Just another brick in the wall
Beijing -- I’ve wanted to do this story for a long time. The Great Wall is such an icon of China, you can’t pass a posting here without doing something on it. And what better than repairs being done to the ancient structure that in some places is crumbling?
I’ve been to the wall a few times during my five-year posting, but mostly to the touristy sections. Now I had a chance to visit a section that was not only out of the way but also to have a real close-up look at the work being done.
Working as a journalist in China often presents enormous challenges -- nearly everything requires permission and the state watches over you relentlessly. But sometimes it allows for access that you wouldn’t have anywhere else. Were this type of reconstruction going on anywhere else, I’d probably have to stay some distance away. But because safety standards here a bit more lax, we were able to be right there with the workers.
We started out very early in the morning. And there came the first surprise. I didn’t realize it would be so hard to reach the wall. We were carrying our gear and equipment and were basically as loaded as the donkeys carrying the stones for the wall. On we trudged up this narrow path for a kilometer and a half. At least we only had to do it once. The workers had to do it every single morning.
I had expected it to be like a construction site, with the noise of machines and shouts of the workers. But it wasn’t like that at all. You just have this handful of guys workingn quietly. The guy leading the mule up the path yelled at it a few times. But at the top, it was just business as usual. The workers we found at the top weren’t happy or unhappy. They were busy and just went about their work as if we weren’t there. They just looked at us and kept on working.
For me, this was ideal, for I really got to capture the scene as it was.
This blog was written with Yana Dlugy in Paris.