Tuesday, July 16
Today we woke up to have breakfast and to be ready to leave by 7:50 for check-out. Some people seem to have adjusted to the time difference already, while others are struggling to get to sleep at night, and before leaving the hotel most people exchanged money for RMB (the Chinese currency). Today the sky was cloudless due to yesterday’s heavy rain, so everyone put on sunscreen. It wasn’t too hot, but extra water was definitely essential.
Once the bus arrived at the hotel, we took a short drive over to Tiananmen’s Square, where one can see Chairman Mao’s dead body after waiting in line for one or two hours! Apparently, a group cannot stand too long in one place or else the police may get suspicious, so we kept on the move. Tiananmen’s Square is the largest in the world and there are so many monuments and buildings of national significance, such as the National Museum and the monument to the People’s Liberation Army, but the most interesting thing was that a few random strangers approached the group wanting to take pictures with us – visible foreigners.
Next, we went to the Forbidden City, which was just a few steps away from the square. The Forbidden City, itself, is surrounded by a wall, a moat, and several gatehouses. After getting the tickets, the royal glory of the Forbidden City hit us with the classic Asian architecture of curved roofs and red-and-gold imperial colors with dragon motifs. The city has been restored several times throughout its history because it has always been built out of wood for quick construction in 15 years; much of it has been burned to the ground several times. As a result, numerous gigantic metal cauldrons holding water have been placed around the palace for fire emergencies.
We strolled the city for quite a while, learning more and more of the City’s extensive history and the various stories behind it. So by the time we reached the Forbidden Garden at the far end of the City, we were all tired of walking and ready for lunch. Unfortunately, we were going to have to go straight to the airport to catch our flight in time. After arriving in the airport and checking in our bags, though, the students were separated into groups of three or four, given 200 RMB (roughly 30 dollars), and told to meet in front of the security check 25 minutes later. Most of the groups ended up going to Burger King because they knew of its reliable quickness and cheapness; it wasn’t the healthiest lunch, but at least it was something.
All went smoothly through security, and the plane took off on time. We departed Beijing at around three o’clock and landed in Kunming at around six. Both airports had several grand, sweeping rooms and were very clean and well organized (for airports). Everyone got their luggage in a matter of minutes and the bus was punctual, as well.
Kunming is a city of a couple million people, small by Chinese standards, and so it is quite different than Beijing. There aren’t as many skyscrapers or pollution, and temperatures range from the low 70s to the high 80s. The hotel we’re staying in is pretty nice; it has a convenience store, TVs in every room, AC, and hosts periodic weddings or post-wedding celebrations.
After arriving in the hotel at around seven, we went straight to dinner across the street to a restaurant called Aladdin, and were introduced to a special dish of the Yunnan province that was basically sticky rice noodles. One interesting custom that I learned during dinner was that they usually only serve hot drinks such as steaming water or tea because some think that cold drinks make you “infertile.” After dinner, we all went back to the hotel and began to settle into our rooms. For the rest of the night, students were given some time to relax, take showers, and prepare to meet the Chinese students for tomorrow. Everyone was in their rooms by ten o’clock and we all tried to get some well deserved sleep.