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The Travelling Fence: Over Or Around?

Great Wall

Great Wall of China

4,000 Miles of Chinese Fence

Is the Great Wall of China the most famous fence in the world?
A 4000-mile barrier that can’t be seen from the moon, despite constant claims to the contrary, the Great Wall is the ultimate fence that everybody wants to visit.

Ten million people visit Beijing in an average year, and the majority of them want to set foot on this fence. Ironic, since it was designed to keep foreigners out, but now attracts them by the bus load.

Nowadays, the big challenge for seasoned travellers is to find a quiet place on the Great Wall. Locations closest to Beijing can be easily ruled out if you don’t want to share China’s winding fence with hundreds of noisy tourists. A bit of imagination, some spare time and a few chats with in-the-know locals can bring you a hike along much less photographed parts of the Great Wall of China.

Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall

A Fence Can Divide a City in Half

The Berlin Wall was just a temporary fence, but it changed the lives of millions. Who would have thought that in the twentieth century, any government could decide to build a physical barrier to keep its citizens in?

Those desperate to travel across this fence to the other side risked their lives with late-night runs across No Man’s Land or claustrophobic journeys inside fake compartments of vehicles.

Who can forget the long televised scenes of Berliners standing atop the wall in November 1989, chipping away at the hated concrete, then East Berliners flocking into West Berlin to celebrate their sudden freedom? And then the optimism of October 1990 when at the site of the wall, divided Germany once again became one. A Berlin Wall fan probably tries to forget that united Germany has struggled both psychologically and economically since that night.

Perhaps the stranger part of the whole affair is that the remnants of this fence have become a major tourist attraction. Visitors to Berlin clamber to see the remaining pieces of the Wall, they buy tacky souvenirs with tiny chunks of the wall made into earrings, and they stare open-mouthed at the exhibits inside the museum at Checkpoint Charlie. It is a fence that has transcended fences: an ex-fence that everybody wants to see, but not to go around.

Mexico Barrier

© Ivan S. Abrams


A Dividing Fence, Part I: Mexico and the United States

Sorry, did I say that it was incredible to think a twentieth century government would build a barrier to keep its citizens in? Here we are in the twenty-first century and a government is building a barrier to keep other citizens out. Is the United States – Mexico barrier the best way to deal with a difficult problem? This fence is specifically designed to stop particular people from travelling. But others can still travel freely, as long as they use the designated border crossings, of course. Will people travel with the intention just of seeing this enormous fence?

Of course, this fence is not just a twenty-first century invention. The border itself has been there for much longer, and fences along much of it, too. Along the Arizona – Sonora border, locals from both sides enjoyed volleyball matches against each other during the late 1970s and 1980s. A fence is not only a barrier: it can be a perfect volleyball net, too.

Wall Between North & South Korea

Dividing North & South Korea

A Dividing Fence, Part II: There Are Two Koreas

It is more than simply a fence that divides South Korea from North Korea. The Korean Demilitarized Zone, the DMZ, keeps the two nations apart, and so do the vast differences in democracy, productivity and well-being.

The days of propaganda across the fence are more or less history. But this fence has witnessed the blaring pop music and biased or fake broadcasts heading both ways across the divide. Soldiers are posted all the way along the fence and two-year compulsory military service for South Korean males keeps up a ready supply of manpower to guard the fence.

Tourists who want to visit this barrier – usually from the south side – have to follow the rules of the fence. Sensible clothing is a must, or you will not be permitted to come to the DMZ. Once you are there, you cannot wave, shout or point. Nothing to get untoward attention from the North Korean guards, they say. No photographs when the guards can see you. Visitors sign an indemnity letter, because the guide books say this is one of the most dangerous places in the world. Guns point in all directions, although there is rarely any kind of action.

Curiously, the area along the DMZ, free of humans since World War Two, has become a haven for wildlife and a natural ecology thrives here. That is the unexpected good side of such a horrific fence.

Rabbit Fence in Australia

Rabbit Fence in Australia

A Fence across a Nation

When the rabbits were about to hit the state of Western Australia, the powers that be decided on a fence. The 2,000 miles of posts and wire stretching from north to south became the Rabbit Proof Fence. It still operates today. And more often, people are driving out into the desert to see this fence. Not to get to the other side of it, but just to take a look. They say it is the longest fence in the world, so it is surely worth a look.

Who would think to pick a fairly large continent – Australia – and decide to build a fence from top to bottom? It all started with the First Fleet rabbits. Settlers brought them from Britain in the late eighteenth century and released them into the wild about fifty years later. There was no fence then, and they started to eat and scavenge their way across the country.

This fence was a blessing for more than just farmers who hoped to see less rabbits. Three young Aboriginal girls escaped from a resettlement camp and followed the fence on foot for 1,500 miles to return to their camp and their mothers.

Cardrona Bra Fence in New Zealand

Photographer Nichlas Friman

Fence Design: It’s All in What You Hang on Your Fence

The materials used to create a fence can vary, but if you want to consider your standard fence, then a bit of wire and a few posts are probably mandatory. If you want your fence to stand out amongst the crowd, then the decorations become all important.

The Cardrona Bra Fence in New Zealand sadly exists no more. This short-lived tourist attraction began in late 1999 when four brassieres mysteriously appeared on a fence

along the roadside in Otago. Passers-by started adding their bras, but each time the number increased, authorities would take them away. It was a dangerous distraction for drivers, they said, or an embarrassing insult to Japanese students studying nearby. There was always a reason.

But the Bra Fence fought back. More bras went up. More people came to see the fence. Most of them took photographs. This tiny area was becoming famous, all because of a fence and some women’s underwear. Until the authorities became sure that the fence was actually standing on public-owned land, on a public road reserve. They came along in 2006 and took down 1,500 bras. And now the Cardrona Bra Fence is a travelling fence only in the memories of photographs and long-gone visitors.

Fish Fence

Photographer Ferdz Decena

A Fence for Smaller Creatures

Fences aren’t only there to keep humans in or out. And they’re not only there for the obvious animals, to keep jungle animals away from a campsite, bears out of the city or pests out of the crops. There are fences for fish, too.

Fences can end a journey, or be the start of one. Fences can even be the purpose of a journey. A fence shouldn’t always be seen as a barrier or an obstacle. A fence can make a trip great, not just longer. If a fence comes your way on your next trip, embrace it. A travelling fence is like a living object and whether for good or for bad, there is something interesting to learn there.

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