Carter Hooper, content writer at the OTA Corporate Office in Irvine, writes about his recent trip to China. Whole LOTA Love would love to hear from OTA members about their recent travels. We’ll post your story along with any great pics you’ve taken. And don’t forget to get the OTA Bull and Bear in a shot (Carter forgot!). Pick one up in my office before you hit the road, set sail or take off! -- Deanne
I just got back from a 2-week vacation to China (HOORAY for Discretionary Time Off, though after being in the thick of creating the new Online Core Strategy Course, Gene might have signed off on my request over concern for my mental health). My sister lives there, her husband is posted with the State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. I’ve had a thing for China ever since I read “Riding the Iron Rooster” by Paul Theroux when I was a teenager, though the country portrayed in that classic travelogue is a far cry from what it is today.
China makes the news a lot nowadays and mostly for the wrong reasons: trade tariffs, espionage hacks and technology theft. But forget all that for a moment and let me tell you how it really is and how the people really are.
The Great Firewall
First off, the only way you would even suspect China is governed by the Communist party is the circling we had to do at Beijing Capital Airport, waiting for Putin’s plane to take off after the conclusion of a Belt and Road Conference (Google it). Also, there are cameras just about everywhere, including lurking behind bushes in some of the gorgeous parks. And you’d have to throw in the “Great Firewall of China” which prevents access to sites like Google, Facebook and Twitter (a limited Bing is fine, though) but is easily breached by loading a VPN on your phone or computer before you land. (Tip: there is no firewall in and around the Beijing airport). Other than that, China is just about the most open, joyous place I have ever been. The people are warm, friendly and helpful, although not a lot of them speak English, so download a handy-dandy translation app if you go.
Beijing and Beyond
Beijing was our base, and there is plenty of amazing sights to see there. You’re probably going to ask me about the Forbidden City and that was nice, but the real finds are the funky hutong neighborhoods and undiscovered gems like the grounds surrounding the Temple of Heaven. That’s where you will find outdoor yoga classes, exercise parks and middle- and mature-aged women aerobic dancing to boom boxes blaring catchy Chinese pop tunes.
Our real destination was Lijiang, a beautifully preserved ancient town in the far western province of Yunnan, close to Myanmar at the foot of the Himalayas. It’s near Shangri-La, another ancient town and the inspiration for James Hilton’s “Lost Horizon”. Highlights were day trips to the mighty Tiger Leaping Gorge of the Yangtze River and the jaw-dropping Yak Meadow, halfway up the majestic Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and accessible only by a two-hour drive up narrow mountain roads followed by a ride in a cable car. We also took advantage of the many great hiking trails.
Great Investment Opportunities…
You can take the man away from OTA, but you can’t pry the OTA outta the man. I couldn’t help but notice several things I’d jump on and try to bring to the States if I had the gumption and cash:
1.Thin, delicate, sparkly ribbons woven into the long hair of young Chinese women and girls. They really look great and I haven’t seen it over here much, if at all.
2. A food stand dedicated to spiralizing single small potatoes, stretching them along a wooden stick and flash frying to order…for about USD $1. Delicious and filling!
3. Amazing fresh fruit stands consisting of an appealing buffet of chunked and whole fruit, all enveloped in a low, floating cloud of water mist. You start with a big plastic bowl, select the assortment you want and bring it to the chopper at the end of the line, where your fruit will be dramatically peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces. It’s weighed and sold by the pound for again about $1 USD. The Chinese aren’t fond of super-sweet Western-style confections, and the popularity of these stands is probably one reason I hardly saw any overweight locals.
4. A career correcting all the mangled English translations on signage throughout the country. And while I’m at it, instead of the seemingly random pairing of English words for hipster-type clothing, come up with something that at least make sense.
…and one Stinker
One word: durian. This notoriously stinky fruit was sold at stands everywhere in Lijiang and throughout western China. While I thought the smell wasn’t that repulsive (more like a gas leak), the stuff itself has an unpleasant, sweet, oniony, garlicky taste going on. A big nope.
Things You’ll Notice
- Cash is frowned upon throughout the country; everyone pays for everything with the WeChat app. WeChat is like a combination of Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter with banking, payment and translation services thrown in. Everybody—and I mean everybody—uses it.
- If you’re a vegetarian like I am, there’s going to be trouble, as many places consider dishes with just “a little pork” to be “vegetarian.”
- Western toilets are the exception outside the cities and even in many of the older places in town. Practice at home on a Squatty Potty.
- The highways! Most of the roads are brand-spanking new and pristine. True, full of crazy drivers and traffic jams, but when you live in Southern California, it just feels like home.
If You Go: Leisure visits require a Chinese visa, which takes a little well-worth-it work. You will also need an invitation to visit (ask me, my sister would LOVE to have you!) and a couple hundred dollars for the paperwork. You can also hire a service to help you with the process, which will run you about $500 but makes it incredibly easy. Cross your fingers and you may be granted a visa good for 12 years.
The Great Wall at Jinshanling, about an hour-and-a-half’s drive north of Beijing. See it in all its glory outside of the touristy areas. There are plenty of areas where you can practically have it all to yourself.
Yak Meadow, halfway up Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in Yunnan.
Tiger Leaping Gorge, near Shangri La in Yunnan
We need these here in the States…bad.