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The Great Wall

| Friday, October 7, 2016

It happened right after the first snow in Beijing. Red leafs lay on the ground, freshly dead, covered by snow. I used to think they looked like blood veins under a person’s skin. Friends found that analogy strange – “How unromantic!” If these leafs are the crucial veins of a body, what would my friends and I be? The heart?

I am a brick on the Great Wall of China. If I care to turn my head to the left, I will smell the nostalgic fragrance of the golden fall and to the right, new hope for spring embedded in the layered snow.

On this sunny day after the first snow, I got a visitor.

“What is the Great Wall for, mom? It is beautiful, but what is it for?” I heard a six-year-old asking her mom.

“It is a defensive fortification, first built in the eighth century B.C. by the then-seven kingdoms. Then, in the third century B.C., when Qin Shi Huang unified China, he ordered construction of the northern wall. The Qin Great Wall took 10 years to construct, with more than one million laborers. Amongst them, 300,000 died during construction, and these dead workers were buried right there under the Wall.”

“Right down there?” The kid pointed at me, her eyes widening.

“Yes, right down there. Actually, my dear, throughout the history, the Wall seldom kept out the barbarians. In 1211, Genghis Khan invaded and conquered China.”

I was lost in the rich history of my life and suddenly, I felt a sharp pain on my shoulder. The kid was stamping on me.

“Evil brick,” she shouted. “You useless thing. Why did you kill people?”

She stamped harder. I was barely able to give out a cry. The pain came from inside me. I am just a brick that happened to be on the greatest wall in the world. It was the Great Wall’s fault that it killed people, not mine.

That night, after the child and her mom left, I looked at the round moon. It was unfair to be judged by an outdated culture of my community. I wanted my individual voice to be heard. I sighed. After all, what does a wall in modern times do? Showing off a country’s military prowess? Guarding an imaginary threat from other members of our family? Spreading fear over differences and ignoring our similarities? In an era where there are so many ways of creating unity, my community establishes a barrier. A wall should only be a culture’s history, its past glory, its fading strength, but never, never its future. I need to escape! I need to escape into the past and maybe then, I will be valued.

A week later, I had another visitor. He had golden hair and blue eyes. He said that in the West, there is a beautiful country where freedom blossoms, where individuality is respected and people are not solely judged based on their community. I woke up my friends from sleep and we left for that country. We thought the Great Wall would crumble behind us, but no, it did not even hear our departure.

On a moonless night, I, with my friends, arrived at this foreign country, arriving into the past. It was strange that they did not even have a gate. There we saw buildings, each shining from a different angle — gold and silver.

“They don’t seem to need us bricks. They seem to only need glass.” My friends’ voice was filled with uneasiness.

We wandered in the city until sunset, walking through forests of buildings. We became homeless bricks. Every night, we watched the sun kissing the city from the west. Every morning, we went to what they called Times Square and sat on the top of the red stairs in Father Duffy Square, watching the sun lighting up the city’s skyline. The sun seemed so small compared to the city. It was only a red spot rising between the majestic lines of skyscrapers, yet its brightness radiated the world.

Until one day on TV, we saw a guy with blond hair say that he was going to build a great wall on the southern border of this country. He said he would do it inexpensively.

“You heard that? Finally the past has come. We will be once again admired and respected.”

“You think we have a chance?”

We were all excited.

“But it is only going to be 1,000 miles.”

“Sounds like we’d better hurry up.”

So we ran to him, this man with blond hair, and was told that he only wanted bricks that were born in this country, that we were too old and he wanted new, prettier ones.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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