After a trip to China, I hardly know where to begin but it was a truly amazing trip. Mike and I took our two boys, Peter (22) and Nicholas (16). Unfortunately, Elizabeth was working and we don’t want to discourage that. Many people ask, “Why go to China?” and there are many myths surrounding travel in China.
The food is terrible and you will have to eat dog, intestines and brain.
False! The food was delicious everywhere we went. It is not like Panda Express at all. It was a lot of chicken, beef or shrimp cooked with delicious vegetables. Rice was on the side, but not a main staple of the meal. We had no dog or anything weird.
It is too far and the plan ride will be horrible.
Since the flight is longer than going to Europe, you can actually get a good night’s sleep and feel rested when you arrive. You get there at 3 pm instead of 6 am and have just a few hours before going back to bed.
The Chinese take all our jobs and don’t like us.
They love us. They were super friendly and wanted to get selfies with us. They had never seen hair like mine or tall boys like Peter and Nick who are about 6’ 2”. They talked to us about American TV shows and remarked how we were free to talk about our crazy American politics so openly.
Our itinerary did involve a lot of hopping around. Since we had never been to China, we wanted to get an overview. We only had 10 days, because of the kids’ schedules, so we chose the following cities:
- Beijing – Great Wall and Forbidden City
- Xi’an – Terracotta Warriors (8000 full size sculptures buried with one of the emperors 3000 years ago and recently discovered)
- Chengdu – Panda sanctuary with 30 adorable pandas
- Yangzhou – Mountains and countryside
- Shanghai – Most modern city I have ever seen. 24 million people. Lots of wealth and growth, very Westernized.
Two Things that Amazed Me:
Population: It is the size of the United States but has 1.6 billion people, where we have 300 million. They have 170 cities with populations of 1 million or more and we have 9. Crowds do not bother them at all and we rarely saw anyone upset about waiting in line. There are apartment complexes of 10-15 buildings in each, stretching for miles and housing at least 1000 people in each group complex.
History: As a history major at Kenyon College in the ‘80s, I thought I knew a lot about history, but we never learned any Asian history. Their history goes back 5000 years and it is so fascinating. I won’t attempt to summarize it, but there are multiple dynasties, all battling for control, just like in England or France. The battles ended with the last emperor in 1911 and China became a Republic. Mao is the most famous and revered leader still. Most of our guides’ parents love Mao and have pictures of him in their homes.
Modern China is what I would call quasi-communist and quasi-capitalist. The government still controls many things, like Facebook and Google. However, they have WeChat and Alibaba. Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba is worth $38 billion. Alibaba is like Amazon and is China’s largest e-commerce company. WeChat is like Facebook and Didi is like Uber. So, China is old, but they are also very modern and growth-oriented. If you can think of a product to sell that amounts to $1.6 billion in Chinese currency, you will be very rich.
How we traveled:
For our first trip to China we decided to do it first class.
Flights: We traveled United business class. They now have Polaris Class, where the seats fold down into beds and offer Saks Fifth Avenue sheets. This allowed us to actually get several hours of sleep and good food.
Hotels: We stayed in luxury hotels throughout our stay. We don’t always travel this way, but for a rather exotic trip it was the way to go. Our hotels included the Peninsula in Beijing, Sofitel in Xi’an, Six Senses in Chengdu, Banyan Tree in Yangzhou and the Langham in Shanghai. The U.S. dollar goes far in China, so the hotels were all around $200 per night.
Guides and Drivers: We used Wild China to set up all our guides and drivers. They were all wonderful, local guides who spoke very good English. They took us to the major sites and gave us a great understanding of the history of ancient China, as well as modern day China. They also were great at setting up fun things like biking, calligraphy and landscape painting lessons, boat rides and shopping. We went to acrobatic shows and a sound and light show choreographed by the guy who did the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.
Restaurants: We went to nice restaurants, either at our hotel or with our guides to establishments they had selected. All were outstanding, delicious and authentic. We did see some scorpions on a stick and rather exotic foods in our travels, but we did not eat any.
China is a very safe country. It takes a little organization and preparation, but is well worth it.
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Liz and Mike Kohler
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