General chatter - Has anybody done a China vacation?

01-04-2011, 11:35 AM
I was sent this link by my girlfriend & she would like us to do the life experience tour with her and her hubby on a trip to CHINA! :) Oh worldly travelers, have any of you guys been there & done that? If so let me know what you thought. Ironically, it has been on hubby's bucket list for years. Thanks!


01-04-2011, 11:47 AM
I've been to China and it was awesome! I was lucky enough to go with someone who spoke Chinese and had family in China.

In Beijing, the people I was with (minus the person who spoke Chinese) did a tour and it was good but also disappointing. They catered to Americans in terms of the fact that I had been in China for a week, eating wonderful food and then being told because I was American that we were eating at an American style buffet (pizza, hamburgers, etc) or Chinese food that was more like I'd find at a cheap, Americanized restaurant in the US (It was pre-paid/part of the package tour). We were able to break out and somewhat demand real Chinese food and we did go to a restaurant alone with just our handy dictionary.

I would recommend buying a small Chinese/English dictionary. Even if you can't speak Mandarin, pointing at the words was helpful. Also there was a wonderful Podcast on learning mandarin which I listened to before going. It didn't help too much other than helping me understand how words flowed and I appreciated being able to tell the difference between what was a streaming flow of nonsense (for me) to a string of various words.

Also westerners are EVERYWHERE in Beijing. The merchants know english and take american dollars. I liked the sights in Beijing but being in the non-touristy parts of China was my favorite part.

01-04-2011, 12:19 PM
I lived in NW China (pretty off the beaten path for tourism) for four years, teaching English at a university. I love China and would recommend a China trip to everyone who would like to experience a culture and history very different from our own, and who can travel with an open mind. :)

I don't have time right now to look at your link and comment, but I'll leave this tab open and check back later tonight. Also, feel free to PM with any questions you have!

The Last Noel
01-04-2011, 12:27 PM
Jealous! Tell us about it when you get back. :)

01-04-2011, 12:37 PM
I haven't been, but knew several people in college who taught english there or studied abroad there. They all loved it. Not one has a single bad thing to say about the experience!

01-04-2011, 02:08 PM
I'm Chinese-American, but have terrible Chinese language skills, which means when I return I pass for Chinese (i.e. random people will ask me for directions and/or try to hawk me things) & can wander around without attracting attention, but I don't have much competency at actually getting around. I'd say that in my trips, the most memorable experiences have been culinary. So instead of recommending tour guides (I never went with a tour), I'll cover food instead.

I agree with nelie: Do not sign onto a tour that gives you American or American-Chinese food -- food in China is a revelation. There are four traditionally-recognized cuisines (by geographic region) -- spicy & fried foods in the North, sweet-sour stirfry & light soups in the South, even spicier fare near Szechuan, and a fourth 'group' based further west (Tibetan & other tribal cuisines).

But just because you'll be eating delicious restaurant food all the time doesn't mean you have to go off-plan. First off, most things aren't nearly as heavy as Americanized "Chinese" food. Second, if you order sane, delicious things (instead of the weirdest animal parts on the menu, which many tourists -- but not many locals -- are tempted to do), you'll find that the Chinese, esp in the southern regions, are extremely good at preparing vegetables to be super-delicious but not very heavy. Dishes with bok choy (sort of a dark-leaved, leafier, light-tasting lettuce), cucumber, & radish tend to be a safe bet for low-cal 'salad' equivalents. Ask if a dish is made in 'light' or 'clear' sauce if you're concerned about what it contains -- 'light' sauce is usually oil, sprinkled salt, broth, & herbs, without soy sauce or other high-sodium or richer preparations. Go crazy with Szechuan "fish in clear soup" with the caveat that that kind of clear soup is low in calories but freakishly high in chili content.

Go easy on the steamed buns & green-onion rolls & clearly-high-fat pastries at breakfast, which are delicious but ultimately forgettable, and go with congee (a rice porridge) instead -- usually high in water, low in rice, & with just the right amount of broth and some kind of light meat (or sweet red beans), it's basically all the goodness of a chicken noodle soup (or brown sugar oatmeal), in a Chinese remix.

