By Mathew Yakai in Changchun.
EVER since I arrived in Beijing on Air China September 1, 2007 via Shanghai from Sydney, my Chinese acquaintances always ask me to visit the Great Wall of China in Beijing.
“If you have not visited the Great Wall then you have not been to China,” they always insist.
Changchun city where I live is 12 hours by slow train and eight hours by normal train to Beijing. The fastest train is four hours but that’s expensive for a student like me.
This is not a comfortable ride that you would expect given the huge flow of travelers between Changchun and Beijing, like any other cities in China.
So, does it worth travelling to see the Great Wall during those peak and crowded travelling days, with no seat to relax?
If you are lucky then you would get a seat but during peak periods like the Chinese New Year, it would be extremely difficult to get one.
But I always had the dream to climb the Great Wall, a magnificent peace of architecture by men in those days when civilization was at its infancy.
The dream came true on Feb 7 when I was attending the International Student Winter Conference in Beijing.
I met other PNG students like Jeffers Heptol, Albert Tobby, Philip Taureka, Nickson Nikints, Daniel Pepson and Angelo David Wak at the Beijing Conference.
From PNG was renowned Evangelist Ps. Joseph Kingal, invited to speak on the theme, “Living the power of love” in the Conference.
PNG Ambassador to Beijing and ours truly, His Excellency John Momis made available the embassy VAN with the driver for PNG students in China to accompany Ps. Kingal to walk the Great Wall and other scenic spots.
February 4 to 6 were occupied by the Conference until Feb 7, which was on a Saturday. We checked out from Super 8 Hotel Beijing Xue Yuan Lu at 10am and loaded our luggages onto the VAN.
Albert Tobby, attending Tsinghua University in Beijing was our tour guide because of his acquaintances with Beijing.
After the successful completion of the Beijing Conference, we were all excited and with overwhelming thrill to visit the historical site that every person visiting China dreams to have a glimpse.
We set off directly for the Great Wall at around 10:30 am. Albert was sitting in front with the driver.
Ps. Kingal was sitting between me and Thomas from Tanzania while the rest including Jean de vour from the Rwanda were at the back seats.
The traffic in Beijing was not that crammed as I would expect in Changchun city. We made through some toll gates without much traffic congestion.
I can’t remember the exact number of toll gates but what I remember now is that while passing through, we were discussing the idea of introducing toll gates on our Highlands Highway so money collected can be used for road maintenance rather than depending on the government.
Others argue that if there is no corruption then the toll money will be properly used.
Some commented that landowners along the highway should not even ask for unnecessary compensation.
We made lots of comparison and wish PNG could have similar infrastructures like toll gates, buildings, roads, train and railways like China.
Those would still remain dreams for sometime until the political, economic and social environment is favorable.
But what we were sure at that moment was that we were heading to see an historic piece of work that all Chinese citizens are proud of – The Great Wall of China.
After some 40 minutes, we could see the dragon like Wall meandering, as if it was trying to stress its back to ascend the rugged and dry brown hills.
I held my breath and exclaimed that it was the Great Wall when Albert coincidently jumped in and confirmed.
Amazing! While on the road, I was trying to imagine how people carried the rocks or whatever they used to build the Wall up to those rugged hills.
Not long, we arrived at the Badiling Pass, the famous Great Wall Pass where most tourists visit. There were people flocking in, both foreigners and Chinese in the hundreds.
I did not take my student ID card so ended up paying RMB 40 (K16.) with the help of Albert. Others with ID paid RMB 20 (K8.20).
It was quite chilly but the weather was perfect. The temperature would have been around -9. It was not that cold as I thought would be.
That made it better for Ps. Kingal who is used to the tropical hot climate in Lae.
We made sure Ps. Kingal was kept warm with winter clothes. But he still had a blister toe from Lae so the climbing of Great Wall would have been quite unpleasant for him.
Immediately after purchasing the ticket, we entered a gate and after few minutes, we walked the Great Wall of China.
