I’m the Queen of Superlatives, and am about to go on a rant. Our 15 day trip to China was stunning, mind boggling, fun, glorious and perfect in every way.
I’ve divided this post into several sections—otherwise you’d be sitting here for hours. Enjoy a bit of the trip, take a break, and then come’on back.
THE TOUR COMPANY, SINORAMA, IN A NUTSHELL
We learned about this trip from friends who assured us that, in spite of the extremely reasonable price of $2,000, it was simply wonderful. So, we trusted them and signed up.
It was fifteen days of wonder including:
- Airfare from the West Coast (we could have flown from Atlanta for a bit more)
- All lodging—in 5 Star Hotels
- All meals, except our lunch on the Bullet Train
- All transport internally including two flights and a trip on the Bullet Train, plus buses and vans
- A spectacular tour guide who accompanied us from start to finish, and teamed up with local tour guides as necessary
- All optional shows and tours
Although tips were optional, we did tip drivers and guides. But it was 6.8 yuan to the US dollar, so these tips never set us back much. (Plus these guys earned every yuan.)
Best to travel in the spring and fall because of the weather and pollution. We experienced only perfect, 70 degree, weather and no pollution that we noticed. It rained a couple times overnight and once while were in transit. There was a sandstorm in Shanghai while we were in Beijing, but by the time we got to Shanghai, it had moved to Beijing. That is the ultimate being in the right place at the right time.
Check them out at http://sinorama.us/ This is a Canadian company, based in Montreal. If you just Google Sinorama, you’ll be sent to the Canadian site, and the prices are quoted in Canadian currency. Sinorama oversaw the trips of over 50,000 people in 2016. We were the only Americans in our group, or should I say, our splendid group. The others were Canadian and Australian. More on them later.
So, now read on about what we experienced and some words about how to prepare and what to expect if you decide to take this trip.
HEADING TO BEJING
We flew on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner with Hainan Airlines. It was first class! It was amazing watching our positioning over places we’d never heard of: the Shelikohov Gulf and the Sea of Okhotsk! Big world out there.
I sat next to a Chinese gal who works for Price Waterhouse in the San Jose area. After a bit of conversation, I found out she had just graduated from Michigan State (my alma mater) with a masters in Accounting. So, of course, we became fast friends. (Hi Jessie aka Zixi Zhao!)
There was time to watch three movies. I watched Lion and recommended it to Zixi and Kevin. They both ended up watching it. Since I could see their screens I knew exactly when to pass them the hankies.
Our masterful tour guide was Jerry Wu. I thought of him as our Benevolent Dictator. In fact, after the trip our group shot around emails admitting to Jerry withdrawal. We missed having him tell us what to do and when to do it. We loved that his favorite expression was “Take your time. Five minutes.” There will be more about this splendid man later in the blog post (including him singing us a farewell song—so sweet!)
Our guides met us at the airport with their ubiquitous yellow Sinorama flags. We were swept off to Fragrant Hill, a lovely hotel located in the outskirts of Beijing near a beautiful park. (I’ll let you guess the name of the park.)
I’ll only show you our hotel room this one time because all were comparable. Comfy and clean.
After a ten hour sleep we experienced the first of many luscious breakfasts. We always had both Western and Chinese choices at a buffet. Since lunch was always Chinese, we usually opted for eggs and toast at breakfast. Not the Duck Blood that they offered at one hotel.
Things to take note of:
There is no Google, Gmail or Facebook in China—all are blocked by the government. We’d planned on being in touch through Gmail. Since she didn’t hear from us at all, our daughter started panicking. She came close to contacting the embassy. All she would have learned once she reached us was what a grand time we were having.
China’s Google is Baidu. Named after a legend, it literally means “countless times”. Here is the last line of the poem about the legend: “Having searched thousands of times in the crowd, suddenly turning back, She is there in the dimmest candlelight.” How cool their search engine is named after a story!
There are mostly squat toilets for women and often no toilet paper. We got pretty good at being prepared and finding the few Western toilets available. Just carry a few packets of Kleenex and you’ll be covered. Here are some pictures of the toilet, accompanying warnings (or warm tips), and a potty chair left out at one restaurant for us poor Westerners who don’t know how to pee in the proper position.
We were advised to take one Pepto Bismol tablet a day prophylactically. Not sure if it worked, but we figured it couldn’t hurt and we had no digestive problems whatsoever.
