“The road to peace, from the beginning of the fire started.” The sign was trying to tell us something, but exactly what was up for debate. We could narrow it down to either instructions, directions, prohibitions, or perhaps an ancient Chinese proverb. Regardless of its message, it was hilarious. Chinglish signs like these are all over China and made travel in this misunderstood country, well, still misunderstood.
The Great Wall snaked ahead as far as we could see, following the most difficult path across mountains with impossibly steep ridge lines. We were trekking atop 2,200 years of history, where numerous dynasties defended the borders of modern day China. Many phases eventually left almost 10,000 kilometers crossing the country. It was built to stop invasion from barbarian nomads, and close to 500,000 people had died during its construction. The very wall that had faced the Mongols now made our trail through wild North China.
The sword arced methodically, shining brightly in the morning light. People were all around, paying little attention as she swung the meter long blade on the sidewalk with unwavering concentration. This was not a show, this was just another day on the streets in China.
The Yangtze River raged beneath us, but the sheer depth of the canyon silenced the churning rapids at our vantage in the cliffs above. Trekking through Tiger Leaping Gorge kept us on the literal edge. With towering mountains plunging almost 4,000 meters directly into the waters below, a thin path snaking around the rock face provided the only path forward.
We stood high in the mountains of Southern China, surrounded by some of the world’s most incredible rice terraces. These paddies had been built over 600 years earlier and continued to be farmed to this day. We had the perfect view as the mist rolled across the valley below, making the water in the fields shimmer in the golden light. These were the famous Longi Rice Terraces, and we had traveled halfway around the globe for this sight. After stops in Hong Kong and Yangshuo, our trip in China was off to a fantastic start.