Beijing // The Great Wall of China

remember that time Husband went to Beijing without me and got to visit the Great Wall? well, I made him take my camera so he would bring me back pictures for a post. I'm going to try something a little different though. since he was the one who actually visited the Wall, I'm handing the blog over and letting him tell you his experience firsthand...

What can you say about a wall? Let alone what is argued to be the greatest wall of them all? Here’s a thought that came to mind.

Footsteps. Consider those who came before you. Consider your story in a place. I’m a history teacher, so naturally my thoughts often rush towards this avenue. In my classroom we call it point of view analysis, or POV for short. The analysis is a discussion of what POV existed and why it existed in the form that it did. My thoughts were on the people who came before and who were with me on that brisk November morning. A thought occurred to me halfway through our hike to the top, and I shared it with E, a student of mine who made the trek with me.

“Seriously, why bother with the wall? Isn’t climbing over a mountain enough for a Mongol?”

“I don’t think that’s the point, Mr. Walker. Besides, I’m pretty sure a Mongol could climb up here no problem.” E possesses gumption, that quality in a person that respectfully cries “bullshit” on whoever is speaking; it’s part of the reason why I like teaching her so much.

Our conversation made the trek seem lighter, but I couldn’t help but think that E had a point about the relative health of people. Here I was a pampered, somewhat “husky”, white guy. I could feel my heartbeat in my throat. I was motivated for a scenic view and the ability to say, “I climbed the wall.”

Those that came before must have had better motivation for their climb. “There are riches to be gained through conquering.” Or “I climb, because my life is to protect what’s on the other side.” These thoughts occurred to me between deep breaths and countless steps up. I’d have to imagine that be you a Mongol or a Chinese dynasty defender, you must have had a better standard of physical health and prowess. The fatigue in my quads, hamstrings, and calf muscles would later attest to that. I’m fairly certain a Mongol could pull 300 pounds on a deadlift and perhaps push half as much in an overhead squat. I was humbled; I’ve been eating more vegetables since I got home.

Those first few steps onto the wall, looking out onto the surrounding countryside awash with fall colors; my first words were an epiphany “Ok, I get it.” I’m sure that there are both practical and symbolic reasons for building and protecting or climbing and conquering; for me it was quite simple: this was a spot worth owning.

What’s the POV story behind my kids and I dropping our studies in Taiwan to wing our way towards Mainland China? We came, to Quest like A Tribe does, but more importantly we came for H20: Hope, Humanity, Opportunity.

In addition to my daily teaching duties, I’m also a faculty advisor for our school’s chapter of the Global Issues Network (GIN). If you’ve never heard of us here’s a link to learn more. The short version, it’s an organization started by one who became disillusioned by the top-down nature of solving global issues (i.e. the UN, World Bank, etc.). GIN embodies a mentality of “think global, act local.” The idea is to inspire local community efforts, and a network of communication between these local communities. The hope is to inspire the growth of globally minded citizens whose work can aid in the resolution of global issues. Think dialogue vs. debate. It’s a model I can get behind. To give you an example, last year my kids worked on the issue of global migrant labor. Specifically we dealt with domestic migrant labor in Taiwan, and the exploitation rights that these people suffer under. It’s an eye-opening glimpse into the reality of how a great deal of labor is accomplished in the world. But this isn’t the place to discuss last year’s work.

What does this all have to do with traveling to Beijing?

Well, it was our annual conference, BeiGIN 2013. The conference theme was water, hence the H20: Hope, Humanity, Opportunity. The entire weekend was devoted to helping students and teachers alike to come together, share ideas, foster connections, and stimulate globally minded civic action. It was like being in a pressure-cooker of awesome. The caliber of people who attended was tremendous. I’d urge you to check out the conference website, especially the keynote speaker videos. Fun fact the website was made by 3 teenage girls at the International School of Beijing.

How did we end up on the Great Wall?

The host school provided this activity as an outlet to help a local issue in their community. Education for all, is a hot a topic in global issues. Our hike to the top of the wall was a part of the “Walk for Change.” An annual event focused on supporting the Love and Hope Center. The money raised will serve as school tuition for young people trapped in cycle of poverty.

Footsteps. My time on the Great Wall was brief. As one colleague put it, “I wish that we had a day to just keep walking up here.” I couldn’t agree more. I also think it’s important to stop and be mindful of your footsteps, and those that came before. Added time in this regard would’ve been welcomed by me. I imagine that the wall has seen a great deal of footsteps in its time. Its memory must be as long as the countless miles that it winds into the horizon. With regard to my memory, and to my footsteps, I’ll keep my moment of epiphany; “Ok I get it.” It’s that moment where I stood, where I saw the land, the faces of my students and thought about my footsteps—that is a spot worth owning.

after reading this, I have to say I'm more convinced than ever that I need to take a trip to the Great Wall someday... and also that I married a pretty incredible person. I hope you enjoyed hearing from my other half!

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