In another life I did climb the Great Wall of China, as indicated on the sweatshirt I bought that autumn day some twenty-five years ago. Of course, I didn’t climb the entire wall. To be more precise, I walked rather than climbed because the Great Wall is actually a stone road, big enough for two-way traffic with room to spare, at least that portion I traveled. The entire wall extends over 13,000 miles throughout China, its rolling landscape often bare and desolate. Still, my particular experience not far from Beijing involved significant climbing—up and down a never ending series of uneven stairs, also made of stone, worn with age and constant use. And for the most part, void of handrails. Accidents waiting to happen—the dream of every personal injury lawyer in America. Except this was China.
The wind whistled that day on The Wall, the weather ideal for tourists. The group I was traveling with consisted of fifteen or so Americans, our guide a charming young Chinese man who lived in Beijing and spoke what he referred to as The Queen’s English. I asked him the correct way to pronounce Beijing. It’s Bay-jing. Not Bay-shing. Perfect, as were the jeans and Nikes he wore every day. He planned on going to America in the near future, to attend college on a ping pong scholarship. No chance of his staying in America long term since the Chinese government would not allow his wife and child to accompany him.
In looking around The Wall that day, I soon realized there were no other Caucasian tourists. And much to my surprise and amusement, I, the only blonde, soon found myself surrounded by a group of teenage girls, dressed in school uniforms, and giggling with a series of hand gestures—our only way of communicating. It seems they wanted their picture taken with me.
Everybody smile. I was their oddity.