March 11, 2019 - Robert John Hadfield
Finding the Great Wall Waiting for a Plane
Last week I had the opportunity to visit a section of the Great Wall of China. It’s interesting to think that something as simple as a wall can inspire and capture the imagination of people everywhere. But this particular wall is often listed among the wonders of the world.
The Great Wall is not particularly complicated or attractive. It’s pretty much just a big, thick wall. It’s old, a little broken down, it winds up and down hills and mountains and of course it is very long. And the length, the shear magnitude, is really why it is awe-inspiring. Of course you can only see one small section at a time, but knowing that it extends over 5500 miles is truly incredible.
The wall averages around twenty feet high and sixteen feet wide, and when you consider how much of it was built over to tops of hills and mountains, it becomes even more amazing. The amount of material that was transported up the sides of mountains to build the wall is astounding. And of course these people did it without any of our modern technology.
Our guide took us to an area where there were no other people at all, so it felt as if we had the entire wall to ourselves. My son and I climbed through one of the entryways and walked/hiked on a section of the wall for about an hour. The quiet and the space helped me focus and take in the magnitude. It was worth the visit and was one of the highlights of our trip.
I could go on about the experience, but there is a different message I want to convey. We did this visit during a layover on our way back to the United States. I think most of us consider layovers a hassle. We have to sit in an airport for hours with nothing to do, or maybe even get a hotel room for the night. Most of my life I have perceived layovers as something negative, I have seen them as little more than an obstacle that stands in the way of getting to where I really want to be. But when I was planning this trip, I tried something different. I looked for long layovers.
When I was reviewing flight options on Priceline, I skipped right past the flights that were 20 hours long and looked for flights that were 50 hours long. These would be the flights with he longest layovers. I went through the options to see what cities the layovers would be in, how long the layover would be, whether it would be during the day or night, etc. I decided to find a way to use a layover as a strategic advantage rather than an obstacle. I decided that I could turn a layover into another interesting stop along our journey. As a result we had three mini vacations in cities in China, and we didn’t have to pay anything extra to get there.
We spent time in Shanghai, Nanjing and Beijing. We experienced some modern culture and personalities interacting with people at restaurants, shops, and taxis. We used AirBNB in Nanjing and were exposed to some everyday life in China. We ate some fantastic food. We saw some interesting sights like part of the Chinese lantern festival, the massive Nanjing city wall and gates, and of course, the great wall.
We’ve all heard the phrase that the joy is in the journey. And in some way, we probably all believe it. But even so, we often spend our journeys taking short cuts and tight corners. To be fair, sometimes screaming down the highway can be a very enjoyable journey. But we always miss something. So rather than looking for the shortcut, maybe we should spend a little effort finding alternative paths. Seeking out unknown roads that seem a little longer, awkward or even difficult. If we can embrace and enhance the layovers, we might just find that our perspective fluctuates and our ultimate destination changes. It might just be the highlight of your journey.