I took a hairdryer, but one was always provided. I loved the complimentary one in this non-complimentary bag:
I took laundry soap, which I used on the 4-day cruise (hand washing and then hanging clothes to dry on hangers suspended from the chairs on our deck) but could have just used the shampoo they amply provided. The cruise was the only extended period of time I found to do clothes washing. My method was better than these folks pounding out their dirty clothes along the Yangtze River.
Some general information:
I remember two all-important greetings we were taught. “Nee How” is “Hello”. “Poo Yao” is “Not interested”. This came in handy when we were surrounded by people shoving trinkets in our faces.
There are 1.4 billion people in China. That’s four times the population of the United States. Charlotte, at one million would be a small city. There are 23 million in Beijing and 24 million in Shanghai. Lotsa people everywhere!
The Chinese call us “Big Nose”. Hmmmm….never thought our noses were much bigger than theirs. It’s all in the observer.
The Chinese language is fascinating. Knowing 3,000 characters is enough to get by, but in everyday life, 5-6,000 appear. Scholars study 60,000 characters. Here is Jerry giving us our first lesson. I think we all got “F’s”.
The growth of 40-50-60 story residential buildings is incredible. They reminded me kudzu. They just tear down and build. Since the government owns the land, they can do whatever they want. They do compensate displaced folks though. It was a monumental task to move the over one million people displaced by the flooding of the Yangtze River
Traffic in the big cities is nightmarish. Getting a license plate for a car is very pricey, $6,000 in a medium sized city Hangzhou, and $18,000 in Shanghai. And even then, the days you can drive are restricted. So, most people use motor scooters and bicycles, with babies and children propped on laps. Would never fly here.
These are very tidy people. You saw a mop every time you turned around.
The first day was a whirlwind. We went to the zoo to see the pandas in action. “Bear cat”, is the general Chinese name. The female is fertile for only 24-36 hours, so if he doesn’t have at it during that time, forget it. If she happens to have twins, she will leave one to die. They were the original one-child policy animals.
Next stop was the Jade factory. Jade is the national stone, and it is controlled by the government. This is where I learned a very important lesson. Do not display any interest whatsoever. I did and was followed around by a sales person like she and I were magnets. She dropped her original price of $649 US eventually to $300 while I was at the table having lunch. Was it Nancy Regan who said it? I followed suit and just said no.
Next up was one of the highlights of the trip. And on the first day, no less! We headed to the Great Wall and climbed 1,203 steps. It continued but that was all we could muster. The steps were very uneven, so it was more of a climb. Energizing though to know that it was constructed 600 years prior, during the Ming dynasty, crosses 9 provinces and ends in the Gobi Desert.
And I have the t-shirt to prove it. Here is we are, Merri and me, in our matching shirts.
An 11 piece orchestral group from Hungary was filming a promotional video at the Great Wall.
The Chinese are fond of selfies and attempted to pose with the musicians in the background causing take after take to happen. There was also a drone flying overhead, probably taking what would have been spectacular panoramic shots had it not fallen and crashed into the wall next to the musicians. At that point they packed up and left. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
What was craziest for me was that we were at the Great Wall of China on the very day our wall, that is supposed to “Make America Great Again”, was being voted on. Got a measly billion during that Friday vote. Long way to go.
Now’s a good time to talk about the food. After The Wall, we headed out for one of many nearly identical Chinese mid-day and evening meals, always served on giant lazy susans at round tables. (Good feng shui, and efficient.) The only exception to this were the hotel breakfasts and cruise buffets. Many on the trip became tired of the food, especially the rice, but we were never bored by the cuisine. It suited us just fine. Toward the end, I became quite adept at using chopsticks. Their very weak (2.0% or so) Chinese beer was served with every meal, and watermelon was usually served for dessert.
A joke we heard several times was that the Chinese eat everything with legs, except a table, and anything with wings, except airplanes.
The Chinese eat scorpion, pig snout, chicken feet, hairy tofu, and stinky fish but can’t understand why in the world we eat cheese. As Jerry would often say, “It’s just culture.”
After dinner, we went to Lake Houhai in central Beijing. The men were warned to not talk to young ladies who want to improve their English. And, you can buy a Wang Pang Zi Donkey Burger there. (Hey friends, note my handy dandy Baggallini!)
To top off day one, we went to an open air market. It was teeming with people and filled with wonders.
Check out the video of live scorpions they were about to fry as gourmet delight.
Hang onto your hat. There is so much more to come, but since this may have tested your patience, I’ll give you a break for a bit. Day two and beyond are yet to come.