China had long been on my top 10 list of travel destinations to visit. This year brought an unusual confluence of events that made it a possibility. It arose at a time of year that is good weather for China and we were able to get virtually free flights from Janice’s sister who works for United. We spent two weeks traveling to Shanghai, Xian, and Beijing. We took the high-speed (300kn/h) bullet trains from city to city and I’ve got to say that they rekindled my enthusiasm for high-speed trains in the USA.
China was an amazing mixture of one of the oldest civilizations and the ultra-modern 21st century. It has one of the longest standing palaces: The Forbidden City and Shanghai’s Pudong district where 28 years ago it was farmland and now is a well-designed skyscraper-scape including the world’s second tallest building: Shanghai Tower. It was strikingly spotless; there wasn’t a piece of litter or a bit of graffiti to be seen. The people were very friendly and very helpful when asked a question. English is commonly understood in these cities and most of the attractions, street signs, and even mass transit signs were also in English. Security was abundant and the issues we were warned about, spitting, smoking, crowds, and air pollution were all non-issues. In fact, we only had one day that was a bit smoggy.
The challenges we ran into were a little unexpected. First among them was the amount of walking we did. The short distances, under 2 miles, are commonly walked by the Chinese. No taxis would consider picking up a fare for a shorter distance. Therefore, for instance, we walked from our hotel in Dong Chen to The Forbidden City entrance, 2.5 miles then walking around the complex is another 8 miles, and then another 2.5 miles back. Over the course of the trip, we walked an average of 12.5 miles a day which is a bit more than we normally do. Fortunately, the mass transit was easy to navigate, fast, and very extensive.
The other issues were minor but perhaps a warning never goes to waste. Eating was not as easy as we thought it was going to be. In the medium to lower end restaurants English was not widely spoken. Although the menus were full of pictures they did not describe the ingredients very well. We obviously eat and did so well, but we did more searching than we thought we would do. Finally, we did not see a single laundromat in our travels and when we asked the hotels they looked at us with a bit of confusion. Whether such a thing existed or not, we ended up doing our laundry in the hotel room sink.
Overall, China is a remarkable country and there’s so much more to see than just these three cities. I’m amazed by the sheer scale of their monuments and buildings. Their infrastructure, their art, and their commitment to preserving their history and culture are equally as impressive. Whether it was Deng Xiaoping’s opening of economic reform or any combination of events, China can certainly take its place among the most Interesting travel destinations and well worth a visit or two.
For those of you who may have more time on your hands or are just a glutton for images, there is a more extensive slideshow here: China 2018