In 2008 I spent 5 months working in Beijing, training up a new team of software developers. Beijing is a fast paced and constantly changing city which is developing at a speed those of us in the West will find hard to keep up with. I loved it there and 2008 was a particularly special year as China prepared to host the Olympics. I arrived in February, just after the Spring Festival and spent the first few weeks making new friends and exploring the city. There comes a point though, when you want to get out of the city and this is where Beijing Hikers came into the picture. Beijing Hikers is a walking group for expats and if you're ever in China, I'd recommend them as one of the best ways of getting out of the city and seeing parts of the country you might otherwise have missed. One weekend in early April, a few of us booked onto one of their walks which took in a part of the Great Wall. No visit to China is complete without going to see the Wall and as I hadn't been yet, I was looking forward to the walk.
The day before the walk, we received a text message: "Snow on the Great Wall. Tomorrow's walk may follow a different route, wrap up warm." A couple of people dropped out at this stage, but Manju and I decided to go along anyway. We turned up and got on the bus, along with several others including Helen and Dave from my office. The walk leader was still undecided as to which route we were going to do at this stage. But as we made our way up there, she got a call from a local guide in one of the villages who had gone out early to check the route and was happy to take us up there. And I'm so glad they did. The Great Wall is breathtaking on any day as it snakes out in all directions across the mountains. But covered in a layer of undisturbed snow with no-one else around, it was one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen.
I went on to visit the wall several times while I was in China. Like the rest of the country, it's full of contrasts. Some parts are perfectly reconstructed tourist traps, some bits are falling apart entirely and others are just a little bit worn and overgrown. I think that all adds to its charm but this first visit is how I will always remember it.