Sunday, March 2, 2014


It was early December when I was sitting with my coffee and reading the UT San Diego newspaper. I happened to notice an article about a ten-day trip to Beijing and Shanghai for $899. This included airfare, transfers, hotel and breakfast. It wasn't difficult to convince Ron, who likes a good deal, that maybe we should venture off to China to see what it's all about. I called the trip sponsor, SmarTours, the next morning to confirm the details and to ensure they were legitimate. We decided to book the trip (adding $100 to travel in early March rather than January).

Planning was easy because the flights and hotels were prearranged by the tour company. We depart from San Francisco, and we will drive up the day before. I booked a hotel near the airport that includes ten nights of free parking using the website will allow us some flexibility on the return, in the event we decide to drive back leisurely or stay in San Francisco for a night.

Travel to China requires a visa. I spent many hours completing the required forms and supplying the necessary documents. Our tour company recommended we use the services of CIBTvisas which proved helpful. I needed to call them a number of times because the questions on the Chinese application were not all that clear. Finally, $380 later (China Consular visa fee: $140, CIBTvisa Service fee: $50.00—all times two) mission accomplished.

We plan to book a full day tour to the Great Wall and Ming tombs. The rest of the time we will venture out on our own. My husband, the expert in logistics, has been perusing the maps for nearby transportation and walking destinations close to our hotels. One thing I know for sure—we won't run out of things to do. I picked up a couple travel guides to bring along: Top 10 Beijing, DK Eyewitness Travel and Beijing & Shanghai, National Geographic Traveler. Our hotel offers free bikes to guests—could we really bike in Beijing?

In addition to the travel guides, I found a couple of novels about China that I enjoyed: All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson and Yeh Yeh's House by Evlina Chao. I am currently reading Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler, which I highly recommend. Historian, I will never be; however, I am attempting to better understand the hardships of the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989 and the Cultural Revolution which lasted from 1966 to 1976.

     Communicating in a foreign country is always a challenge, but even more so when it is based on a language that uses characters instead of an alphabet. I normally put some effort into learning a language before I visit, however, I must confess to not even attempting Chinese. My solution is to carry a small red book titled Me No Speak which contains lots of pictures and Chinese words for “no-speak 'ems” like me. I've already highlighted the picture for “Not Spicy.” Hopefully, we won't lose the book.

The ten day forecast for Beijing, so far, looks like an acceptable sunny and 50 degree high. I am on my way with a Minnesota winter coat, warm hat, gloves, scarf, and, as always, my tennis shoes (a no no, but they are the only comfortable shoes I've ever found, and I am much too old to trade comfort for looks). I am not expecting to love China, but it is a place in the world I have never been to and I am thankful for the opportunity to visit.

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