11.09.09

China Travelogue: Introduction

Posted in Travel at 16:28 by RjZ

Travel is as much about what you do as where you go. Visiting museums and restaurants in cities is dramatically different from backpacking through the wilderness. It’s hard to do both unless you enjoy looking like a grubby hiker in an upscale art gallery. Maybe it’s not so hard…. What you choose to do can change how much you’ll have to spend too. Even in locations where camping ins’t free, I’ll still bet it’s less expensive than hotels, and the food is cheaper too. Of course, if you go on an organized trek you might end up spending double or triple what you might have spent just walking around even the most expensive destination.

Many of us would like to see everything! Going from the recognition that seeing everything is impossible, to actually pairing down your schedule to reflect reality, can be what changes a trip from moving torture, to a relaxing, learning experience.

China is a very large country, boasting an impressive range of activities and sights. Over 50 minorities, each with a unique culture, compete with the over 5000 years of history. A long list of “-ests” can make a superlative trip that ranges from the highest mountains to the worlds longest escalator (check!). Enough to see that a guided tour with a translator makes good sense, but also enough that if you just get a visa and wing it, you’ll likely still wind up with enough stories to start your own blog. We chose the middle ground; trying to prioritize things we really wanted to see so that they’d still fit in just a three week trip. A fair bit of money would be spent, but still slightly less that a package tour. Recognize then, that this is just one version of China and that such a varied place may reveal its secrets differently depending on how you choose to experience it. Before we even start let me get one point out of the way:

“We” is my traveling companion and I. Only one of us is foolish, or egotistical, enough to think anyone cares and worse, write it down in a blog. I will frequently resort to “I” even if there were two of us. Rest assured, nearly all of the credit for planning the trip, finding the best deals and, essentially doing all the hard work, goes to my partner, but, in trade for anonymity, I’ll take all the credit from here on out. It’s not fair, but revealing details of your life on a blog isn’t something I need to force on others, right?

So why China? I spent over six weeks in China this year, although not all of it was vacation. My work brought me east to visit coal-fired power plants and see if the technology we offer could help them run more cleanly. I’ve now seen China in all four seasons and, while I’ve still only scratched the surface, I’ve made it to 11 of its 34 provinces. I’ve been to big cities like Shanghai and (relatively) small ones like…, well, I don’t really know, but there was a power plant there. I chose to return to China for a longer trip because a two week visit just won’t cut it! A week in Beijing will barely get you beyond the wall and the Forbidden Palace. Furthermore the visa for U.S. citizens is quite expensive. With quite adequate hotels costing as little as $10, spending $150 on a visa represents a significant cost. My company paid for the visa tax, so, what self-respecting budget traveller would ignore the opportunity?

Clean clear, Incheon Airport is the main airport for Seoul, Korea, (10.4 million people)

Clean and quiet. Only a few hours left before landing in Shanghai, after two flights from Denver to Los Angeles, and Los Angeles to Seoul aboard United partner Asian Airlines.

This trip, which I’ll focus on here in blog-travelogue was not for business, but purely vacation. A self-guided trip through many of the most famous sites in mostly southern China. Staying in cheap hotels and carrying a small backpack. I landed in Shanghai, hiked Huang Shan, floated up the Li river, walked through Tiger Leaping Gorge and marveled at the Hong Kong skyline. What I learned, is that what ever you may think of China; whether it’s crowded and third world, exotic and exciting, a rich modern skyline, or a political backwater, it is constantly a conversation piece. Sights, sounds, people, politics, food, each asks another question, begs speculation, or offers a puzzle to solve.

It’s like the perfect travel-blog fodder! I just hope I can read all my notes.

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