Greasy takeout, kung-fu, and Jackie Chan are some of the stereotypes that come to mind when most people think of Chinese culture. Being of Chinese heritage, however, I have experienced the true essence of Chinese culture, especially so this past July when I visited Beidaihe, a seaside city in Hebei province. There, I enjoyed some truly enriching and unforgettable experiences.
Shanhaiguan’s First Pass Under Heaven, located in Qinhuangdao, was a fascinating historical landmark that I visited while in Beidaihe. The First Pass Under Heaven is the start of the Great Wall of China from the east. When I arrived, however, I wasn’t too impressed.
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“What’s wrong with the walls?” I wrinkled my nose.
The walls looked very odd. Parts of them were weathered and uneven, while other parts were distinct and neatly stacked. The result was what seemed like a bizarre patchwork of walls. I realized that I wasn’t far from the truth when I learned that the uneven parts were from the original wall built centuries ago, while the newer-looking areas were used to patch up sections that had disintegrated over time.
I was amazed, and tiptoed to touch the cool, worn bricks that were centuries old. I shivered upon making contact, truly comprehending that the piece of wall under my hand had been a silent witness to centuries of Chinese culture. How hard the workers must have labored to build the Great Wall! Brick by brick, wall by wall, they’d repeat the process again and again. Centuries later, the product of their sweat, tears, and backbreaking labor would be one of the world’s greatest man-made architectural wonders. And I stood where it all started!
The next day, the locals directed us to Lianfeng Mountain, citing it as the best place to get a bird’s-eye view of the city. Mountain-climbing wasn’t my favorite pastime, but the striking scenery on either side of the path distracted me from the uphill ascent. My family and I started a race to see who could walk backwards the fastest, and before long, laughing and out of breath, we arrived at “Baifuyuan” or “Hundred Luck Gardens”.
The first sight I saw was an immense rock that had the characters “fu di” carved on it, announcing that we were on “Lucky Ground”. “Fu”, or “luck” characters were carved all around me, some on rock faces right in front of my eyes, others so inconspicuous that I had to look twice to notice them. For a while I amused myself by trying to find the most “luck” characters. While searching, I became alarmed as I observed something peculiar: each large rock had little sticks stuck under its base, as though they were the only things supporting the rock. When I questioned my aunt about it, she said that visitors had put the sticks there for their loved ones, to bring them good health, long life, and no back pain – which made me laugh.
Finally, we reached the very top of the mountain and looked down. Beidaihe’s traditional red rooftops were vibrant against the lush, verdant treetops. In the distance, obscured by silvery mists, was the ocean. The rest of Lianfeng Mountain loomed protectively on either side of me, and far away I saw the faint shadow of the moon, itching to take over the night. I realized that I had caught the most beautiful part of the day in Beidaihe as I saw the golden-red sun slowly melt into the sea. I was grateful to have probed deeper into Chinese culture during my stay – and for the chance to see Beidaihe’s breathtaking sunset.
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