Although the tour began with a bit of a hiccup, with the bus driver unable to locate the hotel, this experience was left in the dust as four immense days spent in Foshan unfolded. The so-called Winter Camp started off in heat that would put Auckland's summer to shame! Foshan was much hotter than expected and I am glad I bought a pair of shorts! The three days of gruelling kung fu training were aspiring, not only because we were in Wong Fei Hong's museum but also because we knew that we were the sole attention of two veteran kung fu masters for 3 days. Watching and participating in these martial arts performances was truly rewarding and greatly assisted us in undersaundhig local custom and culture. Of course, Foshan was not just about the martial arts training. For most of us, this was our first glimpse of China so naturally we were curious and eager to scope out the place. On our own, we managed to find our way to the wet markets, the street markets and several expensive shopping malls, not to mention grocery shopping. The freedom Janet allowed us was greatly appreciated. We were also very impressed with the lavish accommodation that greeted us in Foshan. Lunch and dinner which was supplied by the hotel was plentiful though in some cases too much. The variety of food served was limited compared to die food available back home, but this did not detract from the ovtwall experieuce in anyway. We hed several langeage lessons in both Mandarin and Cantonese. I was quite disappointed with these as the teachers did not appear to have much experience teaching the language, resulting in very little being taught at all.
We left Foshan with a great feeling of satisfaction, knowing that we put a lot of hard work into the martial arts training. A change in schedule meant we were staying two nights in Jung-Sea. This departure from the itinerary resulted in me not being able to meet a friend in Guangzhou which was a little disappointing. The resort we stayed in, Bai Han Resort Hotel was substandard, although was rated 4 star. We found a couple of large cockroaches in our bathroom and the doorframes were rotting. However we had a good laugh at the situation, saying it was like living in 'real' China, although that was probably not the case. What was to follow was for most people the highlight and the most meaningful part of the trip; visiting our ancestral villages and meeting distant relatives who still live in China. Meeting our relatives in Jung-Sen appeared quite organised, as our relatives obviously knew where to pick us ap and at what time.
Although worthwhile, I felt Shanzhun could have been a greater experience. We only managed to stop at one of many large shopping malls and did not manage to have a walk outside. This was largely due to time constraints and the large distance from Jung-Sen. This was not helped by the bus driver's inadequacy to find his bearings. The Minority Park Village we visited was fascinating, especially the show towards the end of the night, however I felt the time spent at the Minority Park was a little in excess and that more time shopping would have been time better spent.
The visit to the local English school in Guangzhou was quite satisfying, due to the fact that the students were very pleased to see us and were extremely hospitable. Although most were below our age bracket, I found that we were able to mix with them with ease. Their games may have felt a little childish but we had heaps of fun embarrassing ourselves in front of them and our friends. Although a whole day seems like a long time to be spending at one place, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of interacting with local students and witnessing their lifestyle first hand.
Visiting the villages in Poon Yu was a little less organised compared to Jung-Sen. Although I managed to locate my village and family fairly easily, for some, insufficient research by both themselves and the organisers meant that they may have missed ont on a very fulfilling experience. I believe this could have been prevented if more action was taken at home on both sides. Also a considerable amount of time was spent looking at a piece of a spaceship that nobody seemed to be interested in. I believe this was the idea of the Chinese Officials. Nevertheless, I enjoyed Poon Yu and greater Guangzbou, and in hindsight it may have been worthwhile to have spent another day there without a schedule.
Sun Yat Sen's museum and memorials may have been more interesting if we had understood who he was and what he did. I felt the time we spent there was overextended, but it was nice to meet some Australian born Chinese.
The time spent in Hangzhou was well worth it, and the mount of time we spent there was fitting. The temperature felt extremely cold but was beneficial in terms of preparing us for Beijing's ridiculously cold weather. The scenic sites and temples were quite nice as was the peaceful boat cruise. The water village was worth a look, although the bus ride to get there took a while due to an accident.
Shanghai is a city that I would definitely have liked to have spent more time in. The Shanghai pearl tower museum was impressive with detailed miniatures and life sized models. However the silk factory that followed was a waste of time, as with most of the other so called 'factories'. I.e. the enamel,jade, pearl and numerous tea factories, with exception of the tea factory in Hangzhou. The escape down Nanjing Road was furious, there being more people on one street than I have ever seen before. Although the shopping did not suit our tastes, I felt the experience was eye-opening. Old Shanghai was enjoyable because we got to venture out on our own in the markets.
The free days were a great idea, though two in Beijing (in the winter season) was probably too many. Bargaining is an experience that everyone should try, although there could be some embarrassing moments when you find you were ripped off later. There were plenty of those this year.
The train to Beijing was first class and better than flying on a plane. Getting up at 7am into the freezing cold was a tough ask but we were allowed to recover in the hotel thankfully. Tiananmen Square and The Great Wall were the highlights of Beijing. Seeing Mao Zedong was truly amazing and climbing the Great Wall was exhilarating. The rickshaw ride was a pleasant addition. I also enjoyed the Summer Palace and The Temple to Heaven.
Hong Kong is a happening place, one day was not enough! Because we of the limited time we had to make the most of it and venture out at a rapid pace. This made things more exciting in the end. Although things are more expansive in Hong Kong, there is a much greater range and more items that suited our tastes. In saying this, consumer electronics should be purchased here rather than China. Using the subway was very simple, I recommend purchasing an Octopus card.
Saying goodbye to the gang was the most difficult part of the trip, because of the friendships made. When people ask me what were the most exciting parts of the trip, I will emphasise meeting the relatives end seeing the village, and climbing The Great Wall of China. This trip to China was one of a lifetime. I am already trying to talk two of my friends into going next year!