by Sean Reed
I have been in China for five months now and have experienced lots of new and interesting things. Towards the middle of December I realized that I was going to have a few days off surrounding the western New Year, (December 31st). At the same time, I realized that I was located in a city that was not going to celebrate the western holiday. What to do? I booked a hostel room in the heart of Hong Kong, a city that was bigger and more beautiful than the one where I am located. Plus, I knew from friends that Hong Kong was known for honoring and celebrating the Western New Year.
As the day neared, I found myself purchasing a ticket on a sleeper bus to Shenzhen, (near Hong Kong). That’s right, a sleeper bus; a bus that is built with small beds inside of it instead of normal seats. You get on, find your bed, and lay down while someone else does the driving. Several hours and a 30 minute subway ride later, I arrived in Hong Kong. To me, Hong Kong resembled any major metropolis in America such as; New York, Chicago, or even Atlanta. Immediately, I took notice of England’s influence over the city. The cars all drive on the left side of the road and the stirring wheels are all on the right side of the cars. Also, a lot of the native people of Hong Kong speak with a British accent. This is of course because they were taught English by a British person.
While in Hong Kong I visited some of the key sights and saw some of the most spectacular scenes in the world. One in particular is the view from Victoria Peak. From there, I was able to see the entire city and all of its amazing beauty. I also paid a visit to the avenue of stars and was able to see the monument that built to honor Bruce Lee. I also got to place my hand inside Jackie Chan’s hand print and Jet Li’s. For the New Year celebration, I met up with some of my friends at a block party in an area known as Lan Kwai Fong. There I discovered and endless stretch of bars and restaurants with a 7/11 convenience store stashed conveniently in the heart of the block. We drank and brought in the year 2012 the year of the dragon.
A few days into January, I found myself with a whole month off. Chinese people celebrated the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival on January the 23rd. With a month off from school, I like most other foreigners had only one destination in mind. That destination was, Thailand! More specifically, I was going to visit Bangkok. I have always heard that Thailand was a terrific vacation spot. I actually have a sister in law who is half Thai on her mother’s side. So, I knew that the Thai people were extremely friendly and charming. Of course, I was also aware of the dangers of visiting a place like this. I knew to be careful while having a good time.
I was in amazement at some of the wonderful attractions I witnessed there. I saw the Temple of the Dawn or Wat Arun Rajwararam as it is known. A large pyramid shaped temple with four smaller pyramid shaped buildings surrounding it. The most impressive thing about this marvel was the fascinating detailed art work carved into its sides. From the small men in mask who appear to be holding up its walls to the three headed elephant in the middle of its tower. It is unbelievable to me that men were able to build such things with their hands and so long ago.
I also saw many Buddha statues in Bangkok. Some of these were the Standing Buddha over 45 meters tall. There I set two birds free for good luck. I also saw the Black Buddha which is only open to tourist one day a year. It was lucky that I happen to be there on that very day. I also saw the Sitting Buddha which wasn’t nearly as impressive as the Standing Buddha but still nice to see. One of the last things I did was to take a tour away from Bangkok to an area near the Kwai River. Here I rode an elephant, took a bamboo raft trip, and got to see some Asian tigers at their sanctuary known as the Tiger Temple. Two words I would use to describe Thailand would have to be beautiful and cheap.
I returned to my home in Fuzhou and continued enjoying my time off from school. On the 6th of February I witnessed the coming and the going of the lantern festival. The lantern festival signals the last day of lunisolar Chinese New Year. It is marked by dozens of lanterns hanging from the trees or power lines around the city. Most of these lanterns are red in color but some of them are other colors. Some are even made to look like animals or cartoon characters. At the same time, dozens of small Christmas style lights are hung up as added decorations. Some of these lights are hung in amazing designs. Some of the designs are made to look like dragons or even peacocks. Hundreds of people walk up and down the streets admiring the collection of lights and lanterns. Even the local Starbucks is decorated with lanterns. I stopped in to enjoy a tall mocha. The next day after the festival, was our first day back to school; the beginning of the second semester.