Most girls celebrate their sixteenth birthday with a sleepover, at the skating rink, or by picking out a car; I was extremely blessed to spend my birthday on the length of the Great Wall of China eating chocolate cake! In the summer of 2007, my family and I ventured to Beijing to explore the unique and ancient culture of China. The flight was, as expected, lengthy and filled with restless passengers, and for the remainder of the trip our internal clocks were not functioning properly due to the time change. On our way to the hotel, it was hard to avoid the fact that most natives rode bicycles instead of driving vehicles. I know it would be difficult in certain areas of America, but using a bike would be a great way to save on gas money!
With our tour guides’ help, my family and I toured famous attractions such as the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and the drum towers. They were absolutely amazing, and shivers went up my spine when I thought of the royalty that had previously stepped where I was walking. We were even welcomed into the home of a kite maker whose ancestors had constructed kites for all the past emperors; he also was preparing kites for the upcoming Olympics. I purchased a small koi fish kite, which is hanging in my bedroom today. We also rode rickshas through a small village and shopped at a silk market. It was overwhelming when the salespeople followed us around and tugged at our clothing to get us to buy some of their products.
My mom also made an appointment with a local opera company in Beijing to paint our faces and dress us all up in traditional Chinese attire. We had a blast taking pictures and teasing my step-dad, who was dressed as a monkey king. Tons of Asians were gathered around us taking pictures and smiling. We were the only Americans around, and an elderly Chinese woman even walked up and touched my sister’s face, awestruck by her foreign freckles. Needless to say, we felt a little embarrassed and confused, but I will forever remember the joy we felt watching others’ amusement. It was also fun learning tidbits of Mandarin, because the natives would smile and nod their heads when we attempted to speak their language.
Perhaps my favorite experience in China was climbing the Great Wall and savoring the spectacular scenery with the wind blowing across my face. My sister and I also grew closer in those moments even though I’m only realizing it now. The hike was steep and uneven, so we held hands the entire time; I felt like she was depending on me, trusting me not to let her fall. When we reached a certain point, there was an open area with a table and chairs in it. I was soon informed that our tour guides had set up a birthday lunch for me–the shock of realization was surreal.
Even though I haven’t been immersed in the Chinese culture for over a year, I still tend to keep the customs and beliefs alive with those around me. For example, I’ve grown to further respect and listen to my elders, and I pay more attention to the details in our natural world. People in Beijing were friendly and helpful, and everybody seems to work together for the benefit of their country. I truly believe that if everyone traveled to China, they would leave with a new sense of admiration and appreciation for life and the people around them.
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