Posts Tagged ‘traveling in china’

President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao in January 2011

Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at Howard University urging American students to take advantage of study abroad opportunities in China. It’s all part of President Obama’s “100,000 Strong Initiative” which aims to increase the number of students studying in China by making it more affordable through scholarships and programs. It was launched during President Obama’s 2009 trip to China, and unlike other initiatives, it relies solely on private-sector donations.


Michelle Obama speaking at Howard University last week

During her speech, the First Lady emphasized that “studying in countries like China is about so much more than just improving your own prospects in the global market. The fact is with every friendship you make and every bond of trust you establish you are shaping an image of America projected to the rest of the world.”

As someone who studied abroad in Hong Kong, I fully support this initiative because studying abroad is the most humbling, life-changing experience. In fact, I urge college students to take advantage of these opportunities to study abroad in China – or anywhere in the world. You will not regret it.

Sometimes, it’s hard to explain in words how much my life – and world perspective – changed after studying abroad. Yet I’ve come up with a few things that I learned during and after my experience:

1. Living in a city is different than visiting.
When you live in a city for an extended period of time, it’s a completely different experience than being a tourist for a few days. Living in a city forces you to mingle with the local people – in restaurants, marketplaces, riding the MTR or public transportation, and school. When this happens, you learn about their culture, mannerisms, values and language. For me, riding the MTR every single day was one of the greatest learning experiences for me. I observed and listened to the Hong Kong people, and after a while, I began to blend in with them. You don’t get to experience this as a tourist.

2. You develop a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude.
When you live in Asia, you witness all levels of living conditions from rural villages to metropolitan cities. I was given the opportunity to teach English in Zengcheng, China (see post here), backpack throughout Vietnam and Cambodia (post here), as well as visit thriving cities such as Seoul and Shanghai. When you travel to these cities, you develop a deep sense of appreciation for everything you have in America: freedom, democracy, a stable government, education, and endless opportunities to follow your aspirations and dreams. After witnessing some rural conditions, especially in Cambodia, it made me reflect on these simple freedoms that I took for granted beforehand.

3. China is now a major focus of the world – and the future.
China is a country filled with opportunity and adventure, especially now because it is a major focus of the world. Companies are moving to China while others are growing exponentially, the economy is booming, and opportunities are plentiful. By studying abroad in China, you can experience firsthand what it’s like to live there, and you can immerse yourself in this pool of opportunity.

4. Mandarin is the world’s most spoken language.
More people in the world speak Mandarin Chinese than any other language. English is the second most spoken language. While in college, I noticed that more and more students were enrolling in Mandarin classes, especially those from the USC Marshall School of Business.

5. Learning a new language can be beneficial for your job hunt after college.
What better way to learn another language than living in a city where it is spoken all around you? Textbooks and classrooms can only teach you so much. Using the language on a daily basis is KEY to becoming conversational and fluent. When you learn a new language, you become that much more multi-dimensional. It looks great on job applications.

6. Our world is becoming increasingly inter-connected.
With the internet and social media as powerful forces, our world is becoming increasingly “smaller and smaller” (not literally, but figuratively speaking). People are now connected more than ever, news travels fast, businesses and companies are working together overseas, and the need for people with international experience is a plus. When I was abroad, I met so many European and Americans living in Hong Kong with various companies. They all told me it was important to immerse yourself in the growing global economy. Studying abroad is one way to do this, so take advantage of these opportunities while you’re young!

7. You learn to become independent.
When I reflect on my time abroad, I think the biggest transformation was becoming more independent. A more independent thinker, decision-maker, and person overall. I will forever be grateful for this experience. When I left Los Angeles for Hong Kong, I didn’t know anybody. I had never lived anywhere else besides LA, and that is all I ever knew. I was going into unchartered territories. But when you’re living in a new city, you’re forced to make your own decisions. You have to ask for directions on the MTR. You have to ask taxi drivers to take you to your next destination. You have to order food at local restaurants, and ask others for good recommendations. It opens your mind and soul to your own personal capabilities, and it brings out the best of YOU.

8. You make lifelong friends and share a special bond.
I feel incredibly lucky and grateful for meeting the most incredible group of friends in Hong Kong. My experience wouldn’t be half as wonderful had I not met these people. We explored the city together, ate together, traveled around Asia together, and had unforgettable memories. You form a special bond with these people that nobody will understand because it is an experience that only you went through. Even after this experience, we share memories and get together as much as possible. We will forever share a very special bond that cannot be explained in words.


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After spending time in Xi’an, we hopped on a plane and headed south to Shanghai. We spent the next few days in Wuxi, Suzhou and Hangzhou, three quaint and picturesque towns located a few hours outside of Shanghai.