Shutting up now, because this might be too long & too didactic to even be useful. I don't remember the names of the restaurants I went to off-hand, but in general you can't go wrong -- Chinese people aren't much for foreign cuisine and have a lot of business lunches, so mid-to-high-priced restaurants ($15 USD to $100 per person) as well as cheap-but-delicious lunch counters ($3-$5 pp) serving authentic local food aren't hard to find.

01-04-2011, 02:39 PM
fēi cháng gǎn xič! (Thank you very much) just brushing up on my mandarin! ;) I knew you gals would know some 'stuff! Much appreciated, thanks!

As far as food, this is what the brochure states...
* American buffet breakfast, Chinese lunch and dinner daily except one free day (American breakfast only) in Shanghai.
* Delicious culinary events: Peking Duck dinner and Xian Dumpling Banquet.

So I would think an American buffet breakfast would be A-ok, being the guys favorite meal is breakfast, so the familiar will be good 'specially for them atleast one meal a day! :) That way- less whining perhaps- ha ha ha
Chinese is one of our favorite meals, but I imagine it is nothing like the Chinese in China! My mouth is watering already lackadaisy...

You people rock, again fēi cháng gǎn xič ! ~ Wendalyn

01-04-2011, 02:46 PM
I've travelled to Beijing, Shanghai and Xian and lived for 2 months in a less touristy part of Beijing. I loved it. More touristy places means you will have many many Chinese people trying to part you from your money! Learn to say "That's too expensive" in Chinese as a start (tŕi guě le in Mandarin)!

Seriously, go, have a GREAT time and try to see the less touristy areas if you can!

01-04-2011, 02:49 PM
evilwoman - If you want to experience authentic Chinese food, I'd ask about the type of Chinese food that you will be eating. Again, the places that they wanted us to eat/pre-paid meals were for places that had food similar to the US (kung pao chicken, etc). It was nothing like the food we ate when we struck out on our own or were traveling with people who lived there.

Our tour was set up in China but with an english translator/guide and it was interesting because they put us up in the hotel that Chinese people stay in but scheduled us for meals that Americans ate. The company we used offered tours for both Chinese nationals (and we fought to try to go to the restaurants they went to) and westerners. So for breakfast, we had a traditional Chinese breakfast at the hotel and our guide was a bit horrified by that once she found out and she was a bit surprised we were in the Chinese hotel vs the American/Westerner hotel. Apparently they try hard to give Americans an experience they think they would be 'comfortable' with.

Also, she told us that we should eat at the Hard Rock for dinner... Yeah.. no :)

01-04-2011, 02:59 PM
Oh and I should mention that I just am trying to add my cautions/issues. China was great, I had a great time but the Chinese tourism industry geared towards westerners is a well oiled machine. They have restaurants which only westerners eat at, hotels in which only westerners sleep in and they have stores which only westerners shop at and like Heather said it is highly geared to separate westerners from their money but also be hospitable in the sense of making things as close to 'home' as they can. Even in high tourism areas in other countries, I've never seen that level of tourism so geared toward a specific type of tourist.

01-04-2011, 03:24 PM
Thanks Heather- good to know too expensive- mama mia is more my native tongue! :)

Thanks Nelle as always, you rock!
I am happy to read that this particular tour "China Focus"- is rated A+ by Better Business Bureau, so that is good to know! :)

01-04-2011, 06:07 PM
Wendalyn, it sounds like you're interested in having a good & stress-free vacation experience instead of a more authentic one, which is a completely legitimate goal. Nelie, I'm with you on my travel preferences, but hoofing it alone without a tour group in a foreign country can definitely be stressful and lead to uneven experiences.

You'll have a great time in China in any case, and with a "Western" tour group you should know that you're not getting much of the real, modern-day experience, but you will be getting an experience which might be more fun anyway. It's like we all know Disneyland isn't the same as "real" Orlando but hey who cares? It's Disneyland.

