Q: What were your favorite parts of our China trip, and why?
A: My favorite parts were the Beijing Zoo, the Great Wall of China, and the Hutong neighborhood.
I liked the zoo because I love animals in general, and the panda flipping upside-down on the tire was one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen. Whenever I see pictures of pandas online, they are all black and white, but the first panda that we saw was lying on the ground and looked like it was sick. It was saddening how this was the first thing I saw when we got to the zoo.
The panda’s fur was not white like I thought it was going to be, but it was a shade of yellow and it made the panda look really dirty. (Click here for a photo of the sad panda.) Right after that, we saw two pandas that seemed very energetic and that made me look forward to seeing other animals after the heartbreaking panda who looked sick. The best part of the zoo was seeing different animals in real life that I have never seen before or even heard about.
I loved the Great Wall of China because of the scenery and friends. If I climbed up the Great Wall of China alone, I would’ve given up halfway just because I was tired. I was surprised by how all the steps were uneven. Some were farther apart than others and some were about 2 feet tall while some were only about 2 centimeters tall, which made me actually need to look at where I was walking in order to not fall. Climbing with friends gave me motivation to keep climbing until we got to the top.
The Hutong (very old-fashioned, historic Beijing neighborhood) was also one of my favorite parts of my trip because it felt different from the bustling, modern city. In the Hutong, Michelle (who is also Chinese-American and was also traveling for the first time back to our ancestral country) and I were saying “?? 好” (ni hao, or “Hello” in Mandarin) to random strangers that we passed by, and we recorded their reactions while we were on the rickshaw tour. The strangers smiled back at us and said “Ni hao!” back as if we were friends who hadn’t seen each other in years. This made me feel like everybody there was warm and friendly. Dinner with a real family in their home in the Hutong was also an amazing experience because we didn’t knows the cook, but he made food for us as if we were family.
Q: Lovely! Tell us about one interesting or surprising moment you experienced in China.
A: Something I found interesting was that there were people walking on the ice at the Summer Palace. As we were touring the Summer Palace, I saw that there were people in the distance. At first, I was not sure if they were walking on the ice or if they were just really far away from us, but as I kept walking along, I saw more and more people and we were certain that they were all walking on the ice. There were also people sitting in chairs on the ice or gliding on the ice. It was really dangerous because a lot of the ice was cracked or melting! I don’t think people in America would do that.
Q: How was it traveling to China, given that you were born there, but left at age 3 and hadn’t gone back since?
A: One thing that surprised me was that since I’m Chinese, when I spoke Chinese with Michelle and Ying, nobody Chinese looked at us like we were different from them, but whenever we spoke English, almost everybody who passed us gave us weird looks that made us think we either didn’t belong or they were amazed at how well we spoke English.
In the Forbidden City, when Michelle and I spoke English, everybody looked at us with weird looks, but when we spoke Chinese, nobody looked at us differently than how they looked at everyone else. We got to choose whether or not we wanted to fit in with everybody else in China, or stand out. While speaking English in the Forbidden City, there was a group of 4 or 5 people who were staring at us until we left the area that they were in. We saw them pointing and staring at us for at least 10 minutes, which surprised me and made me wonder what they were talking about.
Q: Similarly, Boston student, Candace, became a celebrity in China because of her blond hair! Now, what are some facts about China that you remember that our guide, John, taught us?
A: A fact that I remember most is that China has a One Child Policy. Each family can only have one child or they will be fined money. This surprised me because of the way the Chinese government controls how many children a family could have, but it makes sense given how huge China’s population is.
Q: How was it traveling with a group of BLA students, some of whom you’d never met?
A: Traveling with a group of BLA students that I’ve never met before was an amazing experience because I had a chance to learn about different historical sights in Beijing and meet new people at the same time. I also got a lot closer to the people who I’ve met in school before but I was not close to before the China trip. I do, however, wish I’d known everybody’s names on the first day instead of learning everybody’s name on the last few days of the trip! Teachers shouldn’t assume that kids from the same school know each other!
Q: How do you see things differently now that you’ve traveled to China? How have you changed?
A: After traveling to China, I appreciate my family more because at home, my parents usually do most of the housework and cooking, but while in China, we had to keep the hotel rooms clean and get our own lunch and snacks. Whenever I got hungry, I would find myself eating crackers and instant noodles while in China.
Now, I appreciate the fact that my parents often clean the house and cook for my sisters and me. I also appreciate my sisters more after visiting China because of how energetic they are. I realized that they are part of what makes my life interesting since they are so unpredictable.
Beautiful, Xiu Na. Thanks! Readers, what comments or questions do you have for this brave, world-traveling student?
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!