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– The Local Way


Nicholas Klar takes a deep breath and jumps aboard a local tour to Jiangsu and Nanjing

We were deep into planning our Chinese New Year trip to the north of the country when we fell victim to the China travel syndrome. We had booked very early to fly out to Harbin before heading down to Jilin but in a classic travel scenario our bookings were mysteriously cancelled. The call from the agent started something along the lines of,

“Do you still need those airfares for this weekend?”

“Oh”, I responded “you mean the ones I booked three months ago and have been in constant contact with you about?”

And of course things just deteriorate from there...

Obviously someone had more money and/or guangxi than us and hence left us scratching our heads for alternative ideas. Apart from the one that was to never ever bother doing business with that agent again.

As it occurred a couple of colleagues heard our tale of woe. Feeling pity for us they asked us to join them (at the last minute) on a three-day local jaunt to Jiangsu that they were going on with their partners - all at the bargain price of ¥450. “How much?” we inquired, not quite believing the price they had told us. That’s less than three gin and tonics in Xintiandi. We had visions of hotels that had seen better days under the Guomindang, smoky buses and karaoke machines. But hey, what the hell, we decided to do it anyway. At ¥450 we could always leave early and write it off to experience.

We set out early at 6am with our friends for a 7am departure from People’s Square. Upon arrival we found only a minivan waiting. This was only obviously going to be a very small tour - and no karaoke. Apart from the six of us there was one Chinese family of three. So it was, in a way, a promising start.

“Sun Yat Sen is revered as the father of modern China and many Chinese see this as a form of pilgrimage.”

However, what was not so promising, it was soon to become clear that our guides had obviously not done this trip too often. After a four-hour trek through the rain we did a few circuitous laps of Nanjing before the driver took us down several small lanes, shouting for directions as he went along. Finally we found our way to Sun Yat Sen’s mausoleum, though I’m not positive that was the intended destination. Sun Yat Sen is revered as the father of modern China and many Chinese see this as a form of pilgrimage. He wished to be buried in Nanjing but I doubt he would have ever envisaged what would become of his request for a simple burial place.

The guides told us to leave our gear in the van as we would have lunch first. They became a wee bit antsy when four of us decided that we were quite ravenous and would have lunch at the first place we came to. Uh oh, maybe a cultural faux pas? We were meant to go to the places they had planned for, viz, where they could get a cut or a free lunch for taking a group there. However as this was to be constant theme, by the end of the third day they had just given up trying to get us to do what they wanted.

In what appeared as an act of malevolence they took us straight to the mausoleum and our cameras and umbrellas were left in the van. The rain continued to pour all afternoon but that didn’t deter our guides or the other mass hordes of tourists. I’d hate to see it on a nice day! There are apparently several other good sights to be seen in the nearby Zijinshan area. It’s just that we never got to see them. Maybe next time. After that it was down to a historic street in the city - dominated by Coke, McDonalds and KFC signage - and the rain continued on...

“ Yangzhou was once a great economic and cultural centre.”

There’s quite a bit else to see in the city of Nanjing - but we unfortunately didn’t get see any of that either. It was back on the bus with one hour to Yangzhou and our first big surprise. The accommodation we were staying in was a very nice 4-star hotel, about one year old, and not the rundown dumpy place we’d expected. Yangzhou was once a great economic and cultural centre. These days it would be best known to waiguoren for it’s famous Yangzhou chaofan.

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