At last, I, with rest of my patriots including the great man of God, Ps. Kingal walked this Great Wall built to keep away enemies during the warring periods.
I slowly pulled back a bit, walked to the side, and touched the amazing piece of work – Great Wall.
Even tried to smell it or crack the rock with my teeth, to have the sense of great people in China’s history that have the intelligence to build the amazing Wall that still puzzles the world today.
The brick were nicely placed on top of each other and go as far as distance unimaginable.
I tried to comprehend the endurance of people with great imagination, talents and intelligence who lived at the time as depicted by the Great Wall.
It amazed me. I could not believe my eyes. I can not even imagine that such a Wall could be built at great length over and through the rugged mountains, hills and terrains.
While not really visible from outer space, the Great Wall of China is still an amazing feat of architecture.
Although called the "Great Wall", the 3,700 mile (6,000 kilometers) long structure actually consists of several massive Walls, some as tall as 9 meters.
In some places there are as many as three separate walls spaced 50 miles or more apart, in others there are gaps filled by mountainous terrain.
According to sources, the earliest stretches of Wall were built during the Warring States period in China (500-221 BC).
It was the Qing Dynasty (221-206 BC) leader Shi-huandi who began consolidating and strengthening the Walls during his forced unification of what was to become China.
So technically, we walked on the Wall which was built over 2000 years ago by Qing Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of China during the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C. – 206 B.C).
The Wall is called “Wan-Li Qang-Qeng” which mean 10,000-Li Long Wall (10,000 Li = about 5,000 km).
The Great Wall is one of the largest building construction project ever completed. It stretches across the mountains of northern China, winding north and northwest of Beijing.
It is constructed of masonry, rocks and packed-earth and over 5,000 km long. Its thickness ranged from about 4.5 to 9 meters and was up to 7.5 meters.
During the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), the Great Wall was enlarged to 6,400 km and renovated over 200 year period, with watch-towers and cannons added.
The Great Wall can be seen from Earth orbit, but contrary to legend, is not visible from the moon, according to astronauts Neil Amstrong, Jim Lovell, and Jim Irwin.
According to history, the Chinese were already familiar with the technique of wall-building by the time of the Spring and Autumn Period which began around the 8th century B.C.
A thorough study of the Wall will take one through those past dynasties with dates one is prone to forget after few minutes.
But the Great Wall stands tall above whole world and powers depicting those warring periods and dynasties that China had.
While some portions north of Beijing and near tourist centers have been preserved and even reconstructed, in many locations, the Wall is in disrepair.
Those parts might serve as a village playground or a source of stones to rebuild houses and roads.
Sections of the Wall are also prone to graffiti and vandalism. Parts have been destroyed because the Wall is in the way of construction.
No comprehensive survey of the Wall has been carried out, so it is not possible to say how much of it survives, especially in remote areas.
We could not make right to the top of the Wall for various reasons, so strolled back to the car park and got on the VAN heading for the souvenir market.
I bought two Great Wall key tags with the inscription, “I have climbed the Great Wall” using intense bargaining.
I gave one to Ps. Kingal as a present with a hand band. Ps. Kingal also bought several souvenirs for his children.
At around 1:30pm, we were heading back for the city and visited the popular Olympic Bird’s Nest, Water Cube, the historical Tiananmen Square, Emperor’s Palace, not mentioning the drives through the jungle of glass buildings showing the growing modern Beijing.
Our day ended at the third secretary to PNG’s Beijing Embassy, Liza Gabina’s house with the delicious meal.
Ps. Kingal prayed for us after the meal with spiritual advice, to stand the trials of times as we live in China and the changing society.
Above all, the Great Wall tells me one message. “China’s economic growth today is no surprise because the Great Wall built more then 2,000 year ago depicts how civilized the society is”.
China invented gun powder, wheel barrow, paper and even tried to reach the moon using early rockets, according to legends. No surprise, China is capable of shaping the 21st Century today.
But anyway, at last, I have visited one of the world’s wonderers. What an astounding Great Wall of China?