Those faraway places with strange sounding names,
Far away over the sea;
Those faraway places I’ve been dreaming about,
Are calling; Calling – me!
It was 10:28 a.m. on May 10, 2007, that my cherished dream came true. It was then that I stood on the Great Wall of China. This had been a dream I had nursed all my adult life. I stood there in wonderment and tried to absorb the view all around me. The Wall stretched out miles and miles ahead of me.
The wall wound its way like a giant serpent over hills, valleys and mountains. No obstacle could stop it. I thought of the history behind this structure – the planning – the labour – the suffering. It staggers the imagination.
As I stood on the wall I could visualize the labourers working in the icy winters and the sweltering heat of summer – never stopping. I walked along the wall and was amazed to see I was actually up in the mountains, with craggy mountains all around me.
The Great Wall itself averages 30 feet in height and 15 feet in width. The Wall is said to be over 3,000 miles long. It follows the contours of the mountains.
About every 300 yards or so there was a tower. These were for the guards to check on enemy movement. We were told that from these towers they could communicate with other towers by smoke signals to warn of an enemy attack.
Well, I must tell you to walk along this ancient wall was the thrill of a lifetime for me.
Our Chinese guide told us about a legend, a legend about the wall that has survived all these hundreds of years. The legend is about a girl named Lady Mong. She married her lover. They were together just three days when he was taken away and forced into labour building the Great Wall.
One night, Lady Mong had a dream. She dreamt her husband came in the door and said, ‘I’m very cold.’ Lady Mong took this as a bad omen, so she set out to find her husband.
Going along the wall, she described her husband to many labourers but no one knew him or had seen him. Finally, she was told up ahead there had been a torrential rain and part of the wall had been washed away. It was the general practice at that time that if a worked died, his body would be put in the wall, covered up, and the work would continue.
Lady Mong came to the place where part of the wall had been washed away. Searching through the rubble, Lady Mong found the body of her lover. She then had the workers carry him down to a raging river. She got them to cast him into the torrent and she flung herself in after him. And so, they could be together for all time.
I did a lot of walking to get up to the Wall and also walked along the wall. I was tired but exhilarated. It was an amazing dream come true.
We flew from Beijing to the city of Xian. And here was another amazing story of history.
It is here that the most powerful emperor of China is buried. He was buried over 2,000 years ago. His name was, Qin Shi Huang. He felt he would need protection in the afterlife, so he had an army built that would accompany him to the grave.
These soldiers are made of terracotta – a pottery like substance – and are all life size. No two are alike. The style they wear their hair denotes their army rank. They have uncovered over 1,000 of these warriors and they estimate they will uncover at least 6,000 more. They have not only discovered these warriors, but also horses, chariots, archers and much, much more.
This burial site of the Terracotta Warriors has been declared the Eighth Wonder of the World. I will never forget the site of these hundreds of warriors standing solemnly on guard over the Emperor forever and ever.
Next we flew to the city of Guilin. It was here we were introduced to the unique conical-shaped mountains. We were told that millions of years ago this land rested on the ocean floor. Through movement of the earth it was heaved up to the surface. These mountains are made of limestones and are formed into fantastic shapes. It is said many poets make this place a must-see in their lifetime.
One such poet wrote: ‘the river forms a green gauze belt, the mountains are like jade hairpins.’
We took a 50-mile cruise up the Li River and in this way we enjoyed the beauty of the countryside and saw more of these conical-shaped mountains.
One night we were taken out in a boat to see an unusual sight. A fisherman was using birds to catch his fish for him. He had about six birds (cormorants) and they caught the fish for him. He had a string tied around each bird’s neck so they couldn’t swallow the fish they caught.
When the bird snagged a fish, the fisherman pulled them into his boat and took the fish out of their mouth. I felt sorry for the birds.
We flew from Guilin to Shanghai. We stayed at another plush hotel – the best one yet. It was the Okuara Garden Hotel. My room was on the 14th floor and I had a marvelous view of the city from my window. There was one place in this room that made me weary and nervous. It was the bathroom. Yes, it was immaculate and modern – maybe too modern.
When I put the toilet seat down, a long tubular thing came out of the water in the toilet.
It soon receded back from where it came from. This alarmed me. I’d never seen anything like it. On the side of the toilet was an arm with knobs and buttons and things written in Chinese. I made sure I didn’t push any buttons or turn any knobs.
We took a day trip to Suzhou, one of China’s most beautiful cities. There are many canals here. In fact, it is called ‘Venice of the East.’ The canals were built in 605 A.D. to open up a north/south trade route within China.
We visited the huge Shanghai Museum. The museum contains ancient money, bronze objects, ceramics, paintings and sculptures. The dates on these articles amazed me. I saw a piece of pottery. The date said: between 3800 and 3200 B.C. Unbelievable. After examining the four floors of the museum I went outside in the sun to relax. It is there I met five Western girls sitting on the steps. They would be around 18 to 20 years old. In talking with them, I found they were from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.
I told them my daughter Rosalee had graduated from Mount A years ago. Imagine, in a city of 15 million, finding people so close to home.
We visited a silk factory in Shanghai. We were shown from start to finish. They showed us how they took the silk thread out of the cocoon right to the beautiful scarves and dresses they made out of this silk. They said the silk thread from one cocoon could measure one kilometre in length.
We flew home from Shanghai to Toronto. It was a 14 hour trip. I was tired but excited and exhilarated. Would I make this trip again? I must say, no. Why not? Well, there are other places I haven’t seen yet. However, I will always, always remember my marvelous trip to China.