IMG_4132-600.jpgWe are off to a great start on this amazing adventure in China. I will first give you a brief overview of our travels thus far and then tell of my overall perceptions of China.

We spent a short night at an airport hotel in KL, Malaysia, before waking up bright and early at 5:30am for our flight to Kunming, China. Kunming is a city of roughly 6 million people (considered medium-sized), which is known as the city of eternal spring and is also known for being quite natural.

Our amazing guide, “Mr. E,” met us at the airport, and we drove to our nice hotel in the center of the city.

We had our first authentic Chinese meal on the top floor of our hotel overlooking the city. I am slowly but surely figuring out how to work the chopsticks, and all of us on the study tour have agreed that we are eating like kings!

That afternoon a number of us guys went walking down a street with a ton of markets where they were selling everything from Nike shoes to pig faces. I made my first bartering purchase when I stumbled upon a Phoenix Suns (my favorite NBA team) warm-up jacket. The guy wrote down a price, and then I wrote down a price. He countered, and then I countered before we agreed on the final price.

For dinner we drove with our guide to another fabulous dinner. On the way back from dinner I asked our guide a lot of questions about China, such as what he thought of George W. Bush, the problem of Taiwan, the family planning/one child policy, the tax system, what the Olympics meant to the Chinese people, and one government policy he disagreed with (he skirted this question by saying he disagreed with a decision to do construction on two major roads at the same time).

IMG_4146-400.jpgWine business
The next day (yesterday) we were up relatively early again for a three-hour bus ride to Yuann Winery. The vines looked drastically different than the vines we had seen in Australia. The winery was surprisingly large with huge vats and a large cellar with thousands of wine barrels. We proceeded to sample the wine – one white and one red. Ben (one of our group leaders who is a viticulture major) said the wine was much improved from his last visit. Though no wine expert myself, I did not find either particularly enjoyable, and most all of us were in agreement.

Wine is a growing industry in China and is quickly becoming a status symbol to display one’s wealth. Chinese are not educated about wine, and they often add sprite to it. I believe only about 5 percent of Chinese drink wine, but with a population as large as China, that means about 100 million people buy wine on a regular basis. I will continue to keep you updated on more of what I’m learning about the wine industry since this is one of the focuses of the tour.

Stone Forest
After the winery we drove another two hours (long drives are becoming a theme) to a famous tourist spot called the Stone Forest. I was impressed with the enormous limestone rocks that jet out of the ground across countless acres. It’s rather hard to describe them, and I hope to include a picture of them in the next day or two thanks to the generosity of my friend Bratton, who will help me upload pictures.

After walking around the stone forest for an hour or so, we boarded our bus for another long drive to dinner, where my favorite dish was Peacock. We were supposed to watch a cultural show, but we arrived too late. Last night we also hit the town for a little bit, and at one of the bars we watched a show with a guy who did some cool tricks. At one point he put James on his shoulders and walked over glass and even jumped on the glass in bare feet. Later, I participated in tug-a-war where the man was in the middle and the rope was around his waist. It tightened around his waist dramatically as both sides pulled hard! Quite amusing and unique experiences.

On to Xian
This morning we said a tearful goodbye to our beloved guide, and we boarded our flight to Xian. Though sunny, the weather is significantly colder here (around 45 degrees), and this reminds me of Thanksgiving back in the States. We drove an hour into the city from the airport and stopped at the Wild Goose Pagoda, where we climbed the stairs to the top for a nice view around the square and the city as a whole. We then drove to the hotel and checked in before going out to explore the city and find food.

Nothing was planned this afternoon so we split up and did various things. I just returned from a long walk to the Bell Tower where we had dinner after searching for places for a long time. Tomorrow we head out to visit the Terracotta Warriors.

IMG_4206-400.jpgViews of China
Okay, so now some brief thoughts on China. My initial impressions of China going into the trip included the “made in China” label, a huge population, Yao Ming, Communist government, fireworks and the Beijing Olympics. I have learned a lot in my first few days here.

Also, if you have any questions about China please post a comment, and I will be sure to answer them as best I can.

First, the cities here are enormous. Only in China is a city of 8 million people (Xian) considered a medium-sized city. There are gigantic apartment structures built all around the city. They are also continuing to build a lot, and I counted about 30 cranes as we approached the city center earlier today.

IMG_4220-600.jpgThe cities are much more modern than I expected, and there is more wealth here than I thought. However, there is also a huge contrast between rich and poor. I can’t get over seeing BMWs pass mules pulling carts on the road. There is such a contrast! The disparity becomes even more stark as we drive 15 minutes outside the city and there are terraced rice fields and workers using hoes to weed the plants. The best picture I can give would be combining a modern city like Dallas to a town in Mexico – as weird as that might be, that is how I would describe China.

My picture and understanding of a communist government has changed, and I’m still trying to learn more about it. At this point, my understanding is that it’s not based on a system of distribution of wealth, but the defining aspect of Communism is that it’s a one-party system and the government still has a lot of power over the people – it’s a little mind-boggling that the government can dictate that you are only allowed to have one child.

Mr. E told me the tax rates were quite low, and even lower for private enterprises compared to that of the government-owned businesses. 1978 was the most pivotal year for the Chinese economy because that was the start of the open door policy and allowed for outside investors to come in. Since then, the Chinese economy has grown exponentially. The other thing I have noticed, which will come as no surprise, is the group mentality of the people and the national pride they have. However, I also found it interesting that the Chinese name for America translates as “beautiful land.”

Well, that’s all for me for now. Please let me know of any questions.

Take care and God Bless,