Picture perfect

James Hur

It seems to me that very few things appear in real life exactly as they do in pictures. Pictures, often, are touched up and taken on just the perfect day, but, when I got to the Great Wall of China, I felt as if I had been sucked into the pages of a National Geographic Magazine, as when Harry Potter got sucked into Tom Riddle’s diary, because, surprisingly, it all looked just like the picture.

The blue sky, the sparse clouds, the wall that zigzagged romantically over the hills and into the horizon complimented an already romantic setting, but the best part was that, for the first time in almost three weeks, I was able to breathe clean air, really clean air. Breathing it in, I got the same feeling that I get when I’m sick and my mom puts Vicks under my nose. In other words, not just my nose, but my entire body felt cleaned out and refreshed, as if I were Pigpen from “Peanuts” and I had just taken my first shower.

However, I think that the most beautiful thing about the Great Wall was that no one was on it. All the best pictures of the Great Wall are taken when it is completely empty, and, even though some others trekked across the wall when I visited, very few people could be seen, allowing for a wonderful sense of seclusion, which was refreshing after being surrounded by the bigness of Beijing for three weeks.

On the wall, there were lots of people selling Great Wall hats and traditional Chinese fans with paintings of the Great Wall on them, and, if I looked in the right direction, I could see the freeway, but I diverted my attention away from those things because I perceived them as negatives in an otherwise very positive view.

Also while on the wall, I realized that it wasn’t as immaculate as it had appeared from far away. In fact, the whole thing was a mess. The stones on the path were all overturned, and, at every tower, there were huge piles of the dusty leftovers of 600 year old bricks.

But I liked the wall’s transition from picture perfect to hardcore, straight up, uncensored, back to reality falling apart. It gave the wall character I thought, which is also why, while walking across it, I continually reminded myself that the wall was a complete failure. It was originally constructed in the Qin Dynasty and was revamped during the Ming Dynasty with the purpose of protecting the Middle Kingdom from Manchu invaders from the North. Not only did the Manchus cross the wall, but they also conquered Beijing, where I am spending my junior year with the high school foreign exchange program School Year Abroad, and created an entirely new dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, China’s second foreign government and last imperial dynasty.

If the wall hadn’t been a failure, it still would have been interesting, but probably not as interesting. It’s just crazy to think about all that work, all that time, all those lives lost, and for what? A tourist attraction.

I picked up one of the loose pebbles on the way back down to remind myself, when I return to America and am looking at my white clouds and blue skies National Geographic photos, that nothing is completely perfect, not even the Great Wall of China.