By Aubrey Bacon
My decision to go on the recent school trip to China was abrupt and out of my character. I don’t know what sparked my sudden certainty that I just had to go to China, but whatever it was, I’m glad it happened. Having never left the country prior to this trip, I was slightly nervous about the flight. The longest flight I had ever been on, and the only flight I might add, was a flight from BWI to JAX airport in Florida which took less than two hours. The flight from Dulles to Beijing however was a whopping 14 hours, so it was a drastic difference to what I had been exposed to before.
There were several peculiar things on the flight with Air China. The most shocking and unfortunate from the list was that all cell phones and electronics had to be turned off during the whole 14 hours; airplane mode was not sufficient enough. This was a rude awakening to everyone in our group who were more than ready to listen to their music and read books which of course were all downloaded on our phones. But I wound up being thankful because it forced me to listen to Chinese music through the entertainment system that they provided us which was a touch screen TV that popped up out of our arm rest. The band that I enjoyed the most was G.U.T.S. Even though I had no idea what they were saying, I really enjoyed their sound.
When we arrived in Beijing I was a little worried about going through customs. It seems as though China is viewed as this very strict and secure country which appears dominating, but in reality, getting into China was significantly more relaxed and speedier than when I was trying to get back into my own country. And this was pretty much true throughout almost all of eastern China: every museum and visitor site appeared to have strict security which consisted of several guards and a conveyor belt which ran your belongings through a screening process. However, on several occasions the machines didn’t work, as they would turn red and beep for every item that went through. Instead of having to wait for security to fix the machine or hand check our items, they would just wave us through anyway—which was convenient, but also a little concerning.
The hotels were a very nice surprise. The first hotel we stayed at was way beyond any preconceived expectations that I had for the hotels I thought we were going to stay in. I know for sure that I would never be able to afford to stay in a hotel such as this one in America. In fact, I haven’t even had the opportunity to see such nice hotels like this in America.
The driving in China was probably the most stressful thing about the trip. It seems that no one abides by any sort of traffic laws. The driving is erratic and fast but very efficient. Cars miss pedestrians by millimeters and tour buses plow through tree branches, and no one bats an eye. However, according to our guide, the rates of car accidents are very low.
Another eye opening experience from my time in China had to have been the lack of information about certain historical events that the general Chinese people had that we as American’s would consider common knowledge. One example would be my first tour guide’s unawareness of the true severity of the student rebellion of 1989 in Tienanmen Square. A quick Google search of this event would allow the average American citizen to see the horror of the students’ deaths and its gruesomeness. In China however, any information and images of the rebellion are blocked or altered by the government. My tour guide, in her mid thirties, has still never seen any images or footage of the event.
Shopping in China was a whole other adventure in of itself. Bargaining is very abundant and fierce along the local Chinese city streets. If you pay the amount on the price tag of any item there, then you are loosing a lot of money. Unless told otherwise, just about everything in China can be bargained for. For example, a cashmere scarf here in America could cost hundreds of dollars. In China, I spent 90 yuan for two which only comes to $13.6. These kind of deals were shocking and irresistible. People from all walks of life will try to sell you all sorts of things on the street. They are persistent too: they will follow you for blocks before finally giving up on you. Those selling bamboo fans and handwoven purses from their giant bags strapped around their shoulders are mostly harmless. It is the people on Nanjing road in Shanghai especially that you have to look out for. They are notorious for offering tourist cheap name brand products, like RayBan sunglasses and Prada bags, but they make you follow them down the street to claim your item, which is normally where you would get robbed or at the very least ripped off. Just like any city in the world, you have to be aware of your surroundings. And in all reality, I felt much safer in major Chinese cities because there was an abundance of police which reduces the crime rate rapidly.
The most amazing experience that I had on my trip and probably in my entire life was climbing the Great Wall. It was about a two mile trek up the wall on the “hard side,” as there are two separate walkways to two separate parts of the wall. One side, the easy side, was shorter and required less climbing and more walking. The harder side appeared to be taller and had very steep steps that could only be climbed at certain points. Naturally, I chose the hard side. The climb itself was slightly difficult due to my fear of heights and the roughness of the steps, which made me stumble at times. But the view was something that I just could not miss out on. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. It was the most rewarding thing I have ever done.
Visiting our sister school was gratifying as I was able to see first hand what a student’s life in China is like. The teachers and students were extremely friendly and accommodating. I was impressed with the students’ fluency in English which actually made me embarrassed of my almost zero comprehension of Mandarin. They took us on this beautiful field trip to a Taoist temple which we had to take a cable cart to reach. The mountainous view was amazing and the temple had beautiful architecture. After our visit there, we had dinner and celebrated the headmaster’s birthday. It was a very beautiful bonding experience, sharing each other’s culture and language. If a trip like this is offered next year, I strongly recommend students to take the opportunity and go. And if there isn’t enough students and teachers interested, then someone could always visit chinatours.com to plan their own tour. Safe travels!