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.