This thirteen-day tour, conducted from November 9 through 21, 2000, included visits to Beijing (Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, The Summer Palace, and the Beijing Zoo). We visited the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs and attended a Peking Opera Show. We took a Rickshaw Tour, which included a stop at a private home of a Chinese family. We also visited the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. After our stay in this historic and changing city, we flew to ancient and historic Xian, in China's interior, and there visited the Wild Goose Pagoda, the Terra-cotta Warriors, and several museums. We also visited the Banpo Neolithic Village and the Xian Mosque. On our eighth day we flew south to Guilin, and slightly warmer temperatures. This visit included views of Elephant Trunk Hill and the Reed Flute Caves and a cruise along the the very scenic Li River. Finally we flew to Shanghai, the economic capital of China. Here we visited the Old Town, Yuyuan Gardents, The Bund, the Jade Buddha Temple and the Children's Palace, among other sites in the area. Reminiscent of Venice, we took a sanpan along a canal in a nearby city. Eighteen participants opted to go to Hong Kong for a post tour extension, while others flew home via Los Angeles. Those of us who did the Hong Kong extension were deeply impressed by this most modern city -- its high-rises, its lights, and its shopping. On Thanksgiving Day, we departed, flying to Philadelphia via Chicago, arriving mid-afternoon, in time for a traditional Amrerican Thanksgiving Dinner.
Joe Laufer in Tiananmin Square - November, 2000
CHINA TOUR RETROSPECTIVE
My 15 days in China and Hong Kong rank high on my list of memorable events. China is a place of rich history, unbelievable contrasts and contradictions, and cultural extremes. Almost all of my preconceptions were destroyed. China is a culture in transition. What I saw on my millennium visit was dramatically different from the China of the 1940's, when I helped the Holy Childhood Association purchase Chinese "pagan babies", or the China of the 1970's, when the Red Army implemented the principles of the Cultural Revolution, or the China of 1989, when the students demonstrated in Tiananmen Square with a replica of the Statue of Liberty (the spot now marked by a Chinese Flag), or the China that my children may visit 5 years from now. It is truly a giant country in transition, and one leaning strongly towards the capitalistic system we in America have enjoyed. But still, there are contrasts. We were told that Beijing is the China of the present; Historic Xian, the China of the past; and Shanghai, the China of the future. We were also told that there were three different Chinese philosophies. The Leaders are Communists, the Government is Socialist, and the People, Capitalists.
In its effort to convince Westerners that China is moving in the right direction, the government-sponsored tourist agency choreographs almost every aspect of the tour. We visited a small inner-city neighborhood in Beijing, and actually were invited into a private home to talk with a family member. We did the same in a rural farm area. In additon to the usual factory-gift shop stops (factories which manufacture cloisonne, jewlery, silk products, carpets, embroideries) where you could mingle with the workers as they plied their crafts, we also visited a school and a hospital. They took us to several "Friendship Stores" - government-run stores originally set up for tourists. It is obvious that China is gearing up for a major expansion of its Tourist industry -- and we were there at the beginning! Despite the government's efforts to shield us from the seamy side of China, we did get an unexpected look at rural poverty as we took a forced bus detour on one of our excursions. Rampant poverty, unhealthy living conditions, pollution, and every possible societal ill was seen on this unplanned detour.
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Joe mixing with the people of China
Our stay in 5-star, western luxury hotels, added to the contradiction. We were wined and dined, given the red-carpet treatment, and participated in wonderful entertainment. On the cultural side, we were exposed to Peking Opera, a Chinese Acrobatic Show, and a traditonal variety show. We were told how nasty those Red Guards were during the Cultural Revolution, when they destroyed temples, museums and all other symbols of China's rich heritage. They are now being restored for posterity. Our sanitized tour included opportunities to use the internet daily from our hotels or local computer cafes -- for e-mail postcards and to keep us in touch with home. Likewise, our hotel rooms were equipped with TV's linked to CNN, MSNBC, Jay Lenno and Dave Letterman! We watched in disbelief as the US election debacle was posted all over Asia.
What a tremendous opportunity this was to see China as it never was, and never will be -- a China in turmoil and transition - a China to be reckoned with in the future. I am extremely grateful that I was able to make this trip at this time in history.
Here are some links for information on China:
For a direct link to Collette Tours, click on to www.collettetours.com
Peggy Amico, Lois Essex, Doug Ghaul, Geri Keeley, Joe Laufer, Anita Lee, Gladys Lord, Earl Stehly, Hedy Stehly and Selma Stein.
We were paired with 20 individuals who are members of a travel club based at St. John's Catholic Church, Cape May, New Jersey.
Posted below are links to our Newsleters and announcements to tour particpants:
Joe, before the Gate of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City