Posted Dec 01, 2018

This trip was a lit­tle bit bonkers. To start with, it was only $299 per per­son (plus a manda­to­ry $100 tip and the fee for a Chi­nese visa) for a ten-day Chi­na tour, includ­ing two inter­con­ti­nen­tal flights, two region­al flights, all our lodg­ing, and most meals. It was cheap­er to go on this trip than it would have been to stay home.

Six of us signed up, and we were matched with about 35 oth­er peo­ple from the same region, mak­ing ours a rather large group over­all. The itin­er­ary includ­ed sev­er­al days in Bei­jing before fly­ing south and vis­it­ing the cities of Suzhou, Wuxi and Hangzhou and then fin­ish­ing up in Shang­hai and fly­ing home.

How was this deal so ridicu­lous­ly cheap? We were told that these trips are sub­si­dized by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment as a way to boost tra­di­tion­al indus­tries, and we did indeed vis­it many a fac­to­ry” (i.e. show­room), though no one was ever required to buy anything. 

We vis­it­ed a jade fac­to­ry,” a pearl fac­to­ry,” a cen­ter of Chi­nese med­i­cine (where a team of doc­tors descend­ed on us and with­in 90 sec­onds diag­nosed every­one with at least one ail­ment, cur­able with herbs con­ve­nient­ly avail­able for pur­chase on the spot), an actu­al­ly quite beau­ti­ful tea plan­ta­tion, and I know I’m for­get­ting a few others.

One per­son I’ll nev­er for­get, though, was Fiona,” the sup­posed daugh­ter of the own­er a jew­el­ry fac­to­ry out­side Shang­hai – she gave an Oscar-wor­thy per­for­mance in a pink poly­ester not-quite-Chanel suit and a per­fect school­girl bob, telling us how kind we all were, stam­mer­ing and pre­tend­ing not to speak much Eng­lish, and even­tu­al­ly whip­ping the group into an absolute face-claw­ing fren­zy when she said – damn it! – she would sell us a few spe­cial items at cost, whether her father became angry or not, because we were all so kind to her, with our big Amer­i­can hearts — not like those rude Chi­nese vis­i­tors who screamed at her and made her feel bad. 

But it was­n’t all shop­ping. The tour also took us to the Great Wall; to gor­geous tem­ples and gar­dens and parks and cas­tles; to the site of the 2008 Sum­mer Olympics; for a ride on the fastest high-speed train in the world; and down into the bow­els of a mas­sive under­ground mall burst­ing with knock offs of every kind and hun­dreds of tiny shops where you could choose and get mea­sured for a suit and have it made and deliv­ered to your hotel by check­out time the next morning. 

A sun­set cruise at Hangzhou bathed us in orange and pur­ple as glow­ing gold­en lights turned on in pago­das and tem­ples along the shore. A few days lat­er, a night­time boat ride on the Huang­pu, wind­ing through the cen­ter of Shang­hai, daz­zled us with the futur­is­tic, ever-mov­ing lights and col­ors of a scene from Blade Runner.

So many more mem­o­ries… Too many to list. This would have been an amaz­ing deal at many times the price. Fly­ing home, we felt a sense of grat­i­tude at hav­ing been lucky enough to have had this amaz­ing expe­ri­ence and adven­ture together.