Kuming's great Stone Forest, on the Tibetan Plateau of western China
I really had no desire to travel to China when Lien and I went there in 1994. This was another so-called "compromise" trip. Lien really wanted to see the country that gave her own so much of its culture. Although, once again, I would have rather bushwacked my way through the African wilderness, or the Australian Outback, or some other equally exotic and wildlife-filled location, the trip to China was in fact fascinating!
Lien allowed me to plan the basics of the trip, so I put together a program that involved visiting some the the sites that I had some interest in seeing and that actually provided some wildlife-viewing opportunities, or at least some spectacular natural scenery among all of the history and ancient culture.
Our month-long journey of China included a 10 day cruise of the Yangtze River (pre-dam!), Guilin and a Li River cruise, Wuhan, Chongching, Guang Zhou, Chengdu (pandas!), Da Zu and many other locations.
We booked a tour and pretty much expected to be part of a giant busload of tourists following flag-holding tourguides throughout the Chinese countryside. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that we were in fact on a private tour and we had our own private guide in each location the entire time! Most of our guides were very excellent. The worst part of our stay in China was the hotel staff in many of our destinations. Most of the hotels we stayed at in China had the basic attitude that we, the tourists, existed for their benefit. I have never been treated so rudely by anyone anywhere in the service industry. Overall, we were not impressed with the Chinese people on this trip as most of our interactions were negative and abrupt. While I am sure that most of our negative experiences were due to extreme cultural differences and misunderstandings, we were dismayed with the direct, in-your-face approach many of the people we encountered practiced. We would have spent a LOT more money if people just left us alone. I will never forget watching Lien actually full-force punch a man in the face for attempting to take her bag from her at the Chongching docks after our cruise finished there. The man nearly hauled off and smacked her back until he saw me coming right at him (I was a tad larger, and he probably thought Lien was Chinese, not a foreign tourist...not that this should matter at all...).
While at the end of it all, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip to China, we both concluded that we (to quote Lien) "enjoyed China despite the Chinese!"
On a more positive note, I have had the pleasure of traveling to China a couple more times in more recent years, and my experiences have been far more positive. I think most of Lien's and my initial experiences can be chalked up to being on a tourist circuit, and my experience has shown me that folks directly involved in the tourist industry are not representative of the people and culture of the countries they represent. My more recent trips were more of a business and student-exchange nature and my interactions with local Chinese folks have all been very great and have left me with a far more positive view of the culture of China.
And in my more recent trips, I have been able to see much more of China. In 2001, I had the pleasure of traveling to China for three weeks representing Port Angeles School District on an exploratory trip for future student exchanges. While there, I was given the grand tour of Nanning and Guangxi Province in southeastern China. Well off the tourist track, this area was outstanding. We visited hill tribe areas as well as massive caverns and many natural sites in Guangxi Province. Sadly I did not take a camera with me at all on that trip! I cannot tell you how many trips I failed to capture on film and how much I regret this now. I will never make this mistake again.
In 2001, I was also able to spend some time in Beijing and experience the city and the surrounding countryside of Inner Mongolia. My high point of course was my visit to the Great Wall. We avoided the touristy area by recommendation and spent an entire day trekking the wall at Simatai, a much more rugged, less restored and much more spectacular area than the more conventional sites.
Be sure to visit our Photo Galleries for more spectacular images of our travels! (Pbase Galleries)
Here are some of the images from my trips to China: