Wednesday, 31 August 2011


I was working in Deyang a small provincial city about 60kms north of Chengdu in the Sichuan province. I enjoy teaching in China which offers a way of interacting with the people in a way that doesn’t always happen as a tourist.
One of the students was very keen for me to visit his family because,
 “They have never met a foreigner before.”
I thought it would be great opportunity to visit a family in the countryside and experience the ‘real’ China.
 His aunt and uncle work on the farm, his mother & another uncle would be there as well as numerous relations. We took a small bus from just outside the major bus station and before long we were out in the countryside. The area was typical of rural China , quite poor  small hole in the wall shops selling groceries and small ‘Tea Houses’ with tables on the roadside where the men gather to play cards and mah jong.  We walked along a path that wended its way through the green rice fields which felt strangely silent. It was unusual to be somewhere that was actually quiet, not a common experience in China.

The host family and wonderful meal

The student was the interpreter as my Chinese amounted to about half dozen words. I must admit I felt a bit like a zoo exhibit, but they were more than hospitable and of course they cooked up a magnificent banquet in a very minimalist kitchen. Then there was the usual round of photos.  They praised and honored me as their esteemed guest with beer and Chinese rice wine (made locally!) which we all had to drink liberally with hearty ‘Gambeis!’
I actually sipped the rice wine instead of sculling it, as it really is a whisky in strength. Of course his mother kept putting tasty tidbits in my bowl, though chicken & duck feet didn’t exactly excite me, but I had a nibble, not wanting to offend.
 During the course of the day my escort said to me that if I needed to go to the toilet, mention it to him and his mother would take me. As the day dragged on and numerous drinks had been partaken, I needed to use the toilet. So saying to him, his mother then gave me some toilet paper and took me to a barn like structure at the back of the house. The hole in the ground with two wooden slats over them was what could be expected, however, usually when one takes someone to the toilet one either turns away or goes out of the room. Did this happen?  No. There she stood watching me go, I’m sure it was because she was curious in seeing if a foreigner ‘pee-ed’ the same as a Chinese.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Not Another Tour

I have a great aversion for guided tours, not that I have been on any extended ones, just the odd day trip. The idea of being herded around in a group for days on end just goes against the whole idea of travel in my mind.

There are tours that advertise sixteen European countries in 20 days, the mind boggles, it would be the case if it was Tuesday it must have been France. You would see a lot and experience nothing. Just tick off the iconic sites. Seen the Eiffel Tower tick, seen the Arc de Triomphe tick, an hour in the Louvre, seen the Mona Lisa tick and so on it goes. If you are lucky you will have a free afternoon to explore but with such an itinerary and the amount of time you would need traveling you would probably be too exhausted to enjoy a leisurely stroll anywhere other than to your hotel room to recover.

Where’s the fun of wandering around the streets discovering some out of the way place for yourself, spending a leisurely day in the museum or art gallery, lingering over lunch and heaven forbid interacting with the locals, not just the ones paid to look after and entertain you.

I am aware that many people enjoy guided tours but for me the idea of being stuck with 20 or 30 people day in and day out herded like cattle just wouldn’t do. What if there are some people in your group that are totally obnoxious or inconsiderate.  Or have someone ask an inane question or complain about the food not being like back home or some other thing and my patience would be stretched to breaking point. This would be the reason I wouldn’t make a good tour guide, the thought of going on tours herding 20 to 30 people for a living makes be shudder. As far as I’m concerned if people want things exactly like they have at home, then stay home don’t even think about travel even on a tour.

As a free spirit you have time to explore and get to absorb the atmosphere of different places you visit. You stay longer in each place maybe ‘see’ less but feel and enjoy more. This way you won’t see 16 countries in 20 days but travel isn’t just about ticking off the iconic must see sites in as many destinations that is humanly possible in the shortest time.

A Quote

" We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them"