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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

The Great Walls of China

#1  My first glimpse of the Great Wall of China came from our sleepy tour bus window.  I was in awe of the never-ending steps, the hazy mountain landscape, and the thousands of tourists that seemed to plague my camera viewfinder.  Despite the crowd, I tirelessly trekked to the farthest point one could go, and celebrated by buying two hand chiseled stone plaques and a 7up to wash it down.  It was a successful trip that I would be sure to write home about.

#2  To my surprise, my second trip to the Great Wall was only three hours after my first.  With my legs burning to turn back, our group hiked up a mountain to a private section of the wall in the Commune by the Great Wall development.  It was the best decision we’ve made so far.  Emerging from the hiking trail, we were greeted by a truly breathtaking view of the ancient wall, overgrown with trees and shrubs, and framed by rays of the setting sun.  Limited by time, we soaked it in and explored as much as possible before heading back to civilization.

#3  I had not had enough of the Great Wall, and returned with two others three days later.  As I hiked up the familiar trail, my mind fluttered with anticipation of watching the sunset and of finding a moment of true peace on this excitement packed program.  Reminiscing of Nutcracker ballet rehearsals that always start in October, I selected the ‘Nutcracker’ playlist on my ipod, and set off on the Great Wall for the third time.  It amazed me that a wall that had been built for protection and an image of strength in the 5th century BC had now become a tourist attraction, a country’s icon, and a way to make money.  As I traversed the thorny overgrown wall however, my experience became much more personal.  As the music swelled and the deep orange and gold leaves rustled in the wind, memories of dancing in the Waltz of the Flowers came over me, and I suddenly felt at home.

I had felt this feeling of home a few times on this trip, despite being in unfamiliar countries and not knowing the languages.  While in Tokyo at the Sendai Mediatheque, I stumbled upon a painting of a girl sitting on a bench under a bed of sunflowers.  Instantly, the image brought me home to my backyard, reminding me of my favorite place to sit and contemplate.  In Hong Kong, as we walked around the viewing tower, the plants and climate were so similar to those of home that I felt comfortable and at ease with being abroad.

Without these links to my home life, traveling for four months would be too overwhelming.  While clearly aware that I was climbing the Great Wall of China, the little hints of home comfort only enhanced my experience and made it that much more memorable and meaningful.  Now when I listen to the Waltz of the Flowers, not only will I think of dance, but the Great Wall as well.  The thousands of tourists I saw on my first trip will never know my Great Wall, just as I will never know theirs.

The sun set over the mountains just as the Final Waltz struck its last note, and I was at peace.

~Samantha

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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Director:
Andrew Liang
Instructors:
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Students:
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu

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