China Part 1

Published in the Trinidad Guardian on 23rd September 2007

 

Well I have just been on the trip of a lifetime and have to share it with you. Yes I know there is election fever in the air but many people from all walks of life are telling me they have already made up their mind who they are voting for so they wish Manning would just call the date so we can get it over with. But back to the trip. Destination CHINA!

 

We have wanted to go there for so many years and now it has finally happened. The chance to see for ourselves how a down trodden, oppressed people live. A people with no voice in their national affairs; a people who live in a one party communist state. So Shock # 1. I didn’t see any depressed and down trodden people in China. Sure I saw poor people, just like our poor people but I saw just as many smiling happy people.

 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Getting to China is no easy feat from Trinidad as they are literally on the other side of the world from us, being 12 hours time difference. So first it was a flight to Houston, then to San Francisco and from there a 12 hour flight to Beijing. Thankfully we upgraded to business class for the flight from San Francisco. The best US$600 I ever spent. United’s Business Class make our Caribbean First Class look like Economy!


But even with the upgrade we struggled with the 12 hour time change. The first few days our body clocks wanted to go to bed by midday and get up before midnight! We found the trick was to have an occasional power nap for an hour until we adjusted.

 

Let me here and now say that I have to give a 2020 award to the man who organised our trip, Paul Chin Aleong paul@newwavetravel.net of New Wave Travel, 1075 Bay Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2B1 Ph:  1-416-928-3113 Fax: 14-416-928-0821 www.newwavetravel.net.

I believe Paul is the nephew of Jacinta “Jessie” Jaggernauth of JCA Optical at Starlight Shopping Plaza and not only answered every imaginable question we threw at him but did so by return e-mail. A true 2020 man.

 

Of course 99% of the tours are handled in China by the state run tourist agency but I have to tell you they were super efficient and friendly. It seems almost an oxymoron to use the word “friendly” and “state run” in the same sentence but they were great. Our two week tour involved visiting 5 different parts of China and we were met on time by a friendly, English speaking tour guide at each stop. We were lucky enough to have a private tour which meant Sheila and I had our own guide, car and driver which was great as we could go where we wanted, when we wanted and ask as many questions as we wanted. And I have to tell you the guides were all very willing to discuss any issue you asked them about. Tiananmen Square, communism, democracy, state censorship, you name it. Not once was there any communist party type dogma, indeed we weren’t even given a leaflet saying how great China was, just a promotion package for the upcoming Olympics. I bet I’m the first Trini with a 2008 Olympics hat!

 

Contrary to what I had been conditioned to believe by our own media, we weren’t followed, we weren’t barred from entering any places that caught our interest and there were no posters glorifying communism. Indeed there were no pictures of any of the leaders anywhere, just a few historic one of Chairman Mao. Now compare that with the giant pictures of Manning at Piarco that stare at you in the departure lounge!

 

When we arrived in Beijing we were warmly greeted and whisked of to a super 4 star hotel where people are falling over themselves to help you. So totally different to people's attitude in T&T where they make you feel they are doing you a favour. We were on a package tour but the room rate was approx US$100/night. However I asked about rates for the Olympics next year August and they told me the same room will be US$600/night.


Talking of Olympics, it is amazing how advanced they are in their preparations. Road signs, directions, historic wall plaques are all in Chinese and English already. They have graded all their public toilets with stars and even the internal signs in both languages. All the toilets and sinks work automatically.


The main airport is super modern with a little illuminated panel facing you when you stand in front of the immigration person. Every sign through out the airport is in Chinese and English. AND all the announcements are in Chinese and English, something we found in every airport we passed through, even the smaller rural ones. Incidentally while you stand in front of the immigration officer you see five buttons to describe the immigrations officer’s standard of service from Very Good to Poor. I pressed “Average” to Sheila’s horror as she fully expected me to be arrested but the officer didn’t even blink.

 

The streets in Beijing are spotless and I mean spotless. There is no dirt or dust at the edge of the road and even though many Chinese smoke you rarely see a cigarette butt on the floor.
They have taken the pollution issue very seriously having moved the last factory out of Beijing. Nearly all the buses are electric and there are even electric motorbikes everywhere which you charge up at home.


For lovers of Trinidad Chinese food you will be pleased to know that the food in China is identical to the food we eat at Yang’s Wok or Great Wall here in T&T. Of course you may wish to avoid the boiled frog’s eyes etc.

 

Next week…The Forbidden City

 

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