As the sun rose over the Huairou mountains, I found myself alone on one of the greatest wonders of the world. The sky was perfectly clear and unlike many photographs I had seen depicting hordes, there was not a soul in sight. As I looked out over the dense forestry, the spring sun bounced off the mountainside, illuminating a magnificent view. I was stood on the Mutianyu section of The Great Wall of China. It was early morning and I had beaten the crowds to be the first to reach the Wall.
My anticipation had intensified as the swinging cable car ascended the mountainside. I reached the Wall, stood on top of more than 2,000 years of history and was taken aback by the triumphant feat of construction. Snaking across the landscape like a majestic dragon, the Wall wound itself round the mountains, fading to a speck in the distance.
I’d escaped the smog of the city to relish in the natural ‘oxygen bar’ of Beijing. Barely an hour and a half from the hustle and bustle of the capital, Mutianyu was quaintly serene. There was an air of calm and the breeze felt fresh. By now, the sun was beating down and beads of sweat cascaded from my forehead, as I climbed the steep steps to one of the many watchtowers. I hiked along the Wall for several hours, mesmerised by the beauty encompassing me. Despite the strenuous climb in the midday heat, the stunning panoramic views were worth every drop of sweat and every aching muscle. The flawless weather amplified the spectacle as I rambled onwards.
Before I could descend, via a toboggan sledge, I felt a hand grasp my arm. By then, a sizeable crowd were enjoying the Wall and I was hauled into a group of Chinese tourists. They proceeded to take photographs with their new ‘friend’. I smiled politely as they posed around me, tugging at my arms to position me in their portraits. Attempting to return to my own path, I was drawn into yet more photographs and again smiled courteously as the cameras rolled.
It appeared that my ghostly skin tone was aspired to and while a far stretch from the carroty glow appreciated back in my home country, I had become somewhat of a paragon. I towered above the swarm engulfing me, my five foot, seven frame unusual for the local stature. My golden locks, now damp with sweat, seemed to be as intriguing to my photographers as the Wall I was located upon.
I stood enclosed by smiling faces and masses of cameras. I had become a tourist attraction; one that, unbelievably, seemed to be rivalling one of the New Wonders of the World. I was bemused, the ancient scenery on which I stood was astounding, yet masses of people were queuing to take my photograph. I had become as much of a tourist attraction, as the historic creation surrounding me.