Experiences from the Tours

CHINA Oct 15/09: We arrive at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport after a 12 hour flight from Vancouver. It is a beautiful new modern glass and marble structure, built on land formerly used for fish farms and rice paddies. Shanghai (Shang “above” hai “sea”) lies barely above sea level on the Yangtze River Delta. It is the financial centre of China.
Sky scrapers abound. Carefully groomed trees and shrubs are planted everywhere possible. Concrete bordered canals lead to the ocean. Beijing hosted the Olympics in 2008 and Shanghai is currently preparing World Expo 2010. Construction takes place 24 hours a day, and given the low Chinese labour costs, the world’s architects seem to have no limitations to their dreams. In Shanghai, the city bird is the Construction Crane, our young guide Ling tells us. Since China opened its doors to the west in 1979, its economy has grown by 10% each year. On the busiest thoroughfares, bicycles and scooters drive four abreast on lanes separated by concrete barriers. Traffic proceeds patiently if stubbornly to its destination. No one honks. Cars manoeuvre from lane to lane, sometimes passing on the white lines between lanes, sometimes no more than a foot from our bus. No one seems to bother to turn on blinkers. Pedestrians crowd onto the street when the lights change. Some stand calmly on the line between lanes, waiting for the right moment to cross. Drivers take care of pedestrians, it seems. No one honks. Speed limits, although they exist, hardly appear necessary. Shanghai is considered the safest city in China. The streets are crowded with young people at night. The women walking alone appear relaxed. Laundry hangs from the balconies of the high rise apartments. A condo of 900 sq. ft. sells for $1 million we are told. Building codes only require an elevator above the 7th floor. Hence, the 6th and 7th floor condos are the cheapest, given the number of stairs to climb. The street signs are in Mandarin, the official language of China, and in English. Ling speaks an excellent English.

Oct 16/09: Shanghai considers itself the “Pearl of the Orient.” The local dialect considers itself “sweeter” than the Beijing Mandarin. It is especially evident in the soft lilting voices of the pretty tourist personnel. We take an elevator 500 metres half-way up the China’s tallest building. Stunning sky scrapers soar in every direction, fulfilling dreams of architects from all over the world. Eight thousand new cars are added to the streets every month. Construction jobs and washing sky scraper windows are not considered desirable, but workers flood in from the country and are willing to work for very low wages. Ling tells us that people in Shanghai are generally well educated and cosmopolitan. Being a girl is no longer considered a liability there. Given the shortage of marriageable young ladies, they can now demand the 5 “C’s” in a husband: condo, car, credit card, cute – and a good cook, unlike the rest of the country where boys are still the preferred child.
We take the Mag Lev (magnetic levitation) train to the airport – and back – a total of 7 minutes each way. It rides not quite touching the rails, using a system of oscillating magnetic fields a German tourist tells us, and attains speeds up to 431 km per hour, faster than a jet plane at lift-off, my pilot son tells me. It is, however, staggeringly expensive to build and operate. Another one is being planned before Shanghai’s 2010 World Expo.
In the evening we watch an Acrobatic show. The most stunning act is a girl of perhaps 11 or 12 years of age. Turning upside down, she contorts herself into fantastic configurations while balancing goblets on her feet. We are told many of these talented young people are orphans.
At the silk factory, the silk worms are raised indoors, feasting on mulberry leaves before spinning cocoons. Double male female cocoons are used for quilts. The cocoons are boiled, cleaned, stretched over a small frame, dried, then stretched again to form quilts. The fine filaments from the single cocoons are combined to create a strong elastic thread for sewing or silk embroidery. One silk worm spins 1 km of delicate strong thread.

Oct 17/09: Suzhou. The train station teams with people, most of them young, somehow surprising given the one child policy. Fifteen minutes before our train is scheduled to leave, the sea of people rises to its feet and pours down the stairs to the loading platform. The bullet train (a mere 212 kph) delivers us to Suzhou (Soo-jo) city, a relatively short distance northwest of Shanghai. In the “country” the housing continues to be vertical, 3 to 4 storey dilapidated apartment buildings with ancient grey tile roofs amid fish farms and areas of intense market gardening. Suzhou is a small town by Chinese standards, a mere six million. Like Shanghai, it is on the Yangtze River delta. It is described as a “Garden City” and the “Oriental Venice” with its many canals.

