Trashing National Treasures

Here’s an excerpt from an excellent article about the Great Wall of China in the August 2008 Smithsonian:

As Sun Zhenyuan and I [Brook Larmer] duck through the arched doorway of his family watchtower, his pride turns to dismay. Fresh graffiti scars the stone walls. Beer bottles and food wrappers cover the floor. This kind of defilement occurs increasingly, as day-trippers drive from Beijing to picnic on the wall. In this case, Sun believes he knows who the culprits are. At the trail head, we had passed two obviously inebriated men, expensively attired, staggering down from the wall with companions who appeared to be wives or girlfriends toward a parked Audi sedan. “Maybe they have a lot of money,” Sun says, “but they have no culture.”

The article ends:

As Sun cleans the trash from his family’s watchtower, he spies a glint of metal on the ground. It’s a set of car keys: the black leather ring is imprinted with the word “Audi.” Under normal circumstances, Sun would hurry down the mountain to deliver the keys to their owners. This time, however, he’ll wait for the culprits to hike back up, looking for the keys—and then deliver a stern lecture about showing proper respect for China’s greatest cultural monument. Flashing a mischievous smile, he slides the keys into the pocket of his Mao jacket. It’s one small victory over the barbarians at the gate.

While I read the physical magazine, you can read the entire article online at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/great-wall.html. Since I have done very little world travel, I always thought that littering was an American thing. While the Chinese have banned plastic bags, like us, they have a long way to go.

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