After a 3-day cruise stop in Tianjin China, I sailed away with a new understanding of modern China and its rich history. My multi-day cruise excursion included a two night stay in Beijing with full-day tours. The comprehensive itinerary included all of the top tourist sites. I came to China with one perception and left with another.
Prior to my visit, I knew that China was undergoing a major transformation. However, until I witnessed firsthand the extraordinary number of new buildings along the highway between Tianjin and Beijing and in Beijing, I didn’t realize the full extend of the transition. Large portions of Beijing had been totally renovated and the road system was in great shape. Trees, bushes and shrubs were being planted everywhere.
Despite these changes, western standards for hygiene lagged behind. Toilets were primitive and could not accommodate the modern convenience of toilet paper. Signs requested that all toilet paper be discarded in a nearby canister.
I do not know how the current economic situation will affect this modernization process or if the less populated areas will ever have the opportunity to participate in this transformation.
Other travelers had warned us about the pollution. I wasn’t surprised. After living in India, I was aware that a lack of concern for the environment results in poor air and water quality. Once again, I looked up to a hazy sky. I breathed air that was filled with toxins. I passed by Chinese citizens and tourists who did not hesitate to wear a protective mask. It was not safe to drink tap water. Hopefully, one day the Chinese government will realize that it needs to create regulations and laws that further protect its people and visitors.
Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace. All of these stops took me back in time and gave me a hands-on appreciation of Chinese history. In retrospect, I regret that I couldn’t formulate my questions until after we had departed. Each day was so full that there was little time to reflect on what was seen until after I returned home. Fortunately, the Chinese government has chosen to preserve some aspects of its history. I continue to be a strong advocate of traveling and living abroad. Books, magazines and videos can only tell part of the story.
Food & Accommodations
Since this was the first time that I was taking a multi-day cruise excursion, I did not know what to expect. I was thrilled with the hotel. It offered all of the modern conveniences of a 4-5 star hotel. It also did its best to cater to a western audience. Most of the food was tasty. However, there were limited options and oftentimes the food choices were not labeled. Periodically, it was a challenge to find someone who could tell us what we were eating.
Unfortunately, there were few opportunities to talk to any locals. The handful that we did encounter could not speak English. Even when we visited a Chinese courtyard apartment, the occupant relied on our guide to interpret his words. If I return to China, I will make more of an effort to interact with the people.
Clearly, technology is helping these once isolated people to connect to the rest of the world. Except for a couple of people under 40, everyone had some type of smart phone in their hand. While the government continues to restrict Internet usage, the younger people have found ways to bypass the firewalls. Our guide talked openly about different ways that life has changed in Beijing, but also made it clear that the government still exerts control over its people.
Sandra Bornstein is the author of MAY THIS BE THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE. It is available on Amazon. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons. The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and received an Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards.