Friday, October 13, 2017

HNC 2017 Fall Wall Walk

Benjamin Miles, MAIS '19, shares his experience of participating in the Hopkins-Nanjing Center's annual Wall Walk. 

Every year the Hopkins-Nanjing Center has a special tradition. The students, led by American Co-Director David Davies, trek the length of Nanjing’s old city wall, a 41 Kilometer or 23 mile journey. Several classes of students before us made the long journey, and it is considered somewhat of a rite of passage for HNC students. This year the trek began early on September 23, Saturday morning when all the students gathered in the East Lobby at 6 am.

We began by heading east towards the Xuanwumen Gate adjacent to Xuanwuhu lake. It was about an hours-long journey from the center to the gate, during which time sleepy students engaged in lively conversation to keep themselves going. Along the way we stopped briefly at 麦当劳 to get energized for the coming 10-hour walk around the length of the wall.

The starting point of the trek: Xuanwumen Gate
Making it to Xuanwumen, still in high spirits, the students gathered for a starting photo. Would all the smiling faces still be there 10 hours later for the ending photo? The journey began as we walked in the early morning mist of Xuanwuhu lake. Walking past joggers, old-timers and boats, the students took in their surroundings as they experienced early morning Nanjing.

Continuing to follow the wall, the crowd headed up the north-eastern corner and followed it further north and then west. The group, at first densely packed, slowly began to spread out and our troupe began to resemble the wall itself spanning several yards in length. Within the different sections of the group, all manner of conversation was taking place as students would take turns talking with each other.

During the info session for the wall walk, Co-Director Davies explained that this experience was a way for the students to experience Nanjing in a way that they could not otherwise. By traversing the length of the wall together, we would see parts of the city that we wouldn’t normally see or speak to students who we wouldn’t normally interact with. The wall walk is first-and-foremost a bonding exercise. It is a way for the students to build a sense of comradery in the already tight-knit community that is the HNC.

The group begins the trek
As we made our way up the northern section of the wall, following the channels and streams that run alongside it, the group began to stretch even further. Though it was still early in the day, some were beginning to feel the strain of the journey ahead, but we continued to carry on.

The flag bearer leads the way!
Making our way down the western side of the city, we traced the Yangtze River before dipping back west inside the city to continue chasing the wall. Students stretched further along the path with the front being led by the HNC flag bearer who showed the way for the rest who followed. At times, the group would stop to make sure not to lose those behind. Some students even rode bikes to keep up.

Along the south side, the group made their way up on top of the wall. The wall itself is broken into sections. Certain parts of the wall are walkable and tourists can get to the top for a wall’s-eye view of the city, while other sections are not open to the public. Still other sections are not even built as the original Ming Dynasty wall had been torn down many years ago. What exists today are rebuilt remnants that add to the city’s ancient flavor.

Heading into the home stretch along the eastern side of the city, some members decided to join around 1pm. This has become part of the tradition of the wall walk as students may leave or join at different points of the journey. The wall took us into the Baima park area, a beautiful luscious forested area that soothed the groups aching muscles and kept us moving forward. We fast approached Xuanwuhu, the starting point.

Once the group made it to Xuanwuhu, the lake we had left that morning went from being the sleepy, misty hangout of old-timers and early-morning runners to being a hot-spot of activity. Families leisured on the grass in tents, a Xinjiang dance festival was being held and boats streamed through the lake. This was certainly not the Xuanwuhu we met earlier in the day.

Finally making it back to Xuanwumen gate, the group was visibly exhausted. Students lined the floor along the gate, others leaned on each other for support, some were even limping from the pain. Though we were tired, we had made it. A sense of accomplishment came upon the group as the final picture was being taken. We had completed the wall walk, the epic journey of the HNC that very much mirrors the experience itself as students go from being energized and ready to face graduate courses in their target language to finishing the year possibly exhausted but accomplished. However, the year is only just beginning!

Written by Benjamin Miles, MAIS '19