Oct 18/09: On Sunday the sun is shining. Buddhist pagodas dot the city centre. We visit oriental garden estates - ornately carved wooden buildings surrounding fish ponds with stunning rock gardens, an art form in which limestone is carved and then immersed in water for centuries – a gift to some future unknown beneficiary. We bring home gifts of silk embroidered art. The young guide at the silk factory tells us that in another 20 years China will be like Canada.

Oct 19/09: Three Gorges Dam. We return to Shanghai’s Pudong Airport and fly to Yi Chang. There we begin our Yangtze River cruise and fall asleep to the gentle rocking of our ship as it makes its way west to the Three Gorges Dam. It is the second largest hydro-electric dam system in the world after Egypt.

Oct 20/09: Ancient limestone mountains loom on either side of us. The Yangtze has 700 tributaries. The Three Gorges Dam was built primarily to control flooding we are told, and secondly to provide hydro-electric power. Houses, terraced orchards and gardens perch impossibly on the sides. The Three Gorges Dam gets its name from the three principle gorges upstream to the west, the Wu Gorge, Xi Ling Gorge and the Qutang Gorge. The mountains are pock marked with caves. Some, known as hanging coffins, bear the remains of the dead who wished to be nearer heaven. Stalagmites hover over the shoreline. Formerly, the narrow gorges of the Yangtze were prone to disastrous flooding and the loss of thousands of lives.

Oct 21/09: Wooden “peapod” boats, with wooden oars and hemp and wooden oar locks (no metal anywhere) take us up the Shennong Stream. The oarsmen are farmers whose land was displaced by the dam. They now farm on the terraced mountain sides and paddle boat loads of tourists, leaning their full weight into their long paddles. During the shallow summer season, they pull the boats with hemp ropes, wearing hemp sandals. In the past this was done naked, because the rough wet hemp clothing chafed their skin. Our pretty young guide and the aging gape toothed rudder man sing a hauntingly beautiful antiphonal love song for us.

Oct 22/09: Fengdu. We visit the Ghost (“Spirit”) City of Fengdu. Its pagoda is dedicated to evil spirits and the punishment for those who succumb to them. In Buddhist lore, the dead must spend time in Hell until they repent of their evil doings. Only then are they released to heaven. Graphic statues of evil gods line the walk. A graphic display of every torture known to humanity exemplifies Hell. A dragon slithers down a pole, reminiscent of the snake that tempted Eve in the Bible. Much of Fengdu city, the homes of 75,000 people, were submerged by the Three Gorges Dam project. They were relocated to higher ground. The population now stands at 100,000.

Chongqing: We proceed west up the Yangtze to the industrial city of Chongqing (Chongching), the most populous city in China with 32 million people. We watch the late afternoon sun, round and red – an uncanny sight.

Oct 23, 2009: Chongqing City is near the east-west centre of China. It has been extensively rebuilt since being heavily bombed by the Japanese in WWII. We visit the Panda Zoo, a beautifully groomed park where the grandmas and grandpas have beautiful designer-clothed grandchildren in tow, little emperors and empresses, we are told. We want a photo, but my camera has died and John forgot his at home. The Pandas were also very sweet and clever.
Chongqing is in Szechuan province, the most heavily industrialized and populous area in China. Its food is reputed to be the spiciest in the country, while Shanghai’s is considered more international and sweeter. Chongqing means “Mountain City,” but it is an a river valley at the junction of the Yangtze and one of its tributaries. Given its sheltered location, it is extremely hot and humid in summer. There are no subways - too much stone, few bicycles - too hilly, only cars and motorcycles. We are told the average income in China is 200 Yuan a month (CA $333), the basic tax rate is 13% and increases with income. There are no taxes on farm land.

