Today I found myself awake once again at 4:30am. Got ready, had breakfast at the hotel and left to meet our tour group. Our first stop was to see the raising of the flag in Tiananmen Square, the gate to the Forbidden City, at 7:33am (why 7:33? Why not 7:35, a nice round number?) I have seen the flag raising ceremony at the Zocalo in D.F., Mexico and I can remember how exciting it was to be in a crowd filled with people speaking Spanish to one another, tourists excitedly snapping photos and videos (yes I was one of them). Today, I watched the raising of the flag in the 3rd largest city square in the world with my mom standing beside me humming along while the national anthem droned on the loudspeakers around us. We were standing in between the square and Mao’s enormous photo of himself, with the sunrise painting the sky with iridescent hues in the background. It was a lovely morning in Beijing.

Afterward, we set out for an hour bus ride through the rural parts of Beijing to The Great Wall. We went to the Badaling part of the Great Wall which was built during the Ming dynasty to deter invasion by the Mongolians. I was tired, cold. It was -7° C; my fingers were literally turning purple even with gloves. My toes I imagine were following suit despite wearing very thick knee-high socks with my rubber boots. I was not ecstatic to climb the wall under these conditions. Walking toward the entrance found us avoiding frozen plots of ice while ducking under our hoods and scarves to block the icy wind. However, once we started the climb, I felt an adrenaline rush. The sheer beauty of the surrounding mountains ranges and greenery coupled with the idea that I was stepping on man-made steps from the 15th century was exhilarating. Then I hear my mom say to me “Jenn, let’s just climb to the mid way point ok?” Yea mom, I came to the Great Wall to climb halfway. A few moments later I understood her concern. Firstly, she is a 63-year-old woman who has not exercised a day in her life. The Badaling section was split into 4 parts. Most people stopped at the 2nd part, where she suggested, because the stretch of steps following the midway point required more stamina given that some steps were literally 2 feet high. For my mother who is about 5 feet tall, this was quite intimidating. Okay mother, you stay here, I’ll go at it.

She stayed back and I started the climb alone. It was windy, high, scary. When I looked behind me, I would get dizzy. So I decided just to stare at each step ahead of me. Paso paso I kept telling myself. Step by step. As I climbed higher and higher, I became more and more excited. It was beautiful. I thought about how my mother could only make it part of the way with me and how I had to do the rest alone. Such a metaphor. It was quite liberating actually. When I finally made it to the top, I felt so proud of myself. I asked a gentleman to photodocument it for me, took a moment to take it all in, took a few photos, then headed back.

On my way down, I was grinning ear to ear. It is so silly. All I did was walk up a bunch of stairs, but it felt like such an accomplishment. I was happy and thanked God for this opportunity and asked God to show me some love. I kid you not, no b.s., I saw this two minutes later:

Once I reached my mother, I showed her the pictures since she has never seen the top before. Apparently, the other times she has come with my aunts and with friends, they all stopped at midway. So I asked her to translate the sign up at the top for me. She said, “it’s a quote from Mao, ‘only those who make it to the top are guaranteed to succeed.’” Nice.