In 2010 we spent 6 weeks exploring China. We went thanks to my late mom-in-law’s estate, and we made sure to visit places she had been to and enjoyed in her 70’s. We went with a tour company, Helen Wong, and expected to be in a group of 12 to 20. There were actually 6 of us, all with grey hair and not too fit. It was like travelling with good friends. Our intercity travel was by air – with one exception, by rail.
One of the most interesting parts of our trip was The Yangtze Cruise; the 3 gorges dam, the side gorges, and the life on the river, made for a very pleasant 3 days. Some of our side trips proved fairly testing physically; everywhere has steps and stairs, so you do need to be ambulant, and have some stamina.
The food, was to die for! All breakfasts involved luxury buffet feasts -roast with veg if you wished – and lunches were strictly Chinese style but with at least 8 to 12 different platters, you could always find something to your taste. Cola, Sprite, and beer were always available, as was green tea and bottled water. Dinners ranged from 9 course Asian degustations, to seafood banquet, Mongolian supper, Peking Duck Dinner, and the very special 2 we had – ‘Crossing the Bridge Noodles’ and the Dumpling night. The noodle one had quite a history – and involved having mini platters of uncooked morsels for each of us, a bowl of fresh noodles, and then a veritable cauldron of boiling fragrant stock placed in front of each diner! No-one was expected to devour it all, and we did not! But it was fun! The dumpling Restaurant was about 4 floors of different rooms, and beautifully attired waitpeople dashing about with up to 10 stack-high of bamboo steamers. All full of gorgeous dumplings. None of your stodgy dimsum – these were shaped into swans, ducks, flowers, chicks, leaves, fish, and filled with delicate or strong flavours.
Scenically China is dramatic, as you would expect, it is so old. We lunched, Mongolian-style, in a 900 year old village, still recovering from the 08 earthquake, but stoically soldiering on with rural life. The upper Yangtze is mountainous and yet, they have carved roads and walkways so we could all see the power of that river. Agriculture uses every space in the country, and many people still live as they did in the pre-Mao era, even down to the clothing. The architecture in the cities is fabulous, buildings with holes, and turrets, and outside-the-box shapes. Then you spot the tiny workers cottage in among them, and you have to decide whether it is progress or not!
We made the effort to learn some Mandarin phrases, even though most people want to practise their English (it is compulsory in schools to learn it) and they loved when we said’hello’, ‘thank you’ , ‘goodbye’ to them. We also felt ‘where is the toilet’ was a good idea!!
Our only low was being in Beijing during the October holiday week. To visit the Great Wall with over 2 million others on the same day made for some traffic chaos – in buses and on foot! But, with all workplaces closed – there was no smog!! There were many restaurants and sites not open due to the holiday, and those that were – teemed with visitors. This was the only time we experienced rude, pushy and impolite Chinese people. And likewise behaviour from some frustrated Europeans!
We met groups from the ‘opposition’ tour company (also a female name) often, and were secretly pleased to hear their litany of complaints – too many trains to lug your bags on/off, poor food and hotel standards – yet they paid a similar tour cost. I know an hotel is simply somewhere to lay your head, you can stay in luxury anywhere in the world; but how good is it to sleep in a room with a glassed in box in the middle – your marble bathroom (it did have some curtains!), and look out from your 4 poster bed onto the magnificent walls of the city that is Xi’an; all lit up at night, after a day spent marvelling at the ‘Buried Army’ with their myriad different facial expressions and the historical complexity of their creation.
Oh, do go visit China; and please take me with you?