Xi’An: We fly over the Ching Ling mountains that separate the Yangzte River and the Yellow River water sheds to the city of Xi’An (Shee-ahn). Shanghai is considered China’s “city of the future”. Beijing, as the seat of power, is the “city of the present.” Xi’An is China’s “city of the past,” the historical, cultural and geographical heart of Chinese civilization. Situated on a fertile river plain, Xi’An was at the start of the Silk Road. Marco Polo passed through Xi’An. A thousand years ago, bearded foreigners (Big Nose) from the West came to trade and lived there. The Hu people, Muslims, are their descendants. The foreigners wanted pomegranates, spices and nuts. The Chinese wanted large Arabian horses to defend themselves against the Mongols north of China. For 300 years China was strong and stable. It had freedom of religion including Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Christianity and Islam. Xi’An had many nationalities, women had the right to divorce and remarry, and a right to an education.
We visit a crowded marketplace in the Muslim quarter, body on body, pedlars hawking their wares. The Muslims are distinguished only by their head coverings. At 9:00 p.m. the traffic is in grid-lock, like the market. The population of Xi’An is 8,000,000.
At a pagoda, an old farmer in traditional Chinese garb, wearing a cone sun hat, tunic, and a long drooping moustache, smilingly rubs the round tummy of one of our fellow tour “Buddhas.” We gather around, chuckling. Finally the old man stops, then smilingly reaches out and rubs his first and third fingers together. “Buddha,” blushing, opens his wallet.
We continue on to the World Heritage Museum and archaeological dig of the Terra Cotta Soldiers. Well-diggers stumbled upon the site in 1979. The young future Emperor Qin (“Chin”), obsessed with death, ordered that clay replicas of 8,000 of the best soldiers be buried in trenches to protect his future tomb. His was a brief, bloody and brilliant reign. He became king at age 13 and took over the reigns of power at 22. In a period of 17 years, he subjugated China’s 24 states under his rule, thus ending feudalism; he reformed the military and the economy, and mandated Mandarin as the language of China. In 221 B.C. at the age of 39, he declared himself Emperor. He ordered the destruction of many ancient records and Confucian writings and murdered many Confucian scholars. He built a large road network throughout his conquered states and began the process of linking the fragments of what would become the Great Wall of China. He is reputed to have had 10,000 concubines. He died at the age of 50.
There is evidence of vandalism in these long trenches, presumably going back many centuries. Many clay soldiers are beyond repair. The wooden chariots have long since been reclaimed by the earth. The painstaking work continues. One of the well-digging farmers still lives – and autographs our commemorative book.

Oct 25/09: Beijing. We fly on to Beijing, the Chinese seat of government since 1421. With a population of 19 million, it is a little smaller than Shanghai. At 40 degrees latitude, like Chicago, the air is cool and the leaves are turning colour. The sky is blue. Our bus circles the Birds Nest Stadium, composed of squashed metal noodles during the day – transformed into a delicate colourful filigree at night. In Beijing, unlike polite Shanghai, we hear a few impatient horns. Here, cars with odd and even numbered license plates drive on alternate days, made possible by an extensive underground subway system. Like Shanghai, the street signs are in both Mandarin and English. We find the Chinese to be polite and friendly, virtually without exception, regardless of how large the city.
More Imperial Palaces, Forbidden Palaces and Summer Palaces – Emperors imagining themselves gods, a million craftsmen working over 40 years; a thousand concubines chosen for their beauty, carried to their conjugal bed wrapped in shrouds, no escape possible with their tiny broken feet, cast out when they grow “old,” forsaken by their families. A few gain power through their sons, scheming to surpass each other.

Oct 25/09: On Sunday outside the palace, people dance, a father proudly plays hacky-sac with his talented daughter. An aging musician plays “Red River Valley” on an ancient folk instrument. Lusty folk songs fill the air. The art work in the royal walk-way had been defaced by students during the cultural revolution, we are told. At the market, cut throat bargaining is the norm. Begin at one-third of the asking price, Bowen tells us. In better stores, we may only get 10% to 20% off. Looking over the shoulder of our sharpest bargainer, John comes home with a knock-off Rolex and Cartier watches for a total of $55. A week later, the “Rolex” is losing an hour a day. We take a three wheeled tricycle rickshaw ride home, 150 Yuan ($25), John agrees. The driver rubs his belly looking at John, two tricycles are necessary. John agrees. I note that he has not clarified the new terms. The ride back to the hotel is convoluted, strange, a little worrisome. However, crime rates are low in China – swift arbitrary justice and ancient moral codes, no doubt. There are far fewer prisoners in China (pop. 1.5 billion) than in the U.S. We arrive in a back lane across from the hotel. Three hundred Yuan, demands the driver. John protests, 150 Yuan. Both men move closer. John opens his wallet and produces 300 Yuan ($50. The next day a taxi charges 20 Yuan ($3.25). A good story.

