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Today was probably one of the biggest things my group was looking forward to this entire trip- getting to see one of the seven wonders of the world, the Great Wall!

But none of us realized just how long a trek it would be to reach it!

We started off this morning with a long bus ride through countryside to reach the Mutianyu section of the wall, followed by a long walk uphill from the base of the mountain to where the chairlifts up to the wall start. When we got close to the chairlifts, the sides of the roads were lined with street vendors who were doing everything they possibly could to get our attention.

After managing to bypass the vendors, we finally got to the chairlift. I’d never ridden one except when I’ve gone snowboarding, and the view then doesn’t get much more exciting than lots of snow and trees. But the ride up to the wall was incredible! Everywhere you looked were hazy mountains, and, as you got closer, you could make out the ridges of the Great Wall.

By the top we reached the top, all you could do was stare. We all know the Great Wall of China is one of the wonders of the world, but actually seeing it in person is unbelievable. It stretched out forever, rising and falling with the mountains, and still looked fantastic despite being built around 200 BC. We couldn’t take enough pictures!

The defense stations along the wall were each stationed by a guard-slash-vendor who had a bunch of food and drinks to sell, but the first one we met was a lot of fun!

After climbing up and down some incredibly steep stairs, it was time to head down. But this was still the Great Wall, there had to be an equally amazing way to get down the mountain. So what did we get? Toboggan rides down a metal slide that curved all the way down the mountain to where we started. So much fun!

We had originally planned to do lunch right after we all got back together, but something very interesting was happening today. Wouldn’t you know it, Michelle Obama was coming to the Great Wall today with her kids! The secret service and Chinese police closed off the entire road that led up to the mountain, so we weren’t able to go anywhere for a while. But while we waited, dozens and dozens of black cars with tinted windows rolled up the hill. And when we finally were able to get down the road to go to lunch, it turned out that the restaurant we were eating at, called The Schoolhouse, was also where the First Lady and her family were eating! Unfortunately, we didn’t get to be in the same part of the building as them, but after the meal everyone was standing on chairs to look out the windows, trying to catch a glimpse of the President’s family. No luck, but we tried!

The food at the restaurant was amazing, though! It was a buffet-style place that had combinations of American and Chinese foods. We got to listen to one of the owners talk about the business afterwards, too. Her name was Julie Upton-Wong. She was from America, like us, and she told us how she and her Chinese husband had started the restaurant business with another American-Chinese couple. By using sustainable practices to get their food locally and also growing their own, they were able to teach the village they are located in to do the same and really help boost the economy.

It was a really interesting talk, and it was a great way to start transitioning into the academic part of the trip, which starts tomorrow!

~Shannon

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