On the other hand, any time you get tired of the group or want a change, just remember to stay safe, know how to say things are "tai gui le" (too expensive), and distinguish healthy delicious Chinese food from unhealthy but maybe also too delicious Chinese food, and you'll be fine. Have an awesome time with your family!

01-04-2011, 07:32 PM
One thing I forgot to add, in terms of eating/diet/etc. I had lost about 80 lbs by the time I went to China but I totally went off my diet. Ate whatever I wanted, etc and after 2 weeks, I had lost 6 lbs. I was amazed :) One thing if you get a chance from a street vendor, I'd say buy scallion pancakes. Some places here in the US sell them but those were sooo good.

Also, take toilet paper with you. It is a precious commodity :) You can buy it there which we did but if I had known the scarceness of it (even in hotels), I would've brought my own.

01-04-2011, 08:41 PM
Ditto on the TP! And hand sanitizer. There's often no soap!!

I lived in China weighing 265 pounds and lost 10 pounds in 4 months (2 in China and 2 in Japan). I ate whatever I wanted (was not yet trying to lose weight) but had to walk so much that I lost!

01-05-2011, 01:44 AM
Yeah lackadaisy your right, were looking for a stress free holiday where we can sit back & have the history told to us rather than winging it or backpacking china or touring it ourselves, far too big, maybe if we were 20 years younger! :) ha ha ha

Nelie, bonus on the lbs & those pancakes sound good.
Eeps :o on the toilet paper, jeeze just like mexico then on the no @sswipe or having to pay for it! ;) I'll make a note... :o

Thanks heather, that was a good loss for you, walking in the heat. eeps on the no soap either :o
joises!!!! Hand sanitizer... check! Yeah I have heard from a gal that did a tour last summer with her husband & I was surprised she said she kinda hated China- she said the people were so rude & that much of it was actually really disgusting (sanitation and hygiene wise), but she said the great wall was cool. :?:

01-05-2011, 11:03 AM
People in China rude?! I thought Chinese were so hospitable, it was quite amazing.

For us, as I said, we had a unique experience as we were told just to buy a ticket to China and we'd worry about the rest when we got there. We reserved hotels in country which meant paying $10/night for hotels although we did 'kindly' get kicked out of one hotel. They told us that we could stay the night but basically when they found out we were Americans asked us to find a different hotel but it was in a polite way. People were very friendly overall though.

Sanitary wise... umm... I'll say our motto was that if we could do a Chinese bathroom, we could do anything :) There were some very clean ones but remember we were in some very non-touristy areas. Also squat toilets took a little getting used to but hotels generally had regular toilets.

01-05-2011, 11:27 AM
I think that if you only deal with the people trying to sell you things you could quickly come away with a rude impression. It's actually sometimes quite overwhelming!

But the minute you step away from all the tourism, I found Chinese people to be VERY hospitable.

01-05-2011, 12:07 PM
Yeah I remember climbing to the top of the Great Wall and being inundated by forceful merchants. It is just basically the idea that Americans are rich (compared to Chinese - we are) and that we throw money around (which again compared to Chinese - we do).

Other non-touristy areas, we were told many times we were 'honored guests'. The hospitality was quite overwhelming.

01-05-2011, 12:16 PM
DH lived in a non-touristy part of China (Nantong? I think) for 6 months 12 years ago. I visited him for 2 weeks in July - we'd been married almost 3 years. My trip was pretty surreal. Since DH lived there, we weren't part of a tour group and he didn't speak Mandarin, so we traveled through China often having no idea what anyone was saying. In Beijing the father of a girl who worked for my dad in the U.S. arranged for us to use his driver. He also took us to dinner where we learned that in China, hospitality is such that they will overfeed you like you would not believe. He spoke no English and we spoke no Chinese and I've never gorged on such delicious food in my life, but we had no idea how to say "No thank you" without offending him. That being said, all the food was authentic, delicious, and very healthy, but by the time we got him to stop ordering food, I was almost sick. :o

Since DH was part of a group of engineers, so he knew some of the local restaurants, but as soon as we would get out of the touristy areas, we would have taxis following us with the drivers yelling out the windows that we were lost - we weren't, but couldn't tell them that. Also since he worked there, the Chinese company who hired them believed that they "owned" them and would try to force him to do things such as posing for brochures for a hotel with Russian prostitutes. Like I said, surreal!

