Monday, October 15, 2007

Taking a Chinese Vacation with the Chinese in China

When most Americans visit China they do so as part of a tour and have a guide who speaks English to show them around the country. My recent visit was somewhat different. I was there to visit my wife's parents who had never had the opportunity to meet a chairman of a prestigious free market think tank institute; nor had they met any of my staff, which notably includes The Onlette.

So my visit was not unlike what most Americans do when they load up the minivan and head to Wisconsin to see Grandma and Grandpa except instead of having the 15 month old in the back seat fussing for hours on end, she is on a jetliner where complete strangers can share the experience.

Even though I could not spend the whole time I was there sightseeing, I did want to do some of that; so Mrs. On and I went on a Chinese vacation with the Chinese in China.

I suspect it is slightly different than an American vacation with Americans in China.

We boarded a bus in Hangzhou bound for the Yellow Mountains (pronounced Huangshan) and embarked on what was about a four-hour ride. Our guide for the first leg of the trip told us we should "sleep while we traveled and pee when we stop". That was a plan I could get behind. All of the guides on this trip spoke into a microphone, on board the bus it was plugged to speaker system with some serious reverb. Serious reverb, and loud. Soon the guide was informing us about the trip in that incomprehensible language they call Chinese. Have you ever noticed that when people speak Chinese it often sounds like they are angry and yelling? It was like the guy was yelling at me. With reverb. Just when I thought he was going to stop yelling at me, he would start yelling at me again.

It was like I was a prisoner. A prisoner of war being pumped for information. I told them nothing.

We arrived somewhere and were marched into a small hot room and sat on hard wooden benches. A tall pretty young lady proceeded to yell at us about tea, using a speaker system attached to her waist. I bought no tea but many were not so strong.

We stowed our gear and then hiked about 2 kilometers up a mountain next to a lovely little stream. It was a nice break from being yelled at, but it was tiring. You see, in China, just like in other countries I have been to, climbing a mountain involves going up.

The next morning we were taken to the base of an even higher mountain range and told we had to hike 6.5 kilometers up to our hotel for the next night. This hike involved a change in elevation of about 1800 meters. There are no roads up this mountain so we had to carry all of our gear with us on this climb. I had a backpack that I could have carried clothes in but since everything on this mountain has to be carried in, things are expensive by Chinese standards. Because of this, by Chinese custom we filled our bags with bottled tea, cup-o-noodles thingies and of course cucumbers. Lot's of cucumbers, which are surprisingly heavy.
I think this was the point in the climb where I wrote the first two verses of a song I call "yi píng lěng pí jiu" or "one bottle cold beer".

This hike took about half a day, then after being soaked by a sudden rainstorm we looked at the mountains from numerous angles. This involved many changes in elevation while being yelled at by a tour guide with a hi-tech sound amplification system attached to his belt.

This is a famous tree which you of course recognize.

The next day we got up at 3 am to hike 2 kilometers to the highest point humanly possible to wait for a sunrise at 5:13 am.

We all crowded up to the railing, camera in hand and waited.


There was nowhere I would have rather been.


Then it happened, sunrise orgasm.

It was a cool trip, and I am glad that I went but I don't think I will go back on this particular trip again. It got me thinking about the difference between a Chinese vacation and an American one. In America we work hard and often have stressful jobs. We go on vacation to relax and unwind. I suspect the Chinese go on vacation to endure hardship so they are happy to go back home and return to work. Well, that and to have their picture taken in as many designated photo-op spots as they can.