Oct 26/09: Tiananmen Square has many young soldiers. Only a government approved tour guide is allowed to carry our yellow tourist Canada banner. In a separate building, Mao Zedong’s preserved body (d. 1976) lies in state for the worshipping throngs that extend for hundreds of yards. In the afternoon we watch the intricacies of jade carving and can’t resist buying.

Oct 27/09: On our last day we drive north of the city and gape in awe at the Great Wall of China climbing steeply up and down the ancient mountains. Postcards and photos cannot do it justice. The Great Wall spans 5,000 miles across China, equal to the distance across Canada. It began as fragments along the western and northern boundaries of China, built by small kingdoms as they sought to protect themselves from enemies, especially the Huns from Mongolia. The ruthless Emperor Qin began the process of linking the fragments of the wall. It continued under various kingdoms. Most of what we see today was completed by the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644 B.C.). The stone work was enlarged, the watch towers were redesigned and cannons were placed along the wall. The Great Wall has also been described as the longest cemetery in the world.
Upon our return to the city we walk the tranquil Sacred Way leading to the tombs of 14 Ming Dynasty emperors. Weeping willows line the wide path. The trees are changing colour. We see apple orchards, magpies, blackbirds, only a few people, unlike the crush of people at the marketplace. The Ming Dynasty was instrumental in forging powerful trade relationships within China and the rest of the world. Their ships had the means of measuring their location by the stars. They traded with the Middle East and Africa. It is believed they reached America before the Spaniards. The voyages ended after 1433 A.D. Records of the voyages were destroyed and ship-building became restricted to small vessels. Internal struggles led to the collapse of the Ming Dynasty in 1644 A.D. In the evening we watch the “Kung Fu Gong Show.” It is a masterful portrayal of the myth of Kung Fu in a blend of martial arts and dance.

Oct 28/09: Our journey to an ancient civilization ends. We board our Air Canada flight and begin our long journey home to Canada.

Justina Wiens

Dear Bowen, Oct 28th, 2009

Thank you very much for taking us to China and seeing "The Wonders of China" on the most interesting excursion. You planned the trip very well and we will recommend you highly!
- The choice of hotels were very good, the food and eating places were interesting, a real experience in Chinese style. There was ample selections to suit all our taste buds.
- The evening shows and entertainment were top notch.
- Seeing Shanghai, the train rides, the Yangtze River Cruise, seeing Suzhoi, Changdong, and Xi'an and Beijing were amazing and we truly experienced Chinse culture and their way of life.
- I personally would have liked to taste a persimmon and a pomegranate!
- Thank you for the fruit basket on the cruise.
All in all, the trip was "PERFECT". You have really become a very good friend.
A & H J.

Bowen, we've nearly come to the end of our China tour, and what a delightful experience is has been! !t certainly has lived up to the title on your website "The Wonders of China." We feel so fortunate to have had your tour company recommended to us.

We've been so impressed with your organizational skills, your attention to details and above all, your friendly, outgoing personality. We can sum up the trip with one of your favorite words "Perfect." There was precious little that we had to "suck up." We thought maybe Saturday would be such a day, but as it turned out it was a "perfect" day for climbing the wall.

You've lodged us in 5-star hotels, dined us in very classy restaurants, and you've taken us to see so many interesting sights as well as to see great shows.

So, on behalf of all of us here, I'd like to extend a very warm and sincere thank you for all of your efforts in making this a very enjoyable and memorable event. Here is a small token of our

Phyllis and Len Wiebe, Doug and Linda Moffat, Henry and Elsie Dyck, Peter and Margaret Peters, Cornel and Martha Rempel, Jake and Jean Rempel, Margret Malaviya, Cecilia Connelly, Olga and Edgar Klassen, Larry Peterson, Sungok Kim (April 2008)

It’s a Long Way To China
- Song written by Evelyn Werner for Bowen

It’s a long way to China
It’s a long way to go.
Bowen, Frank and the Helens taught us everything we Know.
ShangHai was exciting
Full of interest and bright lights.
But the bikes and mopeds had all the RIGHTS.
Then came Yi Chang more stairs up and down..
A tiny museum in a country town.
Onto the Yantze River we boraded our boat
And watched while through the locks we did float.
We were paddled down a river
In a tiny pea pod boat.
Our oarsmen were amazing
As they had our boat a racing.
No one is complaining as were having such great fun.
We’ll have such great memories
When our trip is all done.
More fun and games ahead of us
More chinese food and beer.
It’s a long long way to China
But were sure glad we're HERE.

