There is one experience in my life that I consider poignant and memorable. It was my 10th grade high school 9-day trip to China in 2007. The 22-hour plane ride was just the start of my excursion with twenty of my fellow classmates. Since I had not been on an airplane for about five years at that point, the staggering length of time in the air was challenging, but the excitement of the unknown territory we were about to explore helped to alleviate the slow passing of time. We began our journey from Tampa, Florida with a connecting flight in Denver, Colorado. Our flight pattern took us to the north over Alaska and Russia before heading south to Beijing, which was our first stop.
We toured the typical points of interest in Beijing, which included the Summer Palace, CloisonnÃ© Factory, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven. Since that was the year of the summer Olympics, we saw one significant stadium in the final stages of completion – and now is the world’s largest steel structure - the “Bird’s Nest”. However, the most awesome sight to me was, without a doubt, the Great Wall of China. It was amazing to learn that this incredible 5,500 mile long structure of bricks, stone and rammed earth was erected so long ago, and only with the use of shear manpower and limited tools and equipment. What was even more shocking was that it was, to this day, withstanding the test of time in most areas of that harsh environment.
Our only remaining stop was Shanghai, which had many attractions in the downtown area, including Huangpu River, the Bund, Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Jinmao Tower, Shanghai Museum, Yuyuan Garden, Xin Tian Di and the special old streets and lanes. What caught my eye in certain areas were the throngs of street vendors peddling their wares. They were extremely persistent, to the point of being intrusive. I took it all in stride, and finally negotiated a price for a “Rolex” watch for a whopping 13.67 Yuan, or $2.00 in American currency. The watch broke shortly after I returned to the states. That entire experience definitely didn’t work for me, and that was when I realized the real meaning of “Made in China”!
It was interesting and amusing to discover during our tour that many of the signs posted to aid the English-speaking tourists were prepared by people who were not exactly proficient in the English language.
Overall, the trip proved to be an interesting view of the present-day generations of Chinese people as they struggle to catch up with the economics of the times. Today, China seems to be in a period of unparalleled growth. and the trip to the tombs gave me a sense of the history of the people, their oppression, and the cultural values they cherish. It also showed that there were some wise leaders, starting with Genghis Khan, who planned the country's waterway system that allows China to feed itself today. There are many different pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that comprises China today, and one of them is that I wonder what the dreams and hopes are that the people must have for themselves and for their country.
All in all, I was very grateful to return to the United States of America, as the trip had left me with a much greater appreciation of what freedom…my freedom… in every sense of the word, really meant. I hope to someday return to China in my adulthood to again compare my world with theirs.