On our first full day in China, we visited perhaps the best-known site to foreigners: the Great Wall. After an hour bus ride, we entered the mountains north of the city, and from the visitor center took a shuttle up to the base of the ridge-line that the wall is built on. The top is accessible by either a cable car, or a set of steps that winds up the mountainside; our group elected to take the latter. The stairs were longer and steeper than some people were expecting, but it was ultimately the more rewarding way to reach the top. The views from the wall are themselves quite impressive; you can see various peaks in the distance, and other parts of the wall that wind through the mountains. It’s hard to imagine the labor involved with dragging the stones and materials needed to build the wall up through such difficult terrain—it must have been a truly massive undertaking.
The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, had the wall built to defend against Mongolian raiders. Back then it would have been extremely difficult to get across; however, if an invading army was to succeed in getting to the top today, they would be greeted by a feat of engineering that is arguably more impressive than the wall itself—the toboggan course back to the visitor center. Built into the side of the mountain, this terrifying slide/roller-coaster was one of the coolest parts of the Great Wall that I wasn’t expecting. You ride down the mountainside on a sort of wheeled cart, and try to avoid getting rear-ended by the person behind you. The pairing of something that looks like it belongs in an amusement park with something as ancient and iconic as the Great Wall was an interesting combination, and one that certainly captured the blending of old and new that defines modern China.