I never dreamed I would visit China until my choir at Pioneer High School (Ann Arbor, MI) made it possible. After months of fundraising and preparation, our amazing journey began with a 14 hour flight to Shanghai. We visited the Jade Buddha Temple, capturing pictures of golden statues of protectors and statues of women carved from beautiful, rare jade. We visited a local family living in a typical high rise apartment, learning about their family customs and quietly observing their living situation. Here, five families shared a washroom, living room and tiny kitchen. Only the bedrooms were separate. The building smelled of sewage; it appeared rusty and falling apart. Seeing how these soft-spoken people lived made me sad, feeling fortunate for what I have at home.
We traveled by bus to Suzhou, passing rice fields filled with farmers struggling to support their families. Arriving in Suzhou at a famous carpet factory, we watched intently as women of all ages quickly weaved many different shapes and sizes of rugs. The colors instantly attracted your eye, and the designs were breathtaking. Next stop: a silk factory. We were shown the entire process of silk-making, from raising silk worms to the silk thread sewn into specific designs.
Onward to Shanghai International Airport for our flight to Wuhan, followed by an exhausting six hour bus trip-no air-conditioning in 90 degree heat-to board the Yangtze Princess Cruise ship. Spending three nights on this beautiful ship, we visited the Three Gorges Dam, the largest, most energy efficient dam in the world. From the ship, we traveled by smaller boats down the Daning River to the wooden sampan station where we rode sampans down the Shennong Stream. The water was crystal clear with a warm blue tint, and the cliffs soared above us. We gave a formal performance, singing for our Chinese audience. They applauded with excitement, especially when we sang, in Chinese, “Mo Li Hua,” a traditional Chinese folk song. We disembarked in Chongqing, where we visited the Zoo, seeing the giant pandas at feeding time.
We next flew to Xi’an where we enjoyed a traditional, scrumptious dumpling banquet. The dumplings were filled with meat, shrimp, fish and vegetables. Our next day took us to see the incredible Terra-Cotta Warriors. The clothing details and their facial expressions were so real that it almost frightened me. Leaving Xi’an, we took an overnight train to Bejing. We stood in the middle of Tiananmen Square and wandered through the Forbidden City. It was mind-boggling to me that an emperor of China once ruled this land and walked on the same ground that I walked upon then.
To end our amazing trip, we hiked part of the Great Wall of China. I was speechless as I walked up the uneven steps. I felt on top of the world, realizing that this might be the only “Wonder of the World” I’ll visit in my lifetime.
Orient Odyssey planned our amazing 13-day trip, highlighted by the cities of Shanghai, Suzhou, the Yangtze River Cruise, Chongqing, Xian and Beijing. We traveled by plane, overnight sleeper train and bus. We stayed in American-style hotels, but ate local food. Our guides were amazing, giving us personal glimpses into the lives of the Chinese people we met on our journey. Visiting this country really opened my eyes to both the extraordinary beauty and the extreme poverty that people experience daily in many parts of the world. I will never forget this trip to China. My experiences with the people, food and places of China are the most amazing travel experiences of my life.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.