Just last month, Jon and I were contemplating taking the month of June off and dropping in on my dad, who spends half his time in Beijing in his retirement. We would backpack through Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Guangzhou and maybe visit some long-lost friends in Hong Kong. However, my dad was coming back to New York three weeks early, and he said tourists were having a heck of a time trying to prove they didn’t have the Swine Flu upon arrival and were being quarantined in a hotel for at least a week. So we opted out.
The Swine Flu paranoia is still lingering around China’s airports, but if you are willing to take that chance, SmarTours is offering an incredibly Economy-Friendly 10-day package to Beijing and Shanghai. For $799 (not including taxes), you get a roundtrip flight from the west coast ($100 more from New York), a flight from Beijing to Shanghai, upscale hotels and English tour guide… for $799!! The cost of a plane ticket to China and back is usually at least that amount, if not more (right now, it’s about $1,000+). And if you’re not into being herded around on a tour, you can also opt to break your own path out.
I have been to China since the 70’s, when Americans rarely went, and it’s been incredible watching the transition from gray-and-navy Mao costumes, to regular dorky FOB-wear (and I was the “cool” American-born Chinese relative visiting) to the uber-fashionable luxury design labels, whether real or counterfeit (and now I am a fashion embarassment to my relatives). People often have mixed reviews of China, particularly of Beijing, but I just love going back every time. People in China drive like suicidal maniacs, they can’t patiently stand in straight queue, they snort and hock lugies on the sidewalk or in porcelain spittoons situated around the sidewalks for this purpose (my mom used to forbid us to look inside), they karaoke during dinner, and they fight like wrestlers over who gets to pay the restaurant bill (it’s mostly amusing to watch this erupt at every single table). The polluted air does leave the inside of your nose entirely black by day’s end, I also feel like a giant trying to shop for women’s clothes there.
But throw in its thousands of years of history; the giant temples and pagodas and curved roofs; the massive Great Wall snaking along the mountaintops; people squatting on the sidewalks selling vegetables, fresh fish, vegetables, jade, paper cuttings; the smells of scallion pancakes and yams cooking in the streets; the thousands of people racing down streets on rickety bicycles; the dirt-cheap prices; and the morning calm as older people gracefully flow through their T’ai-chi practice; and you’ll see why I love going back. It’s not wonder China is determined to reclaims its title as the Middle Kingdom once again. For $799, it’s well worth it.