I ran the entire length of the Great Wall this morning. That’s right – the Great Wall Marathon has nothing on me! I covered all 14km of the Great Wall of
Xi’an (I even doubled back to make it 18km). I mean, it may be 5986km shorter
than that other wall, and it might have a flat, 12m wide surface across the
top, but really – how many people do you know who can claim to have run the
entire length of the Great Wall (of Xi’an) in China??
Truth is, I would say it’s a pretty exclusive club I joined this morning. What was a novelty for me – running along the top of a 600-year old structure – was clearly a novelty to many of the people I passed, too. Lots of tourists were cycling the perimeter of the town, and they seemed mildly amused by another tourist loping by with a goofy grin. The locals, however, were so obviously entertained! Many shouted out hello, or laughed as I ran by. Some just paused at whatever they were doing and stared at me. One fellow, who introduced himself as (spelling phonetically here) Zho Wun Zhung, caught up to me on his bike to ask where I came from, whether I run marathons (guess it’s not just Canadians who ask that of every runner), and whether I like China (he seemed pleased when I replied I love China). Amusingly (to me), I had to slow down to chat with him, so after a polite amount of conversation, I picked up speed and ran away.
Given the perennial smoggy haze in Xi’an, the view was not exactly fantastic, but I was pumped to be running on this old defensive barrier. I’m not sure if was actually the case, or if I’m just getting used to it, but the air did feel a little cleaner today as I gulped in lung-fulls. (I’m hoping the former, but afraid it’s probably the latter…)
Each of the main gates has a double-gate entranceway. If the first gate were breached, the defending soldiers could then surround the invaders and attack from above on all sides. The enemy would be penned in by 12m thick, 36m high walls. Of course, to break through that first gate, potential invaders would face a maelstrom of fire from the arrow tower above, only to come upon a 12-inch thick reinforced wooden gate set into the brick walls. What a reward – to fight through that, only to find another set of the same beyond!
Though the strategic intent is obsolete, the arrow towers nonetheless provide amazing views of the wall. Though some have been lost to war and decay, the rampart tower in the distance was once part of a network of towers repeated every 120m. These further enhanced the defenders’ ability to monitor enemy movements from on high, and protect the wall.
My tour group. Can you tell who is preparing to run? Behind us is one of the inner towers in the double-gate arrangement.
Looking into the city from atop the wall.
The Muslim Market, where we proceeded after touring the wall, is another unique fixture of Xi’an. Different from virtually every other market in China, the warren of streets making up this market area sells a whole variety of foods and…..stuff. (Some touristy junk, and some stuff that looked like it might actually be worthwhile.) I didn’t get a whole lot of time to wander through the market this afternoon, as our guide Kelly invited me in to have tea with a friend of hers. THIS was COOL!! I was having the kind of experience I love when traveling – sitting down with locals, doing what they do. Rose (Kelly’s friend who owns the tea shop) treated us to a variety of teas, and explained how each should be served – water temperature, time to steep, etc. I find it fascinating that the way we drink tea is utterly different than in the birthplace of tea. Of course, they treat it like wine, whereas we generally treat it like water… Time slipped by, and suddenly Kelly and I were rushing back to meet with the group!
The dumpling banquet for dinner was excellent! Why is it that food in Xi’an kicks butt over the cultural and “foodie” centres of Beijing and Shanghai? The restaurant also adds a special twist – quite literally. Dumplings are made to look like their contents; fish dumplings are shaped to look like fish, duck dumplings are shaped into ducks (fyi, Chinese ducks apparently say “gaa gaa” rather than “quack quack”), and pig dumplings (sigh…they really tasted very good) were shaped like pig noses.
We returned to the market after nightfall and enjoyed the magnificent views of the wall all lit up:
Finally, on our last evening in Xi’an, nine of us in the tour met in the lobby bar of our hotel to ruminate on this trip. What an amazing adventure! And great company to boot! We had the best of luck with our guides and hotels (notwithstanding that we were far away from downtown Shanghai), and I saw and experienced things that thrilled me to the bone. Though I look forward to returning to the routine of running and healthy eating, there is no part of me that wants to leave this magical country. I want to come back soon – so many places I haven’t yet seen, and parts that I want to see again.
They say that all good things must come to an end.