While most of my friends visited colleges over spring break, I was halfway around the world getting a taste of Chinese culture.
I traveled with senior Katie Mahaffie and Holy Cross senior Kelly Thiede to visit our friends, Ella and Grace Cleary, who moved to Hong Kong last summer.
As the plane descended over Hong Kong International Airport, I looked out at the dark green tropical island where I would be spending the next 10 days. I was excited to see my friends, but I had no idea what to expect on my first trip to Asia.
Although I spent much of my time in Hong Kong getting to know the new life my friends have, some of the most exciting parts of my vacation happened during our three-day trip to Beijing.
In mainland China, they speak Mandarin Chinese, unlike in Hong Kong, where they speak Cantonese Chinese. In Hong Kong, almost every person we encountered could also speak English well enough, but in Beijing, we had trouble communicating with people outside of the hotel.
We stopped first at Tiananmen Square, where we took a few pictures, and to my surprise, others stopped to take pictures of us. A few people asked to take a picture with us, and then right before my eyes, a group of about 50 people quickly surrounded me and my friends. As soon as someone snapped a picture, his place would quickly be taken by another. Never in my life have I felt like a celebrity besides my 10 minutes of fame in Tiananmen Square.
We toured through the famous Forbidden City, the palace of the many past emperors. The palace is hundreds of years old but is preserved very well. Yellow, the color of the emperor, covers most of the palace, along with red, which represents happiness.
On the second day in Beijing, we drove to the nearest part of the Great Wall. We rode cable cars up to the wall and began trekking up the steep steps. Once we reached the top, we took a fun toboggan ride down the hill. After trekking up and down the steep stairs of the wall, I was glad to ride the toboggan down. The whole experience was a little surreal for me, as I never thought I would have the chance to see the Great Wall in my lifetime. Plenty of vendors set up shop outside the wall, which is where I was able to buy my very own rice hat.
After the Great Wall, we went to the Llama Temple, the biggest Buddhist temple in China. In every Buddhist temple we saw, each one had a place where people burn incense sticks while they pray. Our tour guide told us that they usually they burn three sticks to represent the past, present and future Buddhas.
I was sad to go, not only because I had to leave my friends but also because I had to leave new culture. Despite the funny looks I received in the airport, I proudly wore my rice hat all the way back to America.