The 2012 East-West Center Alumni Conference in Beijing wouldn’t have been complete without a field trip to climb the Great Wall of China. And climb we did! After a rainy conference morning which looked like it was going to put a damper on our climbing fun, the weather cleared in the early afternoon as participants young and old crammed into several charter buses. By the time we reached the Juyongguan section of the Great Wall that we would be climbing, the sun was peeking through those pesky rainclouds and luring us up the steep climb to the top with the hope of a spectacularly lit view.
The first leg of the climb gave new definition to the word ‘steep’. Wow. Even I was a bit intimidated by the almost vertical climb up the first set of stairs, and here I was surrounded by a number of people in their 60s and 70s who were just sobering up to the realization of what exactly a ‘Great Wall Climb’ entailed. A number of people climbed halfway up the front face of stairs and plopped down to enjoy the already scenic vista spread out before them. Others made it several more flights of stairs before calling it quits. But a surprisingly large number of participants in all age groups (including my wife’s new 6-year-old love interest) ventured onward to the top, climbing over the corpses of less fortunate tourists who had come before them. And for those of us who made it to the top, we were rewarded by one of those rare clear days in Beijing where you can actually see as far as the horizon allows. The sun continued to peek through the clouds and offer fleeting moments of Great Wall splendor for our camera sensors to soak up. That brief window of time at the top was truly one of the most beautiful moments I’ve experienced in China. And I was blessed to be able to share it with my brave and winded EWC pals.