Top Five Things to Do In: Beijing, China

photo by Reid Bremer.

photo by Reid Bremer.

Located in Northern China, Beijing is the capital of the People’s Republic of China. This makes it a major political, economic, and cultural hub China. Its fascinating culture and history lures tourists from all over the world to experience the dichotomy of the modernization of – perhaps – the biggest superpower in the world and the ancient history that is survived by monuments, temples, palaces, and traditions.

The Great Wall

If you go to Beijing, an excursion to The Great Wall is a must. The Great Wall is a stone and earth structure built, rebuilt, and maintained from the 5th century BC to the 16th century in order to protect the borders of the Chinese Empire. There are various sections you could visit that exhibit different aspects of The Wall such as refurbished sections, sections that are maintained in its original state, and wild sections with steep peaks and broken bricks. Remember to bring good walking shoes, water, and snacks as the wall is over 4,000 miles long enabling you to explore the wall to your heart’s content.

The Forbidden City/Palace Museum

The Forbidden City (aka Palace Museum) was built in was 1406 and was home to the emperors for over 400 years who forbade anyone from entering without their consent. It was constructed to emulate the unique architectural style and features of ancient Chinese palaces. Today, you can see an extensive collection of artwork and artifacts from the Ming and Qing dynasties from as early as the 1300s. Architects and builders were intentional when constructing the city so that every detail would reflect their philosophical and religious ideologies. When you’ve finished exploring the world’s largest palace complex, enjoy a meal or refreshment at any of the restaurants or cafes located within The Forbidden City grounds.

The Oasis Café

True to its title, The Oasis Café is a great oasis from Beijing’s ebb and flow of busyness. Located just near the end of the Forbidden City, you can enjoy an authentic and reasonably priced coffee and snack in a relaxed and soothing atmosphere. Critics rave that The Oasis Café is a “lovely place” with “the friendliest service in Beijing.”

National Center for the Performing Arts

While you’re in Beijing you have got to see what’s on at the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA). The NCPA is one of the most prestigious venues in China. It houses three main halls. The Opera Hall is for operas, ballets and dances, which seats 2,416. The Music Hall seats 2,017 people. The Theatre Hall is for plays as well as the Beijing Opera and has 1,040 seats. There are no bad seats in the house so if you’re on a tight budget, you’ll be able to get cheap tickets and still thoroughly enjoy the show. The NCPA is not only known for its spectacular shows, but for its unique architecture as well. From the distance, it looks like an egg floating in the lake but once you get closer you can marvel at the beautiful titanium accented glass, which is especially brilliant at night when it is light up. Many curious tourists wish to go inside but become frustrated when they see no bridge over the man-made lake to the NCPA. The only entrance to the NCPA is an underwater tunnel so make sure to remember this insider tip before you walk around the lake four times and start to lose your mind.

photo by J. Wilson - http://jwsz.tumblr.com/

photo by J. Wilson – http://jwsz.tumblr.com/

Wangfujing Street

Visiting Wangfujing Street is also a must for those visiting the capital of China. It consists of upscale flea-market shops and others so you can “get your shopping on”. You can also find exotic foods like octopus and scorpion on a stick. On the slight chance you’re not in the mood for scorpion, Wangfujing Street is also a great place to people watch, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a typical Chinese market, it is an oddity even for China.

In Conclusion

Beijing has much more to offer than what’s on this list so be sure to do some of your own research when planning your trip. Overall, Beijing is a great place to experience a wide variety of China’s history and culture. As the second most populated city in the most populated country in the world, Beijing has opportunities to experience history, watch stunning performances, develop your palette by tasting exotic foods, and gain a broader perspective of the world by experiencing life in a new culture.

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Happy New Year!

As 2014 begins to settle in, millions are embarking on their designated New Years’ Resolutions. As these most typically consist of goals for personal accomplishment, consider setting a goal for yourself in 2014 to go abroad and culture yourself. Use this year to explore a new and exciting place, whether that is through improving your Spanish in Chile, interning in finance in London, or volunteering at a school in Thailand. Make it a goal to travel this year and immerse yourself in a different culture, embracing their customs and traditions. Whether you choose to go for an entire year or for a two week program, going abroad is one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences you can have. There’s no better time than the present!

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Speaking of the New Year, the end of January marks the start of the Chinese New Year, which officially begins on January 31st, or the first day of the new moon on the lunar calendar. Also known as Spring Festival, celebrations for the new year can be found in Chinatowns worldwide. The celebration in China marks the start of a weeklong holiday nationwide, full of festivals, traditional ceremonies, dances, and fireworks (although possibly not in Beijing this year due to the smog). Although it creates some chaos while a billion people are in transit on their way home, it is one of the most anticipated and widely celebrated weeks of the year in China, if not the most anticipated. If you can’t make it all the way to China for the festivities, check out a Chinatown nearest to you and participate in the festivities.

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Go abroad with World Endeavors and see firsthand the holiday traditions of another culture or contact us for more information!

World December Holidays

Holidays are celebrated distinctly in every country and learning about them gives you a better understanding of the culture from which they came.

Las Posadas is celebrated in Mexico from December 16th-24th and the festivities are held every evening. The festival is called Las Posadas, which means the inns or shelter, because of Mary’s difficult journey to find a place to stay on her journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It is a religious holiday that lasts for nine days, which represents the nine months that Jesus was carried by Maria (Mary) and can also represent the nine day journey to Bethlehem. Individuals are selected to play the roles of Mary and Joseph and they walk down the streets in a procession to go to a different home each night. Joseph stays outside the inn and they all sing a song about the innkeeper saying there isn’t any room for them to stay, but ultimately lets Joseph and the others inside. After everyone goes inside, they read a passage from the bible or say a prayer before the celebration begins. Often tamales are served and piñatas and candy are provided for the children. Sometimes the piñata is in the shape of a Christmas star that is put out near or at the end of the night.

