Trip Start Aug 01, 2011
34Trip End Aug 25, 2011
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It's been a little over a week since we returned from our wonderful trip. We’ve almost kicked jet-lag; back to normal, finally. Rosalind was under the weather for a couple of days after our arrival home; we think it was from dehydration during the flights home. She counseled me before our flight from Hong Kong on drinking plenty of water; but all she had during those 13 hours were two glasses of champagne, one glass of water and one can of tonic water with lemon. I stayed hydrated, on the other hand, through a combination of fluids; champagne, rum and cokes, cokes, more rum and cokes, and yes I almost forgot, four bottles and two glasses of water. The 80-year-old couple traveling with us said their doctor prescribed two glasses of wine or beer per day to help his heart. He’d had quadruple heart by-pass surgery; now has only 40% function of his heart. So she got the two glasses right, but didn’t drink enough water with the spirits. She’s back to her old self now.
We would like to offer a few thoughts on our experience. First, it was a trip of a lifetime; Rosalind and I have been to some pretty neat places, but China by far is the best ever. I know many of my friends in Panama City, Florida think I’m saying that because of the constant diet of Chinese food I was able to enjoy; but that’s not the reason. We say that because: 1) we had a chance to be on the grounds of many world renown historical sites, witness one of the original Wonders of the World; 2) hear firsthand the peoples’ take on our country in relation to theirs; 3) see what many call the hub of the world’s economic development; 4) visit locals without simple creature comforts that we take for granted and still have joy; 5) observed how disciplined their young peoples’ focus is regarding education and knowledge of current world events; 6) and more important their take on us as a greedy nation without moral values. And they have no problem telling you that either! It truly was a far cry from all that we’d heard or read about China. Another thing that really struck us was the disconnect between Mainland China and Hong Kong. Neither spoke of the other fondly, claiming they are one country with two systems (Communism on the Mainland and Democracy in Hong Kong).
My two cents: While we’ve experienced being the minority in environments before, to include our own home, we were unprepared and in awe of being the only ones of our Culture in an entire mall. There were times I (Rosalind) felt like Will Smith in the movie "I am Legend." I couldn’t help but wonder how the high school students from Crenshaw High School in California fared during their recent trip to Beijing. Our culture, as was the Hispanic culture, was also absent in the financial metropolis of Shanghai and Hong Kong. It brought home to me (Rosalind) how once again we are being locked out of board rooms and real entrepreneur opportunities. In fact, the retired inner city Educators from New York City told Lionel and me repeatedly they were in awe and fascinated with us because we could discuss so many topics, to include economics and current events; were educated, owned a business and that we’d seen so much of the world. I explained to them that many of our species could do the same thing. (Lionel) it was weird hearing that statement; didn’t know how to take it at first (be insulted or proud).
On another note though, I reflected on a text that my brother sent me that read: “From Hebert High School (our alma mater) to China, who would have thought it?” Of course we could also say after having lived all over the world, because of GOD’s plan for our lives, that it really was only a matter of time. But his point was that very few people thought that we would ever leave Beaumont, Texas much less travel to the second leading economic power in the world. It is that reflection that sparked the same question I had regarding the Crenshaw HS students, WHY NOT? Having been told by both Mainland China and Hong Kong people that their primary objective in life is to become number One in the World! I determined upon my return home to ensure that all young people who cross my path would have the opportunity to be taught Mandarin, study economics, practice discipline in their studies, become serious about their moral values and sense of family; and consider becoming the person who owns a business that hires, instead of waiting for someone to hire them. I was always taught that GOD never promised us an American Dream that is simply an illusion. HE did however; promise us a plan to prosper and not to harm us; and to give us hope and a future. That requires a level playing field with access to great education, equal opportunity and hard work. This trip gave clear evidence of how far behind we all really are; and that learning Spanish is not nearly as important as learning Mandarin because they are our children’s future financiers and employers. Our national tour guide said it quite succinctly, “We have studied your country, anything you can do, we can do faster, better, cheaper; and we have learned the mistakes not to make from you. We’ve learned that greed and materialism drives your country; and once we learned what they craved, we bought them years ago and they are putty in our hands.” He wasn’t boasting, but merely stating a fact. A fact, we witnessed up close and personal from our businessmen brokering deals.
I can’t thank GOD enough for the blessing of this awesome opportunity; and having received it do something meaningful. I am now asking the question, “Why can’t our children here in San Antonio visit this fascinating place?” We’ll just have to see about that!
Below is a summary of the logistics involved during our 25-day trip. We:
1) Traveled a total of 20,917 miles
2) Had 10 flights on 5 airlines (American, China Eastern, China Southern, Sichuan and Cathay Pacific)
3) Stayed in 7 hotels
4) Were escorted by a national and/or local tour guide and driver in a private van or mini-bus
4) Had a 4-night river cruise
5) Had 3 one day river rides/cruises
6) Had 5 local train rides
7) Had a high-speed train ride that reached a top speed of 333 kph (206.92 mph)
8) Used three different currencies (US Dollars, Chinese Yuan and Hong Kong Dollars)
The overall cost of the trip: Priceless!
Why did we make the decision to take an escorted tour versus trying to do it our own? Here are a couple of reasons:
1) Escorted tours are a great value. Our hotels, guided sightseeing, ground transportation and most meals were paid for in advance. Calculating 3 meals a day times 25 days (75 total), we paid for four out of pocket. Having travel companies negotiate rates can save as much as 40 percent off the price of planning an equivalent itinerary on your own. We paid one price upfront (booked trip in June 2010; paid off in May) which reduced our out-of-pocket expenses.
