofty Peak: Update from China

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