New York, Boston, Pendleton.
Odd bedfellows as they may be, all three cities were chosen as destinations for a group of Chinese students on a cross country trip to an international youth competition at Harvard.
The group of 10 students and their families made the trip to Pendleton on Monday, stopping at the Round-Up Grounds as a part of their tour.
As Pat Beard, manager of the Pendleton Convention Center, led the tour, he told the group about the hallowed grounds they were about to enter and the rodeo that was only a few months away.
“It’s kind of like John Wayne meets Mardi Gras,” he said.
Beard walked the group to the grass of the arena, where volunteers were standing with ropes and roping dummies.
A former rope maker who came from a ranching family, Beard demonstrated proper technique as the children imitated his wrist movements.
The Chinese contingent tried their hand at roping next, and while most attempts ended with ropes on the ground, laughing, and sheepish looks, a few got the hang of it.
“My mom says I’m a natural cowgirl,” 12-year-old Felicity Wong said laughingly.
Felicity is from Hangzhou and was one of 10 young people selected from across China to compete in the international competition. The theme of this year’s contest is “Earth,” and Wong said her speech is about biodiversity.
Felicity said she’s been to the U.S. before, but she was enjoying her first trip to a small town as opposed to a big city.
Tobby Wang, a rambunctious 10-year-old from Guilin, talked about how much he enjoyed Pendleton’s dry climate. Tobby’s hometown in southern China has a subtropical climate with high humidity and an average rainfall of 74 inches per year.
“It feels like a boiler room,” he said.
The student’s trip was organized by Kerry Yu, the fiancée of Hamley’s co-owner Blair Woodfield.
Yu said she reached out to the group because she wanted them to give them an authentic experience in a place where few Chinese tourists venture.
“It’s a great way to introduce them to America,” she said, adding that tours from China to Eastern Oregon could increase in the future.
Kristen Dollarhide, tourism and hospitality manager for Travel Pendleton, said she’s talked with Yu about organizing a week-long camp for Chinese tourists revolving around Pendleton’s western and tribal cultures.
The Round-Up and Travel Pendleton have worked with European and Asian media organizations and tourism groups to promote Pendleton for years, but there’s been some new developments in the international tourism industry.
Later this month, Dollarhide said a representative from the Globe-Trotter Travel Guidebook will come to Pendleton to create an entry about Pendleton and some of its attractions.
A recent filming of the Dutch reality TV show “The Mole” continues to pay dividends for the Round-Up and Pendleton: Round-Up General Manager said he continues to field inquires from Dutch tourists every week about stopping by Pendleton to sneak a peek at the filming location.
In the meantime, the Chinese students made the best of their time in Pendleton before they head for the East Coast.
As the tour browsed through the store at the Round-Up and Happy Canyon Hall of Fame, Yu said they were going to take a quick trip to D&B Supply for cowboy gear before ending the night at the Slickfork Saloon, where the students would model their brand new Western duds for their parents.
Contact Antonio Sierra at email@example.com or 541-966-0836.