We have travelled to many different places around the world and our recent trip to China with WONDERS OF CHINA TOURS was at the top level. Our escort, Bowen Li, was knowledgeable, caring, always available and quick to meet the groups' and individuals needs. This trip was outstanding in value. Everything ran smoothly. Our accommodations, check-ins, meals, transportation, scheduled tours and guides were closely monitored by our escort.

There were so many highlights. The metropolis of Shanghai with its outstanding architecture, lit-up waterfront, beautiful gardens, temples and museums were wonderful to visit. The cruise on the Yangzi River and viewing the Gorges and Dam project was amazing. The Pandas and Siberian bears in Chong Quing zoo were entertaining. Eling Park, with its bamboo groves, where we sang and danced with some of the local people, was delightful. We enjoyed the wonderful meals including Peking Duck and Dumpling dinners. The stop at the Tibetan Medical Centre for foot massages was an unexpected pleasure. Learning about Chinese painting, embroidery, cloisonnne, silk,pearl and jade manufacturing, and the long impressive history of China, was most informative.

The drive through the narrow streets of the old Beijing Hutong district in rickshaws was very special. This was topped off by visiting and having lunch in one of the homes there. We also learned to make dumplings for when we get home.

Seeing the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'An where they were discovered, walking The Great Wall of China- the eighth wonder of the world, standing in Tian'anmen Square was to us unbelievable that we were really there. We were entertained by the acrobats in the Portman Acrobatic Show as well as the beauty of the Tang Dynasty Show and Beijing Opera. And , of course, as promised, the bargain shopping was a lot of fun. We came home happy, tired and with another suitcase.

Thanks for everything, Bowen. It was great.

Life is full of surprises, and travelling is like reading a book. China certainly was a book filled with mystery, magic and wonders. Every day was such a delight!

I love meeting people, tasting different foods, hearing languages, feeling different emotions and seeing new things. China made me fully alive - all my five senses were constantly filled to the brim!

Bowen, you deserve an Oscar - that I give to you. Thank-you so, so much for such a wonderful trip. I love China and shall pass the love on.

Love, Estelle C.

All 100% of the people who travelled to China with Bowen in Oct/Nov 1006 stated that they were "Very Satisfied" that they had received what they had paid for, many with underlines and exclamation points!

Some of the comments from the post-trip surveys:

- Fantastic! Bowen, you have done a superb job to organize this trip. Such variety from sights, to food, to evening entertainment.

- This trip will be the highlight experience for many years to come.

- I personally considered this to be a tour of a lifetime!! Learned so much about China! Excellent organization!!! Your efforts to keep all of us safe, happy, comfortable was very appreciated. Only comment or suggestion that I would make is to spend more time at Panda Park and Eling Park. Otherwise terrific tour. I can’t say enough good words!

- We will bore all our friends and relatives about all our positive experiences. Also, because we are not great picture takers (the camera is always left on the bus) we will tell them to go to the web site and view our tour group pictures.

- Very impressed how much effort you put in to get us food for all dietary needs. It was above and beyond expectation. Guides were great. Transportation was great and numerous extras were a surprise and welcome.   If you want to go to China, go with Bowen Li.

- I will recommend this company for travel to China to all my friends. Having an escort who is so knowledgeable about the language and China is absolutely priceless. Our escort went beyond my expectations to provide a wonderful experience for everyone.


Dear Bowen,

Thank you for giving us a truly amazing trip. China and her people were AMAZING, with every day a new exciting adventure. The guides, transportation, hotels, food and tours all greatly exceeded our expectations. We can't wait to go again.   G & J Wimble

Their trip was from Sep 06 to Sep 15, 2006
Schedule: Winnipeg - Pek - Xi-'An - Shanghai- Winnipeg
T our level : 5 star in everything (hotel, guide, food and service of course)

Bowen Travel Ltd. - Travel Tours of China