Just Mr. Joke and a couple of thousand of my best Chinese friends at the Great Wall. Go Heels! (Photo by Chen Kai)_
Mr. Joke says “Go Heels!” from the Great Wall of China. (Photo by Chen Kai)

Did I really bring a UNC basketball poster 9,000 miles just to have this photo made at the Great Wall of China?

No, I did not. The poster is for “Frank” Liu, the 16-year-old son of my host, Prof. Chen Kai, and probably the No. 1 Tar Heel basketball fan in Beijing.

But when I heard I would be returning to the Great Wall, I realized I needed that poster.

Three years ago, on my first trip to China, my hosts took me to the Great Wall. One of the seven wonders of this planet and a must-see on everyone’s bucket list, the Great Wall is usually over-run by throngs of chattering Chinese tourists, thus rendering the holy profane.

But my hosts took me to a remote, less-traveled section of the Great Wall, and so I got to experience that edifice as more than just a blip to be checked off on my been-there-done-that list.

It was just me, the wind, the cawing blackbirds, the old stones winding like a sinuous coiled dragon up and down and around the precipitous peaks — stretching as far as the eye could see. In that solitude I sensed the ancient spirit presence of the nameless thousands of laborers who gave their lives building the wall.

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