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Log of the China trip (Blog) by Janice Hatt

China Tour Reflections

We were all very sad to say goodbye to Michelle.  She was a fantastic guide and took wonderful care of all of us.  She warned us of dangers, reminded us to take everything with us, reassured us about our safety, and found us the good (relatively) toilets.  Our local guides were mostly pretty good too. 

Vivien kept us moving briskly through Beijing, and was informative without being intrusive.  She was also very cute. 

Lily in Xi'an was also very good, though a bit harder to understand. 

In Chongqing we quickly tired of Jimmy.  He didn't answer our questions well and was very repetitive.  He told us several times about his carefree single state and the one family one child rule. 

On the cruise, Gracie was amazing!  She certainly was the best of all the local guides - very responsive to questions and easily understood. 

We enjoyed Gary's tour of Yichang, largely because he took us where we enjoyed going [ local park,and example poor farm ] including perhaps the best meal of the whole trip. 

Daisy, our Shanghai guide was very enthusiastic about government programs and, while she was well-informed and responsive, we all felt that she was giving us the official line rather undiluted. 

On the Suzhou trip, John was excellent.   However, I began to feel that his ties to the silk factory were pretty tight.  He was pretty open about the devastating effect of the Cultural Revolution.  His parents, both teachers, had been sent to do farm work in the country.  He was unable to go to university, though eventually he did go to night school. 

It's clear that the guides did not precisely deny or hide the vast disparities in Chinese economic circumstances, nor did they discuss them openly.  The evidence of prosperity was everywhere to be seen, but the slums were right there next to the new up-scale developments.  What must the more remote areas be like? 

Bargaining with vendors was something very few of us took to very easily.  We all had what seemed like little triumphs, and other times when we felt we'd been bilked.  Walking away is something none of us did easily, but is really worked when we did  it.  The one comfort is that these people are far poorer than we are, so we all hope that if we paid too much it buys extra comfort for their families.  We heard stories about the fakery and outright lies we might encounter -- machine-made goods finished off by hand and sold as hand-made, rayon and polyester being sold as silk and cotton --dyed and chemically-enhanced jade.  Larry and aren't looking for museum-quality stuff, so we are comfortable with buying what we like, no matter whether it's really valuable or not.  And some times even glorying in the flatant fakery! 

We came away with a better appreciation of the varieties of Chinese food (and more still with chopsticks)  but it still is not high on my list of favourites.  Some of the soups were very good, and those who risked the fruit, liked it.  We were not served too many truly weird things, so we likely all gained weight.  But Canadian cooking will be very nice to get back to. 

Traffic and driving in China is absolutely hair-raising!!  I never did get a sense of how it worked.  In several places it seemed that there were very few signals, and those were mostly ignored.  Vehicles on most roads included everything from ox and human-towed carts, through bikes, motor scooters and motorcycles to cars, buses and transports.  They weave and merge and squeeze through tiny spaces in  ways that take our breath away. 

I will long remember the smell of the public toilets.  There always seemed to be cleaners around, but somehow the facilities never felt clean.  It varied only in degree.  Most of us women more or less master the "squat" toilets, [ thank heaven I didn't have to ], but we also usually grabbed the western ones if we could.  Our accommodations were generally pretty good, though  it appears they have some difficulty keeping up standards.  Staff are very polite and accommodating - often, though, the language barrier results in miscues and difficulties.  That's just part of the experience of a different culture, of course, but it can be a bit frustrating.  Can they keep up with the huge flood of English-speaking ( and other-speaking) tourists? Will their economic boom continue?  Will the generation of spoiled only-children be able to drive forward the country's progress?  Will more natural beauty spots be lessened or destroyed in the name of progress? 

One thing that many of us noticed was a great lack of facilities for the handicapped.  Even people with slightly hampered mobility had trouble in many places.  The most noticeable was at the Terra Cotta Warriors museum.  It's quite new but very poorly organized for wheelchairs, etc.  In many places it was not clear to us how far we'd have to walk, whether there were handholds, stairs, rough terrain, resting spots and so on.  It seems not to be apart of the consciousness.  It's refreshing not to be totally protected at every moment, but we missed North American accessibility. 

It really was a wonderful trip.  We enjoyed the group we were with, and loved getting to know them better.  I hope we'll maintain some contact and that Michelle really will be able to come and visit.  I look forward to seeing everyone's photos and reading other trip diaries.  It'll take a while to absorb what we saw, heard, smelled and experienced.