By David Liddle, Becketwood Member
A “vacation” in one place is supposed to refresh you because you can relax, whereas “traveling” from one place to another can be hard work and leave you feeling exhausted! On a cruise-tour in China last summer, Lorene and I experienced a bit of both.
Our vacation was a relaxing 6-day cruise on the Yangtze River from Wuhan to Chongqing. We enjoyed deluxe shipboard accommodations; informative presentations on Chinese history, tea rituals, painting, and language; several onshore excursions; outstanding cuisine; spectacular scenery; and dazzling entertainment. We passed through the Xiling, Wu, and Qutang Gorges as well as the Lesser Three Gorges, visited the massive Three Gorges Dam and the imposing 12-story Shibaozhai Pagoda, built in 1650.
The travel part of our trip involved five intra-China flights and multiple hotel stays near various “must-see” sites, including Old Shanghai; the Shanghai Museum; the Chongquing Zoo with its Giant Pandas; the archeological dig outside Xian where the Terra Cotta Army was discovered; Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City in Beijing and the Great Wall; plus a stop in Guilin to spend a half day on the beautiful Li River on our way to Hong Kong, where we spent two days seeing the sights before our flight home.
Our trip was educational and enriching, surprising and sobering. We gained a new appreciation for Chinese art as well as for China’s political struggles and cultural history, which both date back thousands of years. We experienced a sense of the mystical that stems in part from China’s climate and geography and in part from centuries of self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world. A few impressions:
- Air pollution is a major issue. It hung like a pall over both city and countryside.
- We got a sense for what overpopulation feels like. People we encountered were often aggressive, pushy, and loud—the result, we think, of living in such crowded settings. Many middle-class Chinese live in small, often shared spaces in “vertical neighborhoods”—clusters of apartment buildings of thirty or more stories.
- Much of the terrain has a rugged beauty, with sharp peaks shrouded in mist, expansive landscapes and breathtaking vistas.
- There’s a huge demand for energy resources, especially the generation of electricity.
- Except for the signage, the cities we visited look like many large U.S. cities.
- China’s a land of huge contrasts. From our modern ship we watched people doing their laundry on the riverbank. Technology is cutting edge, but selectively: municipal water quality is so poor that even the Chinese drink bottled water.
- Education is considered to be critical. Our local guide in Xian, the mother of a 3-year- old, proudly claimed to be a “tiger mom,” not unlike many middle-class Chinese mothers, owing to intense competition for options, including eventual study in the U.S.
- The Communist government works hard to exercise control over everything from education to air travel, but it isn’t easy because of the Internet and the rising economic status of the middle class. One guide commented that China is “Communist politically but Capitalist economically.”
No amount of description can do justice to this fascinating and mysterious country that’s having such a huge global impact (check the “made in” labels in your clothing or on your electronic gear). We’re glad to have experienced it firsthand—from both a vacation and travel perspective!