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Destiny Brings Couple Together
Foreigners in China
Imagine the combination: He’s a marathoner, an adventurer, a photographer, a researcher and, above all, a reputed conservationist of the Great Wall. She was a shy student of history who has joined him in his unusual quest.

As the founder and director of the Beijing-based International Friends of Great Wall, William Lindesay has made “presenting and preserving the Great Wall of China” his life’s vocation. But Lindesay has been backed much of the way by his wife Wu Qi, who holds a degree in history from Xi’an’s Northwest University, and their two children.

“William has an extraordinary singularity of focus; he’s stubborn and direct,” Wu Qi said when asked to describe her husband in one sentence.

As a school boy, William Lindesay was already imbued with a spirit of mapping out his future and of braving challenges, thanks to his first headmaster, who often led his pupils on visits to museums, castles and cathedrals. At 11, Lindesay was inspired by seeing a symbol for a wall and the evocative words “Great Wall of China” in his school atlas. He vowed to his teacher “Sir, when I grow up I’m going to explore the Great Wall from end to end!”

With his dream made feasible by China’s reform and opening-up policies, Lindesay’s dream to visit the Great Wall, which had been shelved for 17 years, was given life. The former petroleum geologist, veteran marathoner and trekker lost no time. In 1986, with a rucksack on his back, Lindesay, then 28, set about running and walking, all alone, along the entire length of the Great Wall, from Jiayuguan to Shanhaiguan. Eighteen months later, on his fourth attempt, the British explorer finished this 2,470-kilometre odyssey, becoming the first foreigner to complete such a trek.

Lindesay said: “It was the Great Wall that brought me to China, but it was Wu Qi who magnetized me and made me take root in this country.”

“Love at first sight” best describes Lindesay’s feelings when he first spotted Wu across a room in a restaurant of the Longtan Hotel in Beijing, where she was residing because of her employment in the CITIC building. Lindesay was immediately captivated by her shyness.

“She had a big dictionary in one hand when we dined for the first time,” Lindesay recalled. “She had accepted my invitation only to practice her English on me.”

Lunchtime walks, evening dinners, strolls at sunset, bike rides along shaded avenues, hikes together and eating panda ice-cream were strands woven into the fabric of Lindesay and Wu’s romance.

As a foreign adventurer, he felt dreadfully lonely sometimes. Wu’s concern for Lindesay’s well-being during North China’s bitterly cold winters came to his rescue time and again and warmed his heart.

“Wu Qi was always bright and fresh, like a breath of hope, easy-going, gentle, comforting, playful, affectionate and tender,” said Lindesay.

After his first Great Wall exploration, Lindesay had to leave for home. When parting at the Beijing Railway Station, Wu’s tearful good-bye to him was almost more than he could bear. But their separation only intensified their love. “Despite that departure, thoughts of her gave me strength,” Lindesay said. “I realized that my future would depend on Wu Qi, and I was determined to come back and get married with her.”

Love, trust and understanding opened a way. After making three proposals of marriage, Lindesay’s devotion to the Great Wall softened Wu Qi, who subsequently accepted his hand.

“As Qi held my palm to read my future, I made another wish (one wish is to be successful on the Great Wall) that somehow she would become a part of it,” said Lindesay.

With her knowledge of history, Wu naturally became an adviser to her husband. She became his full-time language tutor, his best. “People are often amazed by my ability to speak Chinese and particularly impressed by my use of colloquial phrases, something I can thank Wu Qi for,” said Lindesay.

As the Society’s assistant director, Wu shoulders much of the responsibility for organizing and coordinating various aspects of the programme, from dealing with advisors to governmental departments, conservation agencies, sponsors and volunteers.

After trekking for nine months along the line of the Great Wall in the 1980s, Lindesay was stunned by the ravaging of the Great Wall by nature, man and time. As he proceeded to research more of the Wall in the 1990s, he found that many of its sections were threatened by pilferage, tourist kitsch, trash, vendors, graffiti and all the encroachments of modernity.

In 1991, Lindesay was presented with an antique book that contained photographs of the Great Wall taken 80 years before by an American explorer named William Geil. As destiny would have it, Geil and Lindesay, the two Williams, had each taken photographs of some of the very same Great Wall views. Looking at two photos in particular, he noticed a big difference, the disappearance of a watchtower. A new idea was born: to collect more old photos and engage in re-photography, a linking of the past and present with two pictures, one old and one modern, revealing the toll that time, events and processes had taken on the Great Wall.

His work has led to “The Great Wall Revisited,” a photo exhibition sponsored by Shell Companies in China that opened in January at the Beijing Capital Museum, which began to take shape in 2003. The exhibitions “then” and “now” pairs of images illustrate change, but also raise poignant questions about the nature of future changes on the Wall.

Lindesay and Wu will be among those leading the search for answers.

(Text by Lan Xiujuan Source: Beijing This Month)


 

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