Tai Lake in Wuxi, China

The three towns we visited were full of beauty and displayed the marvels of nature in its most serene form. You feel a true sense of peacefulness while traveling in these areas. Wuxi is known for the enchanting Tai Lake, the third largest freshwater lake in China. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

We then traveled to Suzhou, which is known as the “Venice of the East” because of its water canals that go through the city.

Humble Administrator’s Garden, located in Suzhou, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is considered the finest garden in Southern China. The garden is filled with boulders with intricate textures and shapes. When you’re walking around, it feels like a maze!

My sisters posing on the rocks

Hanshan Temple is located nearby the canals. It is a Buddhist temple dedicated to Hanshan, a legendary poet and monk who came to Suzhou.

Inside the temple with our two friends in the tour group, Carolyn and Taylor from Texas!

We found triplets inside the temple (Not really, but they had matching jackets!)

Our last stop was Hangzhou which is known for the beautiful West Lake.

Hangzhou is well known for their dragon tea, so we went to a traditional tea house in the countryside to taste this delicacy! While driving through this area, there were hillsides filled with tea leaves growing.

Hillsides of tea leaves

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My sisters and I jumping for joy on the Great Wall of China!

When I say this was the coldest day of my life, I mean it. Even though I was bundled up in five layers, including a ski jacket and a North Face windbreaker, I was still freezing. The temperature was around 12 degrees fahrenheit, but the wind speed was at 20-25 MPH. It’s the wind chill factor that made it feel extremely cold. Yet who could complain about the weather situation when you’re climbing the Great Wall of China, one of the most fascinating and spectacular feats of mankind? It expands throughout China for over 5,000 miles and it was built by hand starting in the 5th century B.C.!

To make things even better, who could say they climbed the Great Wall of China on Christmas Day? I had no complaints. It was such a surreal moment because I’ve seen photos of the Great Wall ever since I was a child, and I was finally there to see it for myself. It was a truly monumental and remarkable sight to see.

Here’s a short video my older sister filmed while we were taking a break. Can you hear the wind in the background?

My family

My dad!

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At the end of December, my family went on a ten day tour of China. It was our very first visit trip here, so we went to the more well known cities: Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai. The wonderful part about traveling to China in the winter is that you avoid the massive crowds. Most tourists go to China during the summertime because the winter temperatures could reach freezing temperatures.

Even though the weather can be harsh at times, China is beautiful during this time. Plus, you can leisurely climb the Great Wall without herds of people walking shoulder to shoulder around you, and you can take photos in Tiananmen Square without having 100 people in your photo!

The Bird's Nest, built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics

Beijing is a city where old and new collide. The grandeur of the Great Wall dominates the city’s reputation for its historical and rich beauty, yet the architecture from the 2008 summer Olympics revealed a very modern China. The juxtaposition between the old and new is something that makes Beijing a spectacular city to visit. The following is my “must-do” list in Beijing. Enjoy!

The Great Wall of China

Peking Duck – A Delicacy of Beijing

Beijing is known for their Peking Duck, also known as Beijing Duck. It is an absolute must eat if you are in Beijing! There are several restaurants that serve this delicacy, but I would highly recommend:
Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant
No. 14, Qianmen West Street, Beijing
Website: http://www.quanjude.com.cn/e_about.html
Review: http://travel.yahoo.com/p-travelguide-2760826 quanjude_roast_duck_restaurant_beijing-i

My family and Nancy eating at Quanjude Roast Duck restaurant

My family with Nancy (top left), a friend.

Tiananmen Square
This is the largest city square in the world, located just north of the Forbidden City. It is famously known throughout the world for the 1989 pro-democracy protest by students which ended with hundreds killed by government troops.

Tiananmen Gate with a huge photo of Mao Zedong in the center

Standing in the middle of Tiananmen Square

Soldiers on duty.

The Bird’s Nest & Water Cube

Built for the 2008 Olympics, the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube are a true testament to the exquisite modern architecture in Beijing.

The Forbidden City/Imperial Palace
For five centuries, this was the royal palace and home for the Emperor of China and his family. It is now a museum where millions of people visit each year.

The Summer Palace
It is located in northwest Beijing, and served as the summer getaway retreat for the Imperial Family. The Summer Palace is dominated by Kunming Lake which has an impeccable sense of timeless beauty.

The entrance

Kunming Lake, located inside the Summer Palace

My sister Dayna in the Long Corridor, which has 14,000 traditional Chinese paintings on the beams and crossbeams

Kunming Lake

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