This post is going to be without pictures because I’ve been up since 4am (it’s 10:40pm right now) and I just don’t feel like sifting through all those pics. But I’ll definitely post some more pictures later.
Yesterday was our last real day in Beijing. Our group went to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing where we got to meet Ambassador Max Baucus and many of the other Embassy staff. We were only there for an hour but it was a nice reception and a great time for the veterans. We all got a small gift bag and lapel pins with the U.S. and Chinese flags on them which was pretty neat 🙂
After that we had a bit of downtime and I joined part of the group on a shopping trip to the “Silk Market”, which is apparently a pretty well known shopping mall where you can haggle on prices. Unfortunately for me I spent a good bit of money before realizing just how hard you should haggle. In case you’re wondering, you should offer them 10% of their asking price and take it from there. If you pay half the asking price, you’re getting robbed.
After that we returned to the hotel, had dinner and then a final get together with our hosts, the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. They sponsored the entire Beijing leg of our trip and treated us very well the hole time. The presented a very nice montage of photos and videos compiled during our visit, followed by a picture book of our visit and a DVD copy of the montage for everyone. It was really very cool, and surprisingly heart felt considering how brief our time was together. It really highlighted how much they valued our time together.
The next day (this morning) I awoke at 4am to get all my stuff together because we had to be out of the hotel shortly after 5am and on the plane by 7:30am. After a final round of photos with our CPAFFC friends at the airport we were off, and landed in Kunming in the Yunnan province shortly after 11am.
Kunming is not a very big city by China standards, with a population of just over 7 million. It is a very significant part of our journey because this was the primary location where the Hump Pilots delivered supplies and distrubuted them to the U.S. and Chinese forces during WW2. In many ways, this is where the future of China as we know it today was cemented, and the reception we recieved upon arrival was nothing short of amazing. There was music, dancing and people were lined up to take photos like we were celebreties straight out of Hollywood.
As usual we launched right into activities which included an elaborate welcoming ceremony with an impressive formal tea reception. To my shock, I was called to the stage along with my grandfather to talk about our experiences. I was totally unprepared for this but I handled it better than I had expected.
After that it was dinner and then, to my pleasant surprise, nothing was scheduled after that. So I got to spend a few hours wandering around the Green Lake area of downtown Kunming. I finally got to be a tourist.
It was amazing. Central Park is probably 10 times as big, but it has nothing on Green Lake. All over this beautiful park were people singing, dancing and generally having a good time. While Beijing felt very much to me like NYC, the scene around Kunming is very different and it made me feel for the first time like I really am in the China I’ve always wanted to see. I probably spent 2 solid hours just walking around and taking it all in before I dropped into a random pub and just relaxed and had a couple of beers. It was nice. More than nice – it was exquisite. I really like this place, and am glad that I will be spending a little more time here before we head back home.
I’m also glad that I will be getting more than 5 hours sleep tonight, so I’m going to call it a night now!