An Eye for China

I’ve been traveling to China for, I’m shocked to admit, nearly 20 years. One of the first pictures I have of me in China was taken from the Bund in Shanghai, with my back to the Huangpu and, across the river, an expanse of rice paddies and run-down one-story buildings. I vaguely remember my friend telling me that the Shanghai government had just announced plans to develop a new economic zone in the area called Pudong. I was barely listening. In the aftermath of Tiananmen, a year and a half earlier, I more interested in politics than economics, and at any rate, on that dreary grey day, in that run-down city, I lacked the imagination to see what Shanghai would become.

I am further shocked to admit that I have been planning tours to China for nearly 16 years. This has enabled me to visit far-flung corners of the country, from Harbin in the far north to the border with Vietnam; from Qingdao on the Yellow Sea to Kashgar and the border with the Kyrgyz Republic. And yet, when people ask me where they should go when they visit China for the first (and quite possibly only) time, I always recommend Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai, and, if time and money permit, one other place. That’s perhaps a little out of character, because I love to travel off the beaten path myself. However, some of my own most indelible impressions of China come from some of the “must-sees,” but doing them a little differently from most.

I never tire of going to the Great Wall. Even though I’ve seen it probably a dozen times, I still am blown away every time I trace its twisting path over and between the mountains north of Beijing. I of course avoid the Badaling section, preferring Mutianyu or, better yet, Jinshanling or Simatai, and I leave very early in the morning so I have the place mostly to myself.

These days it’s almost impossible to visit the Forbidden City and not share it with thousands of others, many of whom are wearing identical hats and are following a bullhorn. Fortunately, most of those thousands are only interested in the admittedly extremely impressive halls in the center of the City. I love to wander through the sections off to the sides, exploring the smaller rooms and hidden alleys. I’ve even been fortunate enough, through the amazing connections of my friends and partners at Hubei Overseas Travel Corporation, to visit, on occasion, sections not open to the public, where some of the most exquisite gems are hidden.

In Xi’an, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the scale of the terra cotta army of the emperor Qin Shi Huang. These days, anyone can take pictures of the soldiers and horses, and for a fee, anyone can go down to the VIP level for a slightly closer look and slightly better angle. What trumps both, though, is actually getting down into the pits and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a 2200-year-old clay warrior. Again through the my friends at HOTC, I’ve had the opportunity to do that twice, and it remains one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in China.

In Shanghai, I love to visit the Shanghai Museum. In a city that is all about the future, the museum is a beautiful reminder of the thousands of years of exquisite artisanship that are otherwise obscured by the glass and steel and traffic and Maglev. And in the basement, closed off to the public, is a beautiful replica of a tea garden, with mood lighting that can be adjusted to simulate different times of day. It’s a peaceful place, in stark contrast to the hubbub above ground.

What I REALLY like about Shanghai, though, is the change. Shanghai is about growth, the future, transformation, possibility. Whenever I can, I go to the Bund and stand where I stood nearly 20 years ago and gaze over at the unimagined reality of what China has become.

Chris Roper
Program Manager

Academic Travel Abroad

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Educational Travel is Still a Good Investment!

Why you should continue with your travel plans.

If you have been thinking about traveling on an educational tour in 2009, here are a few reasons to not change your plans.

1. Our all-inclusive tours are already priced. On our exciting land programs, there is never any inflation of currency or other costs between the time you commit and the time you travel. This is reassuring, as the value of the dollar has been unpredictable during the last several months.

2. Our educational tours represent great value. If you are a life long learner, you will delight in how intellectually stimulating our tours are. Our itineraries are focused and fun, and offer lots of behind-the-scenes extras that would be hard to set up on your own. We guarantee that you will learn more in less time than on many other tours.

3. We have anticipated the unexpected for you. Our tour staff takes care of all of the details of your vacation so you can focus on learning. Should the unexpected occur—delayed baggage, a lost passport, or a delayed flight—rest assured that your ATA tour manager will take over so that you can stay on schedule with the tour without interruption.

4. You will travel with like-minded people. Many of our travelers say that the people they meet on tour make the experience truly magical. We attract well-traveled men and women who savor the luxury of time to experience a new (or familiar!) destination in depth. They are interested, and interesting!

5. Some of your favorite spots in the world might be more accessible than ever.

It is inevitable that some travelers will defer their plans until a later date. This means that you might be able to avoid crowds at some of the world’s most famous sites.

Please call us at 800-556-7896 to speak to one of our knowledgeable staff about an upcoming tour or visit our website at: www.academic-travel.com!

Chase Poffenberger

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