Upon arrival at Beijing Airport we went through immigration and just like we have in USA, it has desktop camera to take pictures of new arrivals. I paid no attention and when the officer asked Elsa to look into the camera, I put my head with hers too and the laughing officer had to explain that this is not a family pictures place! I didn't expect this kind of levity from border guards, my experience in the former USSR was quite different.
Here are some highlights of the trip in no particular order.
#1 - Economy.
Say what you want and quote all leading economists about imminent collapse of the Chinese economy, I personally was very much impressed by the leap which took only 7 years to bring China from this to that!
In my estimates based on average GNP growth over the last 20 years, China GNP will exceed USA GNP in just another 17 years. Today Chinese GNP is 1/3rd of USA.
#2 - Friendly people.
For some reason I thought of Chinese as being "cold", and was pleasantly surprised how warm Chinese are. Many people approached us on the streets just to practice English, take picture with us, or asked for autograph. I had no idea we were such a celebrities! :). Many people, especially the older generations, spoke..Russian! Lots of Chinese took me for Russian and not an American, even before I opened up my mouth! Few even invited me for a game of ping pong!
#3 - Xian
If you ask us both what was the most impressive historic monument, Terracotta Warriors are surely up there.
#4 - Tibet
Our media says:
China invaded Tibet to the huge detriment of the locals. In my controversial opinion, China invaded Tibet and locals are major beneficiaries of the invasion in 1951. I can't imagine the economy of Tibet being better under Dalai Lama rule. As pictures will show, the locals are free to practice their religion any way they feel like it. "No matter how thin you slice it, there will always be two sides." — Baruch Spinoza
#5 - Guilin
If you were to Thailand and visited Krabi or Phuket, you won't be impressed by Li River. But underground caves are the most impressive I ever seen. Terraces were more impressive in Peru.
The best food was in Guilin, lots of hot pepper spices. I wish I tried snake, but shortages of cash prevented that from happening.
#6 - Beijing.
Very few stores and practically no local restaurants accept credit cards. Plastic hasn't made it all the way through in China. To my big surprise, the biggest amount of stores taking credit cards was in...Tibet!
I asked our guide about what happened on China - USSR border in 1969. She didn't know, but our driver chimed in and told us about Soviets invading Chinese Island on Ussuri River.
In USSR we were told just the opposite. I didn't argue, but when I went home, I Googled and sure enough, Chinese version is an accurate one, while Soviet's was NOT. I was surprised a little and so was my father, but facts are facts.
#7 - Communist Party of China
Having one party system is China's strength. After we all seen the "whore house" which took place in US Congress during the budget / debt ceiling debates, I'd rather have one party system. Cinese Communist party of today is more Capitalistic than Democrats and Republicans combined.
If Mao got awaken today, first he wouldn't recognise the country he left, secondary he'd shot 90% of the modern Communists and sent the remainded to the re-education camps!
T-Shirt which put big smile on my face. One drawback though: As an American, I can say EVERYTHING I feel about our Government and I am afraid that an average Chinese can say EVERYTHING they want about...OUR Government ONLY :)
Here are few more random thoughts for future travellers there:
local merchants at the markets love US dollars too. Avoid buying ANYTHING at the places the tour director takes you like:
Jade Factory, Silk Museum, etc, the prices are out of this world. When bargaining, feel free to counteroffer with 20% of the price asked. Nobody asks for double price anymore, and everybody start much higher.
Fake brands (like Prada, Bally, etc) are so good they are UNREAL!, copied to the smallest detail and usually 25% off the price of the original, often sold in the BACK rooms of the leather shops. I did buy a few, guilty!
Avoid PERFECTLY English speaking Chinese on the street who'll introduce themselves as students, etc. After giving the compliments to your wife, children, your hat, etc, they'll suggest you follow them to various places where you can see their work. Their purpose in life to get you to places where you can buy stuff at 600% mark-up. My polite excuse was I have diarrhea and can only go to the nearest toilet. None of those good English speakers offered to take me there :)