China 2011: highlights and lowlights

This tour of China has been just go, go, go. I have had no time to write or process what has happened, what I’ve seen, or how I’ve felt about the whole experience. So I will just pick out the lowlights and the highlights.

Lowlights

The flight to get to Beijing – I’ve written about how awful that experience was, but what I didn’t get to write about was the fact that I didn’t have luggage for three days. So I literally had to go and buy new stuff to tide me over. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure I was going to get my bag back. It was only because of Ian, my Travel Indochina tour guide, and his persistence and Chinese street smarts that it was returned.

What I’d do differently next time: not fly Qantas (Singapore or Malaysian are the go apparently), not connect in Sydney (if I have to, Melbourne is much easier and way more civilized) and pack extra undies! Oh, and be happy with the clothes you are wearing on the plane. You might be wearing them for a longer time than you think.

There’s one in nearly every group – on the first leg of the trip (Beijing – Xi’an – Chongqing – Yangtze – Yichang – Shanghai) I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to travel with. Everyone was easy to get on with, considerate and great company. On the second half though (Kunming – Dali – Lijiang – Shangri-La – Kunming) where we picked up new passengers and dropped off others) we inherited a woman (let’s call her Emelda, because that’s her name) who just made the trip difficult for everyone. She smoked (there were no other smokers in the group), went off on her own (and kept the group waiting), drank to excess, had an alcohol-induced tanty in LiJiang, swore at others passengers and asked the most STUPID questions in the history of stupid questions (e.g. “it looks like there’s an Australian power outlet in my room, but my plugs don’t fit”). I had a go at her on the second last day because, well, I just couldn’t keep it in any more. And of course, she didn’t think she was doing anything wrong.

What I would do differently next time: basically, you can’t argue with idiots, so there is no point even trying. However, it should be noted that some people should not be allowed to leave their homes, let alone be let loose in a foreign country. No wonder there are wars.

Highlights

The food – it has just been fantastic. Fresh, vibrant flavours, with loads of variety. Peking duck in Peking, dumplings in Xi’an, Chongqing hot pot and yak in LiJiang and Shangri-La were unforgettable food experiences. Interestingly, I even lost weight while I was here – 2 kilograms, in fact. I walked and climbed steps everyday, so I think that contributed somewhat.

Tianenmen Square and the Forbidden City – both were just amazing. I didn’t think either would be so expansive. I was quite overwhelmed by their age and significance to Chinese culture. And I could just picture that lone student and tank on the Square making a stand against the Chinese government.

Terracotta Warriors – it was quite surreal seeing the Terracotta Warriors up close and personal. They too were amazing.

The Yangtze Cruise from Chongqing to Yichang – we spent three nights on the river, and it was so relaxing it felt like six. Beautiful scenery and being on deck to experience the boat going through the locks at the Three Gorges Dam end is something I will never forget.

Shanghai – I loved just Shanghai. It was a beautiful city, and I just wished that I had gotten to spend more time there. Two nights just wasn’t enough. I had my first bout of yellow fever there due to Pot Guy, who was a Shanghai Acrobat.

Tiger Leaping Gorge – the point at which the Yangtze is only 30m wide. The power and the beauty of the river as it rushed through the Gorge is beyond words.

LiJiang – this was such pretty city, with a gorgeous mix of old and new. The people were so friendly and happy to say hello to foreigners. I had my second bout of yellow fever there when a handsome stranger caught my eye, and we passed each other in the Old Quarter like ships in the night…

Ian, our Travel Indochina guide, was integral to the experience. His knowledge of – and love for – China made this trip unforgettable.

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