I guess I’ll start where it all began – the People to People Student Ambassador Program. The program was designed to help students travel and educate themselves about cultures around the world, and basically create culturally aware citizens. I was interviewed and accepted into the program in 2006. I was part of a group with around 50 other students from all over the US, and we spent 17 days traveling around China. This was the first time I had traveled without my parents, and the longest I had been away from home at one time. I was scared, but also really excited. I saw so many amazing things that I still can’t believe I saw at that age (I went between freshman and sophomore year). I owe this trip to my family & friends of the family – it took a lot of fundraising and donations to go on this trip, that came almost entirely from these amazing people (if you are one of these people – THANK YOU again!)
Day 1 in China, we arrived in Beijing. This is Tiananmen Square, which is the largest public open square in the world and covers 100 acres. It gives entry to the Imperial City and Forbidden City. After we walked around the square, we went to a restaurant and ate our first authentic Chinese meal.
In China, almost all of our meals were served like this, several different dishes all put onto a lazy susan. This way, everyone was able to take something they wanted off every dish.
We started day 2 with a tour of the Forbidden City. Each temple has a number of animal statues on the corner of the roof, and this signified how important the temple was – the more animals, the more important it was. 9 was the highest number of statues.
After the Forbidden City, we attended a Vocational School and learned how to prepare typical Chinese dishes. (See if you can find me!)On Day 3, we visited the Beijing Sports University (where many world champions have been trained), we rode rickshaws around the Hutong (a small village) and got to see typical homes. The homes were made up of several small rooms surrounding a courtyard.
We ate at the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner – of course it was American food and not much different from any Hard Rock here in the US.
The 4th day was one of two of my favorite days. We first started at a cloisonne factory. Cloisonne is made with copper and colored sand, and when finished looks a lot like ceramic.
We had the chance to color our own cloisonne, and our two designs won. We got cloisonne chopsticks as a prize (which I still have!) After the factory, we visited the Great Wall of China and had the chance to climb the Juyongguan section. I decided I wanted to make it to the highest part of the section, so I stayed with our chaperones and climbed up. I have to say, my determination to get to the top was the most determination I’d had in my life at this point (being about 14 years old). It was steep, the stairs sometimes were over a foot tall, sometimes they were so narrow your whole foot wouldn’t fit on the stair, and I wasn’t really in that great of shape either. My picture taken at the top is my favorite of the trip, and I have it framed in my room.
Our group picture in front of the section
“I made it!”
After the Great Wall, we went to a Kung Fu school (incredibly talented students), and then had a Peking duck dinner. I was not that fond of the duck, to be honest.
We ended our visit in Beijing with a trip to the Summer Palace, and then the Beijing Zoo. The summer palace was where the emperor and empress would spend their summers. It was gorgeous – it was surrounded by green, it was situated on a lake, and of course the Chinese architecture was beautiful.
For those of you that know of my love for pandas, the zoo was heaven to me. I don’t remember anything except the pandas. At the end of the day, we boarded an overnight train to Xi’an (pronounced she-ahn).
Upon arriving in Xi’an, we attended a welcoming ceremony (it was presented in ancient Tang dynasty style), and was really interesting. The city has a wall around it, and we got the chance to walk around the wall as well.
Stone Steles Forest (Confucius Temple)
After the welcoming ceremony, we walked through the Stone Steles forest, which was formerly the Confucius Temple. This was mostly different stone plaques that had different inscriptions on them.
On day 7, the whole day was dedicated to the Terracotta warriors. We first went to a workshop where they make replicas for souvenirs. We learned how the originals would have been made, and then got to make our own small warriors. We then visited the original site of the Terracotta warriors. This was amazing – the warriors are over 2,000 years old, most of them are still completely intact, and just the history surrounding these sculptures is incredible. The sculptures not only include warriors, but also horses, chariots, and even some non-military people. It was all built for an emperor, so that he would have an army standing guard over his tomb. The site was discovered in 1974 by some farmers looking for underground water. Just the sheer size of the area where the sculptures were buried, as well as how many sculptures there are, was astounding.
The next day, we got the chance to stay with a local family in a small village. This was a great part of the trip – we got to see what a typical family house looked like, we got to eat home cooked meals, the whole village would get together to do different things, and the family was very welcoming. The family I stayed with was a mom, her daughter and son, and her niece came around very often. We played basketball with the kids in the village (and lost), and there was a celebration that night.
Welcomed into the village
Our basketball game score
We left the village the next day. Before we left, we had the chance to go to the fields and pick peaches. The peaches were different from how they taste in the US. We had lunch, and then we went to the airport to catch our flight to Shanghai. The homestay was my other favorite part of the trip, just because we really got to experience local culture this way, and like I said, the family I stayed with was extremely welcoming.
Our first stop in Shanghai was the Urban Planning Museum. They had past, present, and future models of Shanghai in the museum. This one is the present Shanghai.
After the Urban Planning Museum, we went to the silk factory to watch silk being made.
Finally, we visited the Jin Mao tower, which is 88 stories high. The elevator only took 45 seconds (if only all elevators could be that fast)! This picture was taken on the 88th floor, looking down into the hotel lobby which was 30 floors below. The view of the city from the top was amazing as well.
On Day 11, we drove to Suzhou (pronounced Su-Joe), nicknamed the Venice of the East. We had lunch of zongzi, which are pyramid shaped rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves. After lunch, we took a dragon boat ride down the west side of the Grand Canal. This is the longest canal in the world, and it was absolutely beautiful. Houses line the canal, and plenty of people were out on their porches.
Master of Nets Garden
We departed Suzhou and visited a Foreign Languages Summer Camp to see the kids perform different songs and plays in English. They were pretty good, and these kids were around 10 years old. To finish off the day, we visited the Master of Nets Garden.
When we left Shanghai, we took the Maglev train to the airport. At the time of my trip, this was the fastest train in the world, with a top speed of 431 km/hr (~268 mph).
Hong Kong was our final stop in China, and I have to say Hong Kong was so much prettier and cleaner than mainland China. We arrived in HK at night, and after we checked in to the hotel, we went out to Victoria Harbor to watch a light show. It was fun to watch because the lights would illuminate the water different colors.
In the morning, we rode a junk boat out on the harbor (this was not the condition of the boat – the type of boat was a junk), and we took the peak tram up to Victoria Peak. Views from the peak were absolutely amazing. Victoria Harbor is surrounded by mountains, so on one side you just see water and mountains, and on the other was the harbor, with boats, buildings, and mountains. The sky in Hong Kong was so much clearer than in mainland China (no smog). Also, the currency in Hong Kong is different than in mainland. I thought it was interesting to note all of the differences between the two, when they are all the same country.
The View from Victoria Peak
All in all, this trip was absolutely amazing, and I still can’t believe I got the chance to experience everything that I did. I would love to go back on my own and see some of this again, and of course see a few new places. I truly believe that this trip sparked my interest in travel, and who knows where I would be if I hadn’t been invited to attend some information session from a program I’d never heard of?
*The pictures used in this post were not all taken by me. All of the pictures I had taken were saved to a computer that ended up crashing. Luckily, our chaperones had asked each of us to submit pictures of the trip, and they compiled a CD with everyone’s pictures. I can’t give credit to anyone because 1) I don’t know who took what pictures, and 2) I don’t know anyone from the trip anymore
I will be uploading more pictures (because I have a ton) into a separate post with just pictures, keep a lookout under the China category in the sidebar