2) Relying on experts saved us time -- at home and on vacation. Even though I consider us experienced international travelers, researching and pricing all of the pieces that go into a vacation -- such as hotels, restaurants, sightseeing and transportation -- takes a lot of time. Tour companies have years of experience in your destination and will plan itineraries that make the most of your time every day. This tour offered us an experience we may not have been able to do on our own.
3) We traveled with a professional tour guide. Jeff accompanied our tour from Day 1 and was responsible for making sure everything ran smoothly. He helped with everything from coordinating hotel and airline check-in and baggage handling to giving advice on restaurants and pointing out hidden gems in each city. He had detailed knowledge of our destinations and really helped us understand its history and culture. His help was especially valuable in overcoming the language barrier. The local guides who led our sightseeing tours in the various cities or attractions gave us great insight about each locale.
4) There is safety in numbers. As travelers to China for the first time, we enjoyed the comfort and security of traveling in a group.
5) Someone else did all of the driving. We rode in comfortable, air-conditioned vans, mini-buses, trains, riverboats or other small ships. We didn’t have to worry about maneuvering a rental car while trying to read maps and attempting to decipher unfamiliar road signs.
6) We bypassed long lines. Our itineraries included entrance to museums and attractions; we didn’t have to wait in line or pay admission fees. Instead, we walked right into the attraction. Some of our itineraries also included preferred seating.
7) We met new travelers. This type of travel gave us an opportunity to get to know others who shared our interest in China. As we toured the sights together, dined with one another and collected memories as a group, we came away from the trip with new friends and a better understanding of one another’s beliefs and cultures. We even discussed religion and politics civilly without coming to blows.
What lessons did we learn? You know, hopefully we all learn something from every experience we encounter in life. This trip was no exception! While I don’t have any earth shaking testimonials (Rosalind might have revealed a couple during her two cents piece mentioned earlier), there are a few basic, common sense takeaways.
1) Pack less clothing: We took clothes out of our suitcases a couple of times before we left, but still had too many clothes (Rosalind said she didn’t because she packed more shirts and under garments due to the hot weather). Laundry service was available daily at each of our destinations and costs about $60-$100.
2) Be ready to spend more than your initial estimate: Not too much to say on this one, it’s just going to happen. Period, end of story! One big expenditure we didn’t think of was the constant tipping we did. Everywhere, especially our national tour guide, local tour guides and drivers (roughly $500 more if you reward superior service). Get this, we were even provided a tipping guide by the tour company. Another cost we didn't consider was laundry. We used the hotel service 5 times at a cost of $60.00-$100.00 each time. And finally, you will probably buy something at each stop, even after Rosalind said she was through shopping after the first city; NOT! The money will flow!
3) Call your credit card companies and advise them you are going on vacation; especially if to a foreign country or high fraud area. I did for our main account, but failed to do with two others. One let me charge once, but I attempted to use it again within five minutes; denied for trying to charge within a short span of time. The second one denied me the first time; then sent me an email to call their security office. That’s good looking out for you on the one hand, but could almost put you in a bind on the other if you needed cash; and didn’t have access to it readily. So don’t forget to call; it will save both time and embarrassment! Also, with our rollercoaster stock market, you could probably receive a better exchange rate by the time your charges actually post.
4) Advise utility companies you will be out of town: AT&T U-Verse, for example has what is called a vacation hold program; they make adjustments to your bill while you’re away because you’re not using the service. I don’t know if other companies have similar programs; but it’s definitely worth a call.
5) Try not being the “Ugly Arrogant American” that everyone loves to hate and talk about. You will be surprised what a smile, a thank you, and courteousness will get you. Remember, when you are on others’ turf, try and adjust and embrace their lifestyle as much as you can. It will definitely be appreciated. We learned and tried our best to speak some basic Chinese phrases such as, good morning, thank you, goodbye, where is the restroom, how much is this and I’d like a beer please (I became proficient in the last two because beer is cheaper than water). The locals really enjoyed trying to communicate in Chinese with us when they heard us trying. They also wanted to practice their English; so it was a win-win situation most of the time. I am convinced we got a little extra here and there by just being NICE! Our tour guide Jeff told us that we were a pleasure to have on the trip; and that he had become spoiled and would expect others to behave the same. We wished him luck on that one!
6) Research the best time to take your trip: Boy, did I blow this one. No wonder the prices was the lowest of the season; it was HOT and HUMID! August is the hottest month of the year. Enough said okay!
7) If joining a tour, try and get with a small group tour: Our group was comprised of three couples. That was fantastic for a number of reasons: 1) we were able to move around the cities in a van or mini-bus versus a large bus; 2) it was sure easy to manage 6 people versus 30-50 people; 3) we didn’t spend a lot of time waiting for typically a larger group to assemble or make a decision; when we were ready to go, we left. But even with a small group such as ours, we were still waiting for someone. So that part will always happen.
Our final step is to complete one last review of all our posts and pictures; Travel Pod will turn our information into a personalized hard cover book; we are taking advantage of that offer.
We sincerely hope you have enjoyed our 25-day China Adventure with us. We attached 1,637 photos (took over 4,000) to 34 blog posts. And thanks again to all of you that kept us in your prayers while we were away.
Lionel and Rosalind