Saturday, May 17, 2008

Our First Trip to China Was Terrific!

As one of the five international winning families in the Olympic Families Tour Beijing contest, we traveled to China to help celebrate the one year countdown to the Beijing 2008 Olympics in August 2007. The contest was sponsored by The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympics (BOCOG), and we won because our family blog about our love for the Olympics was one of the top five international vote recipients in this worldwide contest.

In addition to our terrific tours of Beijing, Hong Kong, Qingdao and Shanghai, we had the distinct honor to meet nine other wonderful families from around the world representing various countries including Argentina, China, Germany, South Africa and the United States. Our tour showcased various cities in China which will play host to different Olympic events, since unlike previous Olympics where all of the sporting events are held in or around just one city, the Beijing Olympics will host competitions in several Chinese cities.

There’s an ancient Chinese proverb which says, “Be not afraid of growing slowly; be only afraid of standing still.” Ironically though, Beijing appears to be growing rapidly now since it is undergoing a massive construction boom throughout the city as it prepares to welcome the world for the Olympics. The striking contrast between the traditional Chinese architecture with the very modern 21st Century architecture is quite intriguing. For example, one evening we ventured into Tiananmen Square which is the large public plaza located in the heart of Beijing that encompasses more than 100 acres, and it was teeming with people even at 10PM. Situated just a short walk from Tiananmen Square is the new ultra modern National Theater that looks like a giant egg constructed of glass and titanium.

In addition to the five cute mascots for the Beijing 2008 Olympics that my daughter fell in love with because they are seemingly everywhere in China, the new National Stadium in Beijing, or the Bird’s Nest as it is nicknamed, will also symbolize the Beijing 2008 Olympics with its unique modern interlocking steel structure. The Bird’s Nest will host the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, soccer as well as track and field, and located right next to the Bird’s Nest is the cool new blue-colored National Aquatics Center that is nicknamed the “Water Cube” where the swimming competitions will be held.

Another must-see sight is the Forbidden City which dates back to the early 1400s and served as the largest palace; today the Forbidden City is the most well preserved imperial residence in China. In addition, while it was very hot, we enjoyed touring the Summer Palace which is a classic imperial garden and served as the palace where the Qing Dynasty where they managed government affairs and vacationed.

No visit to Beijing would be complete without visiting the Great Wall of China which is truly one of the wonders of the world. We traveled to the less visited Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall just outside of Beijing, and took a ski-like chairlift on an 1,800 foot journey to the top where the vast view of the Great Wall is unparalleled. After hiking up and down various sections of the Great Wall, we took a fun alpine slide toboggan back to the base.

Following Beijing, we visited the beautiful port city of Qingdao which is located midway between Beijing to the North and Shanghai to the South. Our group was welcomed by Ms. Zang Aimin who is the Vice Mayor of Qingdao and she proudly showcased the new Qingdao International Sailing Center which will host various sailing events for the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

After Qingdao, we traveled South to Hong Kong, which was unfortunately being pummeled by a typhoon when we landed. In spite of the bad weather, we really enjoyed Hong Kong which features some of the world’s most magnificent architecture. By day, we were told that the best way to experience the Hong Kong skyline is to take a ride on The Peak Tram to the Sky Terrace which on a clear day provides a wonderful 360º view of Hong Kong. However, on the day we visited, the fog was so thick that we could not see anything at all. However, by night, the fog had cleared, and we were able to see the beautiful Hong Kong skyline and the vista of Victoria Harbour. More than forty of the city’s skyscrapers were showcased in the spectacular “Symphony of Lights,” the very popular nightly laser light and sound spectacular along Hong Kong’s waterfront.

Before heading back to the U.S., we spent a few days in Shanghai, the financial capital in China, which is along the Eastern edge and situated on the banks of the Yangtze River Delta. Just like Hong Kong, Shanghai’s array of architecture provides a sightseeing event by itself. To that end, we visited the Shanghai Urban Planning Center which has unbelievably large exhibits and models featuring Shanghai’s, past, present and future, including how Shanghai will look in 2020. After walking along the shopping district of Nanjing Road, we made it to the Shanghai Bund which is along the waterfront and gazed at the river traffic near the Oriental Pearl TV Tower before we went to the lookout deck at the top of Jinmao Tower which is one of the world’s tallest buildings.

As we get set for the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing, we are travelling to China again this August to attend the Olympics. We wish Team USA all the best, and we look forward to cheering on Team USA in Beijing to bring home the gold! U-S-A! U-S-A!


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