Oh, and the driver in Beijing was actually a policeman (military maybe?) because the man who arranged for us to use his driver had been "re-educated" and was considered a threat. And he littered like you would not believe - a policeman! And babies there don't wear diapers; their clothes have a slit in the back and they do "it" on the sidewalk - don't know if that's still true, but it was then.

I loved the Great Wall - partly because we asked a person at the front desk of the hotel where we were staying if he could get us a taxi to take us to the Great Wall. Of course we had no idea what he said to the taxi driver, and we drove forever, and had started to wonder if he was going to kill us somewhere in the remote countryside. It ended up that he wasn't taking us to the Great Wall at Badaling (sp? again) where DH had been, but to a different part which was much less heavily visited and we were literally the only people there. It was very misty and mysterious feeling - just beautiful. There is also a temple in Beijing surrounded by a gorgeous park - not many Westerners were there and there was a wonderful walk around a lake. I have no idea where it was because our driver spoke no English.

The local people are wonderful and used to follow us around in Nantong in their cars to yell hello at us out the windows :) I am in numerous photos with complete strangers in China because they all wanted their picture taken with me. For all I know they're all captioned "the ugly American lady", but they were really nice people as far as I knew.

I visited Beijing, Shanghai, and Nantong (really not a tourist town!) and really loved the trip. I wish I could go back, if only to figure out what I saw!

Oh - and what everyone else said, carry your own toilet paper with you, the Western style restaurants are the only place you can find a decent restroom, and don't drink their tap water - you'll be able to find bottled water for sale pretty much anywhere, and if you order a drink, learn how to say "cold" because they may serve it warm. Oh, and the people there spit - a lot - on the floor in the airport, on the sidewalks, inside buildings and they like to eat chicken feet. These are things that shocked a stupid naive girl from Kansas. And as far as the vendors trying to sell you things, in Shanghai there is a gold market near Yu Yuan (sp yet again) gardens with beautiful 18k gold jewelry - the vendors there understand the English word "cheaper" and will haggle with you. Again, it was 12 years ago - it may not be there anymore.

Okay, I've rambled enough and probably haven't helped you at all. You'll have a great time though - have fun!

01-05-2011, 12:23 PM
Yeah pushy peeps love tourists everywhere you go or so it seems, I guess they were offered to buy a watch like 100 times & they were persistent as **** about it & that was annoying. I told her next trip back, buy a fake rolex watch before you go & they will see you already have a watch! :). Ha ha.
Seriously BFD, I don't worry about those minor things like that...
So did you guys buy a watch? Ha ha ha

Ah ****, A trip is what you make it, things like that don't bother me too much, peeps making a living, sure beats dealing with telemarketers! ;)

01-05-2011, 12:28 PM
They probably thought you were a celebrity! :). Hence all the pics.

Ewe spitting. :(

01-05-2011, 12:35 PM
We tended to pick and choose where we bought things. I was more likely to buy from someone who wasn't pushy and try to buy something that was in some way authentic to China, like rosewood carved jewelry box from a local artist (DH got to tour his studio - the engineers in Nantong were toured around town a lot since they were the only Westerners in town, they toured a lot of schools too), or peasant painting directly from the artist. I would rather spend my money where it is more likely to help someone and not go directly to their government.

