Every time I visit the Great Wall of China, I'm reminded of a "Daily Show" bit from around the time of the Beijing Olympics. Correspondent Rob Riggle is broadcasting from the Wall to the New York studio, and Jon Stewart asks him how it is.
"It's a good wall... as far as walls go," Riggle says. "I don't know if it's a great wall."
I remember cracking up when I saw it, but I also remember thinking: Wrong. It is a great wall, as far as walls go. The Great Wall is awesome.
After more than five years in China, I still love going to the Wall. When friends visit, it's the one spot I'll always take them. I've never met anyone who wasn't blown away by it, as I still am. The scale, the scope, the audacity: The Great Wall is an incredible feat of human will and irrationality.
I've had great times at the wall. Camping in a watchtower is one of my most memorable experiences in China. I once went to an all-night rave where the Great Wall meets the sea. Last year, I completed the grueling Great Wall marathon. I sometimes fantasize about setting up a summer cottage at the Wall, like Peter Hessler in his book Country Driving.
I recently accompanied a few visiting friends to Huanghua Great Wall, about an hour and a half from Beijing. We spent a few hours hiking on both restored and non-restored (or "wild") sections, including a few treacherous areas that our driver had failed to warn us about. A few weeks later, I took another friend to Jiankou Great Wall, not far from the much more touristy Mutianyu. Each trip was as good as the one before it.
I don't know how many times I've been to the wall, but I'll keep going. Whenever I find myself at an empty section, with no tourists, and I sit looking out over the structure snaking over the surrounding mountains, marveling at how this thing was built and wondering, Seriously, why? - I'm always left thinking that that, yes, this is a pretty damn Great Wall, as far as walls go.