The winter solstice festival in China, and most of Eastern and Southeastern Asia, can be celebrated between sometime between December 21st and the 23rd depending on the year. This celebration has a special meaning for the Chinese calendar since it is divided into 24 equal parts corresponding to the 15 degree change on the celestial longitude. The festival begins when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 270 degrees and ends when it reaches 285 degrees. During this time families get together and eat “tangyuan”, which is a sweet soup with rice balls that are sometimes brightly colored. Each member of the family gets one big ball and several small balls in their soup and this symbolizes reunion. In some parts of northern China they eat dumplings instead of “tangyuan” during the solstice. In China, they believe that as the days grow longer, each day after the winter solstice, the positive energy will increase. Many people visit their loved ones who have passed away, exchange gifts and wear new clothes.

The Akwasiadae festival in Kumasi, also known as Adae Kese, is held every six weeks on a Sunday and the last one of the Gregorian calendar year is held on December 23rd. It is a celebration of past leaders, heroes and Ashanti kings. The festival was first celebrated when the Ashanti region gained statehood and independence from the Denkyiras. The celebration is divided into two parts: the observance and the party. The first part of the festival takes place in the king’s palace and includes only members of the royal family. Here they perform many rituals to purify the land take away the evil. The king also goes through purification and is completed through ceremonial meals and drinks that represent their ancestors while they pray for protection and guidance. This festival is meant to highlight the union that the people have and show that their unity is what makes them strong. The second part of the festival is an ornate ceremony that takes place in the Kumasi town square. People wear colorful clothing as they parade through the town and the king wears the most ornate golden ornaments. The drumming, dancing and gun firing is meant to keep the evil spirits away. The overall purpose of the festival is to make their people stronger by reminding them of what their ancestors have done. The celebration also gives the king a chance to speak to his people and to advise and unite them.

Taking a Gap Year

The concept of a “gap” year is very popular in Britain, but is just starting to catch on in the United States.  Taking a gap year means that you don’t go directly from high school to college, but take a year off in between in order to travel and ‘find yourself.’  Princeton University and other prestigious colleges are starting to promote a gap year as a great way to make the transition into college and adulthood.

Think about it- before you spend thousands of dollars on your education, doesn’t it make sense to find out why you’ll be going to school in the first place?  A gap year gives you perspective on your goals, your interests, and your life. 

Sure, gap years aren’t for everyone, but we here at World Endeavors think they should be more common!  We have lots of exciting ways for you to spend a year abroad, whether it be volunteering in several different countries, or doing an international internship.  You could even do a long-term language study program in France or China, and gain credit that could transfer towards your degree!

There are lots of options for your life; make sure you make the choice that is right for you.

World Endeavors Summer Photo Contest

Hello to all of our World Endeavors volunteers, interns, and students going abroad in spring/summer 2008!

We are excited to have participants in 16 countries this summer – Costa Rica, Ecuador, Brazil, Spain, Italy, England, Ghana, Thailand, China, Nepal, India, Guatemala, New Zealand, the Philippines, France, and Jamaica! With so many incredible people abroad doing so many incredible things, it would be a shame to not have a way for you to share all of your experiences with each other. And so…

I am excited to announce the first ever World Endeavors Summer Photo Contest! This contest will be a way for all of you to share what you’re up to, as well as to show off your photography skills. We will be collecting photos in 3 categories:
People – Photos of you, new friends, host families, people you work/volunteer/study with, etc.

Landscapes – These can be urban or natural – scenes from the cities, towns, and rural areas where you’re living and traveling.

Food – Who doesn’t love food pictures? I want to see typical meals from your countries, scenes from produce markets, and all of the crazy new things you’ve been brave enough to try (or at least brave enough to photograph!)

Email your pictures to us by July 10 (so you’ve got a few weeks to get out there and take some photos!). You don’t need to submit one for each category – just send in what you’ve got.

I will post all of the submissions right here on this blog, and then you will have a chance to vote for your favorites. The winning photos in each category will be featured on our website!

So if you’ve got some great pictures already, send them in, and if you’ve been shy with the camera so far, get out there and get some great shots! We can’t wait to see what you’ve got.

Extended Deadline for Summer Study in China!

It’s not too late to fulfill your dreams of studying abroad in China this summer! Can you imagine a more exciting time to visit than right now as the country (and the world!) prepares for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing?

Take advantage of World Endeavors’ partnership with Yantai University and enroll in this unique 4 week summer program. This is an incredible opportunity to quickly gain a real understanding of the Mandarin language – which is becoming increasingly more important in the world of International Business. No previous knowledge of Mandarin is necessary, so just come prepared to learn!

This program includes a detailed orientation, complete with a tour of the city of Yantai, and housing in a fully-furnished international student hostel.

The deadline for an application to this program has been extended to June 10, 2008. Anyone who is interested in learning Mandarin Chinese, building your credentials for your international or business career, and simply having an awesome immersive cultural experience should definitely give us a call.

Here is the direct link to the World Endeavors web page with more detailed information about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: http://www.worldendeavors.com/China/summer-study-abroad-in-china.html