Members of the community joined the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce on an event-packed tour of the Gold Coast of China! This unlikely group of people who signed on through newspaper ads, social media ads and as members of the Chamber became close travelling companions as the trip progressed. The days began at 8:00 a.m. and ended at the hotel at 8:00 p.m. with each minute filled either sightseeing, shopping at factory stores or listening to the well-educated tour guides.
All the major sites were visited. In Beijing the group experienced a hike up the Great Wall, the splendor of the Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. At Tiananmen Square we saw firsthand that the Country did remain under strict communist control. A protester was quickly stopped and driven away, and we all made a mental note of how precious our own freedom of speech is to us all.
Local flair was provided with a rickshaw ride through the Drum Tower neighborhood with dinner in a private home with a Cricket Fighting Master Trainer as the discussion leader. We heard of generations of people working in their family trades keeping with tradition.
Four cities were visited in the nine days – including Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai. The “smaller” cities of Suzhou and Hangzhou, with only 8 or 9 million inhabitants, were beautiful and the group was treated to a boat ride on the canals, on the lake, a hike up the “leaning Pagoda”, or Temple of Heaven, as well as the Buddhist Temple, which had several hundred monks chanting as part of a religious ceremony.
The ancient traditions coupled with the modern explosion of sky scrapers, fast food – KFC and Starbucks at every turn – and the extreme capitalism of making the sale, were a part of a very paradoxical introduction to the Chinese culture, ancient and modern.
Shanghai was ultra modern. With 23 million people, the one area we could have stayed much longer as our group was a bit more cosmopolitan than most. There was a posh and luxurious side to Shanghai, which seemed like Manhattan on steroids. The Shanghai market was a fun way to end the trip – shopping for gifts for the holidays, everyone was looking for a way to pack those last minute items and stay within travel weight.
We were reminded of the sheer numbers of people as we travelled by shuttle through the cities and through the countryside. One thing of note is that China is now experiencing so many more Chinese Tourists to their National sites – which has increased domestic travel. Also, these people from inland do not speak any English and took more pictures of us than the sights – it seems they have never seen “Foreigners” either.
All things in consideration, the hotels were very nice; the food was only OK; the factories a little too much, although wonderful to hear about the production of silk, harvesting of pearls and mining of jade; the amount of sights were unimaginable, only a small few are mentioned here; the flight was very long – all those things considered, everyone on the trip would do it all over again. And I am sure that we will offer this trip to those who missed out.