Tuesday, December 18, 2007

betajing 2

When we arrive at the bus depot in Beijing, we no doubt look like pigeons: fat, clueless, cooing. Make that giant piegons, as we tower over all on the sidewalk like the marks that we are. A man begins hassling us with that ever-friendly "Hello! Hello!" and before we know it, we're herded into the party van. It's the only vehicle that can accomodate us six-foot plus pale behemoths, raised on corn and beef. As we make our way out of the lead skies of Beijing and into the Chinese version of the 'burbs, meaning acres of greenhouses for growing strawberries, still intact hutongs, and coming soon gas stations, our driver talks about how slow he must drive with our body weight. Struggle upwards into the hills that soon become mountains, which while immense, turn out to be unnamed. That such mountainous objects can go sans word is but part of the China experience.

Finally, the haze clears and we can perceive vistas, as well as draw deeper breaths. A roadside host offers us perfumed green tea with chrysanthamum pedals that may be the most perfect drink I've tasted, before we get sold tee shirts and bottles of plum wine. Our host asks me if I believe in Jesus Christ, pressing his hands together in feigned prayer. I answer yes and he explains to me that it is how he feels about Mao. Try to remember what currency features JC's benevolent and fatherly gaze upon it. Our ride continues and we soon stumble out of the van, slightly woozy on plum wine as we start up a hill. Already breathless, the dirt turns to stone steps and then we find ourselves atop that motley assemblage of barricades that has cohered in lore into the Great Wall of China.

From such a vantage point, I grasp what infinity might actually be like, to be extending both forward and back beyond the realms of all sensory perceptions. Everything fails from such a precipice: body and breath and language and vision and touch and mortality. My words are like those invaders from the North: attempts to penetrate this barrier, to capture it or accurately describe it are doomed to failure, to total defeat. I can feel every single hand, each ascending with its load, one brick at a time. It is a weight I have never felt before. To say one feels like an ant in such a presence is far too presumptuous.

Much like the human haze that surrounds the imperial city, rendering its skyscrapers, stadiums, temples, and anthill building blocks unreal and disintegrated, so too does this fortress of absolute solitude enter the world of the imaginary and dream-prisoned the moment its walls are back out of sight, enshrouded once more in the distant fog of memory. Could I have really been there?