Sun Travel partnered with China’s Children International for a contest which sent one CCI member on one of our 2013 Kids Travel Free tours as a Student Mentor. The Student Leadership Contest produced Ming Foxweldon as the winner who had proved an active and passionate member of the adoptive community. Ming was a student of Mandarin Chinese and Anthropology at University of Vermont and had spent a 6 month internship in China already. Her experience in China and affable personality made her a good traveling companion and the families really appreciated her presence on the trip. The following is part one of Ming’s reflection of her experience in our two-part blog series.
Part 1: New Capital to Old Capital
The beginning of our adventure started at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Beijing. I was very excited to have the chance to meet the families. I was also cognitive that they were trying to get over jet lag, whereas I had been in Beijing for almost two weeks, so my energy was quite different from theirs. I noticed, however, that jet lag didn’t last and many were very enthusiastic to take photos, engage with one another and the guides, so that was very encouraging! I think people bonded in their own time, and with the helpful introduction made by the main local guides, and my personal speech, this allowed people to feel comfortable around each other.
I took my time to become acquainted with each individual to get their take on things. I think the benefits of traveling at the age of these girls (13-17) are the ability to think independently and to speak their minds and hearts, without so much reliance on their parents to “speak for them” as would be the case if they were younger. Their relationship with one another went smoothly and that made the experience all the more enjoyable and memorable.
While in the famous capital, we were able to experience the varieties of flavors and explore so much. From taking special covered bicycles to the Hutong (translates to ally in Mandarin Chinese) and visiting a local’s home and learning about her life’s stories to taking photos at Tiananmen Square. From the historical grandeur of the Forbidden City to an acrobatics show, Beijing kept us on our toes. Of course, The Great Wall adventure was enjoyed by all, whether they climbed up some steps or took the cable car as transportation up.
The soft-sleeper train trip to Xi’An was a new experience for many and gave the group a realistic experience of locals’ transportation methods other than flying. Upon arriving to Xi’An, which is the old capital of China formerly known as Chang’An, families were able to relax a bit and then bike the City Wall that used to guard the city. Overall, people seemed visibly impressed by what the city had to offer. The pagoda experience, as well as the calligraphy lessons and, of course, the Terra-Cotta Warriors’ museum, were all appreciated. The Tang Dynasty play was awe-inspiring with its ornate costumes and the strength of each individual acrobat who impressed all who watched.
The guides in Beijing and Xi’An were incredibly helpful whenever anything needed adjustments and their wealth of knowledge allowed the group to grow together and learn about China’s history, culture, and people. The modern customs were taught in a way that would be applicable to certain situations which helped the comfort level of the group grew gradually.
Jane, the national guide, is an exceptional woman, who I’m honored to have had the opportunity to work with. Her directness, goal oriented attitude and drive to get everyone together were characteristics that stood out especially. I learned so much from her about China and its people. She was also very encouraging, made sure individuals were comfortable and of course, her humor allowed people to loosen up and share a laugh. Her patience was apparent and showed families that there are other ways to have fun, and take it easy.
The conversations around dinner—dialogues on the bus, wherever–about China, or anything Chinese, was a highlight of mine. People’s curiosities lead to very engaging conversations which opened minds and clarified ideas. One moment I can recall is introducing a new food to one of the members, and seeing their smile when they realized it was actually delicious and nothing to be afraid of at all. It warms my heart to see them smile, laugh together, and make a joke about their experiences shared by the group. Families, many of whom weren’t acquainted before, were able to bond with one another and create new connections. That’s the beauty of these trips and the immense transformation individuals’ experience.
Top Left: At Chengdu Panda Research Center Middle Right: Ming with our guide George in Beijing. Bottom Right: At Mountain Retreat in Yangshuo. Left Middle (bottom): At a hutong alley home in Beijing.