Friday, May 19, 2017

2017 HNC Nanjing Wall Walk

Last weekend, I joined a group of HNC students and faculty on an epic and memorable walk around the Nanjing city wall. The wall traces the traditional city limits of Nanjing, originally built at the beginning of the Ming dynasty, but also continuously rebuilt during different time periods. If you follow the original structure of the wall as it encircles the city, the total distance is about 26 miles. Today, though still a defining characteristic of the city, the wall exists in segments, with some parts having been intermittently destroyed during the Sino-Japanese war, and again during the founding of the People’s Republic. More recently, parts of the wall have been restored as a cultural heritage site and popular attraction for visitors.

We began our trek early in the morning on Saturday, departing from the HNC at 6 am. Although the early departure time was easier for some than others, it also offered a chance to see the city in a new light. Besides our troupe, most other early risers on the streets were retirees doing morning exercises, or walking to the market while pushing strollers with their grandchildren inside. It was invigorating to see how alive the city already was even before 7 am.

Most students picked up breakfast while walking through one of the bustling morning markets. With the enticing smells of steamed buns and deep fried breads wafting out from vendor’s stalls, neighborhood markets are one of my favorite reasons to wake up early in Nanjing. We continued walking through the morning until arriving at an enormous and sprawling flea market packed with all kinds of odd treasures. We took a break to explore the flea market, and then continued onwards along the Qinghai River, a tributary of the Yangtze, which follows alongside the wall.

Photo Credit: Ning Xinyuan 

At midday, the temperature quickly turned from pleasant to sweltering. It was around this time that the benevolent co-Director Davies treated everyone to ice cream, which raised group morale and fortified our desires to keep pushing onwards. Although it was also the hottest and sweatiest part of the hike, the section of the wall that we traversed in the early afternoon was also the most rewarding. Walking along the elevated walk-way atop a newly restored section of the wall, we had a bird’s-eye view of different districts of the city in starkly different stages of development. Just like the wall itself, the city of Nanjing is also being continuously torn down and rebuilt according to the changing lifestyles of its inhabitants and the evolving demands of the city.

Photo Credit:  Li Liyang

The last leg of the trek was the most trying. Our numbers had shrunk and those who remained were blistered and tired. For the last few miles, some took advantage of Nanjing’s new public-use bike system, and biked alongside walkers. I almost gave up when we came across a conveniently located bus stop, but thanks to the support of classmates and faculty I found the will to go on. For the last mile along Xuanwu Lake, the bikes were left behind and we made our way to the original starting point together on foot.

Since finishing the wall walk, I’ve had a new sense of appreciation for the city of Nanjing, a place with countless places to explore. For example, now that I’ve allowed some time for my blisters heal, I am planning a—comparatively less long—walk around picturesque Xuanwu Lake. While being a full-time student, it is important to remember that life at the HNC is not limited to time spent within the HNC. Some of the most memorable experiences I’ve had here have taken place while exploring the historic and constantly changing city of Nanjing.

Written by Amanda Bogan, MAIS '18