Stephen in Australia

Stephen is a junior majoring in finance and political science. In Australia, he will be studying at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, where he will work on an international community service project in addition to taking courses.

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Thanksgiving in Beijing

Greetings from the 2008 Olympic city, Beijing!

But first, we must go back to Xian to tell about the Terra-Cotta Warriors. The first covered “pit” housed around 8,000 different warriors, which were originally built for an egotistical emperor (there were many) so that he could have an army in the afterlife. Each one has different facial features, and all were actually quite impressive.

We viewed a number of smaller pits that held the generals, chariots and a few other artifacts. We briefly walked through a museum, and I realized that I am not a museum guy. I love what I have now deemed “experiential tourism.” An example of this followed our time with the warriors. Xian has a city wall that is 14 kilometers in circumference, and we got to bike around the whole thing. A number of us got tandems, and we all had a blast. It was one of those few truly unique experiences of a lifetime.

That evening a few of us had delicious Indian cuisine, and it was our first meal which was not Chinese food. After dinner, we walked over and saw an amazing fountain/water/light show in front of the Wild Goose Pagoda. Once again, this was a truly unique and wonderful experience we all enjoyed immensely.

A Thanksgiving to remember
The following day was Thanksgiving in China. As I sat in the hotel restaurant eating breakfast I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself about my situation. This was certainly going to be the weirdest Thanksgiving yet.

After a leisurely morning we had lunch in the city and proceeded to travel to the capital of China and home to 18 million people, Beijing. After the two-hour flight, we met up with our guide and had Thanksgiving dinner at – yes, you guessed it – another Chinese restaurant. The closest thing we had to anything resembling Thanksgiving cuisine were these fried pumpkin wedge type things that had a slightly furry consistency in the mouth …

After arriving at our hotel we set out for Thanksgiving dessert by walking to the Dairy Queen and eating blizzards.

Sight seeing
Today we explored Beijing by travelling to Tiananmen Square, the Emperor’s palace and the Temple of Heaven. Tiananmen Square is supposedly the largest city square in the world, and according to the Chinese government, there was never a massacre that killed thousands of protesting university students in 1989. However, our tour guide did acknowledge the incident.

Anyway, we walked all around the former Emperor’s palace, which was very long with lots of courtyards and grand structures. The palace was adjacent to Tiananmen Square. Whoever reads this may be interested to know that the emperors had about 3,000 concubines. Don’t worry, that was not the only fact I learned while touring the palace …

After another delicious lunch (still not tired of Chinese food yet) we visited the Temple of Heaven. This public park is also a popular place for retired people to hang out. We saw ballroom dancing, card playing, cultural dances, and we heard some disappointing karaoke. The temple was fairly impressive, and the guide pointed out time and again that the building was pretty much a miracle because there were no nails used in constructing it.

After a brief stop to grab some money at the hotel, we went to some markets. Bartering is very fun. Very, very fun. I probably had too much fun. That in addition to the money feeling like Monopoly money led me to probably spend too much money. I won’t tell you all that I got (some of you reading this will be direct recipients of my mad bartering skills), but I will tell you that I bartered something down from 1400 Yuan to 220 Yuan (about 35 USD). We will be going back to some more markets tomorrow afternoon after seeing some tourist destination called The Great Wall of China or something – I’m not really sure what it is. We’ll see … ; )

I am impressed with Beijing thus far. Traffic isn’t too bad (partly because the government doesn’t allow a certain number of cars to drive on certain days) and the buildings are all nice with many lights. The smog is fairly bad, but I don’t feel like I’m breathing in fumes all day or anything. Well, that’s all for me for now.
Take care!

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