Something I found in China is that their government tries to put on a good facade for tourists. The tourist areas are clean and neat and well taken care of. If you get out of the tourist areas, there were piles of trash in the street and it was very obvious that the people there lived in poverty for the most part. Once you step out of the tourist areas, you get the feeling that you're not welcome there - not from the local people, but from the taxi that will follow you and try to get you to leave. The Chinese government tries put on a good front for tourists, but they still treat their own people horribly and human rights are mostly non-existent. The man who arranged our tour in Beijing sent both his daughters to the United States without telling them that their mother was dying, and didn't tell them she had died until she had been gone for more than a year because he was afraid they'd come back to China and not be allowed to leave again. He was "re-educated" for studying Western culture, and he was a very talented, educated man.

01-05-2011, 12:41 PM
They probably thought you were a celebrity! :). Hence all the pics.

Ewe spitting. :(

I hope the spitting is something they've stopped by now - think of the hygiene! I still have nightmares about the local flight from Beijing to Nantong - nobody spoke English, the plane had an engine malfunction, returning us to Beijing. We were stranded on the tarmac, the flight attendants were crying, there was a riot, and the military police took someone off the plane. When we finally got a new plane and started out again the guy sitting next to be took his socks off, put his feet on my seat, and started sucking on a chicken foot!

Oh, also, the people in China do not form lines. Whoever is pushiest goes first - probably comes from being such a crowded country.

01-05-2011, 01:06 PM
Not only do they not form lines but if there are any street lines, those don't matter!! I couldn't imagine driving in China, it was insane. Not only that but if there are traffic circles, people in the circle yield to drivers coming in the circle. Basically people go full speed towards a traffic circle, no matter who is in it! And apparently they honk at people to let them know they are passing them.

01-05-2011, 01:50 PM
Kinda creepy, but I googled the International Hotel in Nantong to see if there was a way to order the brochure, and I am in the background of the lobby picture on the website (it'a an American hotel booking site). It's a horrible picture and looks like it was scanned off a brochure, but I recognize the picture and can tell by what we're wearing that the couple at the lobby desk is me and DH. Thank goodness DH's supervisor got them to let us leave after that picture was taken or there'd still be pics of DH with prostitues floating around. I want to get a copy of the actual brochure though because DH's supervisor looked just like Bill Clinton, and he stayed for more brochure pics (I had figured out that the dancers were actually prostitutes, but the dense guys swore they weren't - they were propositioned later in the evening after we left) which means that there are pictures of a Bill Clinton look-alike with Russian prostitutes somewhere out there. ;)

Sorry to hijack the thread - I know it sounds like I had an awful time, but it was actually the wildest, crazy time I'd ever had, and I'd love to go back. Sort of a surreal feeling like Alice in Wonderland. I know you'll have a great time, and have a memorable trip.

01-05-2011, 01:52 PM
Not only do they not form lines but if there are any street lines, those don't matter!! I couldn't imagine driving in China, it was insane. Not only that but if there are traffic circles, people in the circle yield to drivers coming in the circle. Basically people go full speed towards a traffic circle, no matter who is in it! And apparently they honk at people to let them know they are passing them.

And hoards of bicylists everywhere - the driving terrified me and I feared for the bicyclists, but we only saw one accident the whole time we were there!

01-05-2011, 02:00 PM
kuchick -- How interesting you're on the brochure!!

I haven't been to China in 6 years; there was still a lot of spitting, but fewer bicycles. In Beijing there are so many cars on the road that the congestion is CRAZY. I think it might be quicker to bike!

01-05-2011, 02:22 PM
no worries about hijacking I am lovin the interesting tid bits! :) Wow on a brochure, that is awesome! Celebrity status huh? Hmmm..... nasty on the taking off his socks on the plane, suppose it could have been worse him suckin on his own toes. :lol:
ha ha ha sorta like people eating pigs feet here???? :dizzy:

Note to self, do not drive or bicycle. Ok ladies, do I spit to the left or right or does it matter? :D And being my chest isn't that ample, I will have to break trail with my booty while waiting in line, got it girls! :lol:

01-05-2011, 02:51 PM
Not so much celebrity status as being the only non-Asian people in a city with a hotel that calls itself "international". If you were non-Asian, then they wanted you. Only problem was that all the engineers were male, hence the dancing prostitutes.