China For Baby Boomers
To be quite honest, visiting China had never crossed my mind until I spent some time chatting to my globe-trotting cousin, Liz Linsell, an avid China fan and solo traveller who runs Forever Young Adventures in China – a tour agency which specialises in taking small groups of travellers to that massive country.
Regaling me with tales of her travels around this vast and mysterious country (aka The Middle Kingdom – which sounds like something out of Lord of the Rings) – China is now firmly on my travel wish list. Here’s an excerpt from her latest blog, over to Liz.
Ever since returning from my first visit to China, I’ve had to develop an arsenal of replies to the inevitable questions…. “Don’t they eat dog?” “Is it safe?” “How do you communicate?”
Most of us have a pre-conceived idea about what China is like, probably as a result of Western media bias. But seriously, there is no other place in the world quite like it for the curious traveller with an enquiring mind and a desire to explore the unknown.
You’d be surprised how few people have woken up to the fact that China is becoming pretty important as a mover and shaker on the world stage; even fewer who appreciate that to visit one of its major cities, like Shanghai, is to get a glimpse of the future.
Here is a totally cashless society where people use free shared bikes and scooters, amazing public transport, where bullet trains race around the country at 300kmh, and you can get anything (and I mean anything) delivered to your door/desk in a matter of hours.
Finding Your Bearings
I’m not going to lie, when you arrive in China for the first time, suddenly finding yourself in this amazing parallel universe can be unsettling – in addition to not speaking the language or understanding any of the signage.
But once you’ve acclimatized, it dawns on you that the Chinese people are really no different to you and me, with the same dreams, wants and needs. Many people speak English and are very happy to use their smartphone language translator to help you find your way. And it helps that announcements and signage on the super-efficient Shanghai metro network are in both English and Mandarin.
Over the millennia, the people of China have had their ups and downs and been through a tough few dynasties, with rampant poverty in the cities and rural regions. But they have their sights now firmly fixed on a better life and China is galloping headlong into the future with one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
An Increasingly Wealthy Society
China has achieved an almost miraculous reduction in poverty with the percentage of people living in extreme poverty falling from 88% to 1.85% in 2018. A recent UN report stated that 76% of the achievements made in global poverty reduction come from China. https://www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/05/31.pdf
Since my first visit to Shanghai in 2014, I’ve seen massive changes to the city’s architecture, with rampant inner-city development replacing many of the old ‘Lilong’ courtyard living communities. It’s sad to see the old areas disappearing, but I really do appreciate that having your own loo and running water is way better than the old-style ablutions! All the locals I spoke to were delighted with their new living conditions, even if it meant living on the 25th floor of a communal tower block, The communities still remain largely intact, with early morning Tai Chi groups and babysitting groups of grannies in the parks and gardens down below.
Shanghai’s Urban Development Museum in People’s Square is a six storey treasure house of brilliantly presented information about Shanghai’s past, present and future and makes a great starting point for a visit to this incredible city. Make sure you get there early to allow yourself plenty of time. And if you’re over 60, ask for the senior citizen’s rate!
A Great Place to Start Your China Adventure
Shanghai is a great place to start your China adventure; it’s an exciting blend of ancient and modern, renowned for its historical landmarks such as the Yuyuan Garden, a classical garden which dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)and was owned by a government officer named Pan Yunduan. The Jing’an temple, one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Shanghai is located in the flourishing downtown area and was first built in the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280). The Old Town city bazaar is a hive of activity and street shopping, and the magnificent colonial buildings adjacent to the riverside Bund afford hours of exploration.
One of my favourite places is the old residential courtyards and winding back streets with tiny eating houses, locals playing mah-jong, plying their trade and watching the world go by. Across the Huangpu river with its busy waterborne traffic is the space-age Pudong business district with its fabulous architecture and the Shanghai Tower, the world’s second-highest building.
The quiet old port of Xinchang, an ancient water town 18 km downtown from the city centre, just half an hour on the super-modern Metro, has a 1,300-year-old history and few visitors. I was fortunate to be taken on a walking tour by Bill, a Shanghainese inhabitant who is passionate about his city. He’s lived here through the bad and good times and shared his stories about the history and evolution of this great city.
We meandered through interlacing lanes, canals, carved stone-arch bridges and old wooden architecture of courtyard-style houses from the Ming and Qing dynasties that provide glimpses of a time when Pudong was merely a string of individual villages. We popped into the Number 1 Tea House where scenes from the film Lust, Caution by famous Chinese director Ang Lee (Life of Pi: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and sipped green tea before going in search of street food in the winding old lanes.
My adventures in China have given me a completely new perspective on life and travel, but I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of this vast and enigmatic land. China is such a huge country with so much to see – it’s got to be one of the most exciting travel destinations in the world today.
An Excellent Country For Baby Boomer Travelers
On many occasions, I’ve met older travellers like myself who were rather unwillingly caught up in tour groups with fixed itineraries, crack of dawn starts and mandatory shopping side-trips at the behest of a commission-earning tour guide. Occasionally some would break away from their group and come exploring with me. I made some great friends.
For the first time traveller in China, it’s really hard to know where to go, what to see and do, who to book through. Many people have asked me “Should I join a tour group?”, “Can I arrange my own tickets and accommodation?” “Do I need a tour guide?” What about the language barrier” and “Can you help me to plan my holiday?’ And so Forever Young Travel was born, designing adventures in China for the mature and young-at-heart traveller with a burning desire to get off the beaten track!
With all the delights that Shanghai has to offer, it’s really hard to tear yourself away, but just a few hours out into the countryside, mysterious ancient China reveals itself with jaw-droppingly beautiful countryside and the friendliest people.