[Sound of Kenny G]
Hear that? Airport Muzak. Could be Dulles or LAX, but it's the sound of a brand new terminal, deep in Hunan province.
The most important preparation for China doesn't involve packing one's bags; rather, jettison your mental baggage. China isn't what it used to be. More affluent, more cosmopolitan. Communist in name only, many would argue. There's no problem finding comfort and a warm welcome. Not just the bought-and-paid-for welcome you get in four- and five-star hotels, but off the beaten track, like when tour guide Rick Montgomery was ahead of schedule taking 30 senior citizens to the airport.
If a guide feels free to just drop in on a Chinese family, it makes you wonder whether a full-blown tour is still necessary to get around China? Maybe the best way to answer the question is to ask: how much am I like Barbara Wilson from Gloucester, Massachusetts, in Beijing with her husband Dick."
Barbara is independent, likes her creature comforts -- and China is now ready for tourists like her. But like the tour companies, her approach to China travel leaves little to chance. She sticks to the parts that have been made accessible to tourists. However, there are thousands of backpackers who don't and can't afford a top hotel, or a driver to meet them at each stop. They see a different China.
Ada Hatchner, 19, and Matthew Erasp, 23, college students from Minnesota, have been off the beaten path for five months.
Until you go out and explore for yourself, just thrown in, the shock of the system is what gets you I think. What else? A lot of the mothers out with their kids, will stop their kids, take their hand and point us out like they've never seen a white person before.
Whether you decide to get about China on your own or with a tour, here is some bottom line wisdom, the Ying and the Yang.
Rudy: Who do you bump into when you travel around China? Is the place overrun with Americans? Let's bring Marty Goldensohn back here with us. Marty, do you find many Westerners, say, at the Great Wall?
Marty: Yes, but most tourists in China are...Chinese, from other provinces. Many have the income to travel now. The next biggest group is the ethnic Chinese: citizens of Thailand, Singapore, Canada...wherever.
Rudy: They come to find their roots?
Marty: Absolutely. And they say so. For example, outside Bejing, I bumped into Chou Sia and her husband Edwin, from Singapore.
Rudy: Marty, could you get a sense of whether those overseas Chinese felt welcome, comfortable in China? After all, many of these families left or escaped half a century ago.
Marty: Welcomed, yes. But comfortable, not always. Because of an intereting travel glitch. They're steered to Chinese-speaking hotels, when in fact, often they don't speak Chinese -- not Mandarin anyway. Typical was Sean Peat's whose family's been in Thailand three generations. She wanted to rent a bike. Her concierge couldn't understand.
Marty: So in that one respect your better off being American or German and booked by your travel agent into a western hotel.
Rudy: The Germans are great travelers.
Marty: Many Germans in China. Great hikers. Young and old. Like Benno. I remember asking him if he were retired.
Rudy: That's pretty funny. Who else is touring China?
Marty: Australia's nearby relatively. Many backpackers. My favorite one, 80-year old Claude Batten who was retracing Mao's Long March, that bloody cross-country military trek in the 30's. Claude, treking alone, was starting in the south, in a place called Yuyan.
Rudy: Sounds like you met some characters.
Marty: Yeah, for sure. That's half the fun.
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