Late one night several weeks ago, I received yet another cryptic email from someone purporting to be very far away who was offering me some fantastic fortune that I just couldn’t pass up.  Instead of the typical “congratulations” from the “Royal Bank of Nigeria” insisting that I urgently wire my bank account information to claim the $400,000USD miraculously bequeathed to me, however, this particular email came from China.  And–much to my surprise–there was no mention of my social security number, my personal financial information, nor my taken-for-granted willingness to help my “dear friend” in need.

As I read on, my cynicism gave way to intrigue, and before I even had a chance to digest the email in its entirety, I couldn’t help but lean over to my wife and say, “Honey, I think I just got invited to China.”

Indeed, here I now am in China, with SDMoM’s new board Chair, Bill Mayer, or “Chairman Bill” as I have come to dub him affectionately throughout our travels.  We are on our way to Kunming (a small village of five million), where I will be serving as a juror for the UNESCO-sponsored Humanity Photo Awards, a biannual international competition designed to celebrate the diversity of the world’s cultures through the medium of photography.

Intent on super-sizing our adventure in this super-sized and utterly fascinating country, Bill and I booked a layover in Beijing where–despite arriving without our luggage–we hit the ground running.  Our first stop: the Great Wall.

Surely one of humankind’s most stunning achievements, the Great Wall ranks among the most extraordinary experiences of both our lives.  I found myself somewhat unprepared for its powerful and uplifting grandeur.  The Wall’s mind-boggling beauty, engineering, and strategic insights–so difficult to get my arms around through text books and documentaries over the years–finally sank in for me as we walked its age old path through mist and sun high above the hustle of Beijing and a world away from everything.

Much to our delight, the way down offered two options: a sky-tram reminiscent of our very own San Diego Zoo, or a toboggan run reminiscent of a makeshift bobsledding track my 8 year-old son might try to assemble.  No offense to our world famous neighbor in Balboa Park, but the decision was a no-brainer.  Winter Olympics, watch out!