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Okay, so we got up early. Not because we had to but because the rock hard Flintstone bed wrecked every good thing our lovely massage ladies did.   We packed at leisure and headed out to breakfast.  We had another beautiful smorgasbord and ate without having to rush.  This hotel actually has real tea so I’m a bit excited while eating breakfast.  After breakfast we head back up to the room to finish everything and sit for a while before we have to meet Alice in the lobby at 10am.

When we get downstairs, Alice is waiting so helps us hand our keys back and get organised.  We head out to the car for the last time and head towards the airport.  When we get there, we weigh our suitcases.  I’m one kilo over my 32kg limit but I know if I take my tripod out, I’ll be okay.  Cecile’s is 31.5 so she’s okay.  But when we get up there, they tell us that its 23kg a bag, so we have to lighten the bags but can have two on.  I’m okay coz I have taken stuff out and put it in the new bag I bought at the terracotta factory yesterday.  I just have to shuffle stuff around.  Cecile didn’t have another bag so they tell us that the overweight luggage charge is 2000 Yuan however she can have it boxed for 42 Yuan.  It’s a no brainer.  She packs her stuff in a box which is taped up for her, but all the while, Alice is hovering over her shoulder and dragging stuff out of her bag so the tension is rising a bit lol.

Finally we’re checked in and Alice has gone.  We find our way over to the gates and wait around till our flight is ready to  board.  This time I have a window seat so I’m pretty happy and can have a look over not only Xi’an but also Guangzhou when we get there. Trouble is, this smog is so bad that everything is just white.  I could not live here because of the smog.  I am so looking forward to seeing blue skies.  Even in the mountains, though we have days of fog and mist, they do eventually clear and the sky is blue.  Here it is white all the time.. We’ve had two days of being able to see a blue sky the whole time we’re here.  Thankfully one was at the Great Wall so at least that was okay.

We board the plane and seriously, these are the smallest seats I’ve seen.  They are okay width wise but the room between the seat and the next seat is almost non existent.  We can’t even put the trays down when lunch is served as there is no room between our bodies and the back of the seat.  I try to take photos out the window but everything is white.  As we get above the smog, I glimpse some blue skies but you can actually see the line of smog. Oh for my clean mountain air.  Now that I know I’m on my way home, I’m really looking forward to being there.  I can’t wait to sleep in my own soft bed and shower in my own shower.

We had a 6 hours stopover here at Guangzhou airport waiting for the next flight. The plane leaves at 9.05 China time. We can only use the free wifi if we have a Chinese mobile number so I’ve had to pay $9.95 USD to get some internet to keep myself amused by writing all of this.  I really hope it’s a quiet plane tonight and that there are spare seats that we can spread ourselves out in so we can get some rest.  We’ll get in at about 9.30 am tomorrow which will be day 10.  Unless something  exciting happens on the plane which I hope it doesn’t, this is the last post about the holiday you’ll get.  I’m sure you’re all happy about that lol. So I’ll speak to you all when I get home again.  Till then, zài jiàn China and nǐ hǎo Australia…. xxxx

( Just a footnote.. the plane was full and there was a baby on board that screamed for 3 hours.  You have no idea how happy I was to land at Sydney airport)

To sum up the whole experience:

A few months ago, I was online and I got one of those internet specials through Our Deal which looked too good to be true.  However I’ve dealt with Our Deal before and have been happy with them.  It was $999 for 7 days in China, flights, accommodation, tour, entrance into attractions and most meals.  It did seem way too good so just to cover my back I paid by Paypal which I knew would protect my money.  Next day I phoned a friend and asked if she’d like to come, she said yes and the rest is history.

The tour was run through S.N.A Tours who run out of Canada.  They are an educational tour company who specialise in tours through Asia.  I have to say they were completely up front about any add on expenses which was a pleasant surprise.  On top of the $999 we also paid for our visas, tipping (which meant we didn’t tip anyone on the tour, they did it all for us), travel insurance and there were optional outings on the tour we could take.  We also added a stop over in Xi’an to see the terracotta warriors taking our stay up to 10 days.  So this included, 2 international flights, 4 domestic flights, all breakfasts, most lunches and dinners especially if you opted for the optional tours, 5 star hotel accomodation, entrance into tourist attractions, an English speaking tour guide and travel to and from the attractions.  All up with the extras we added on, the 10 day tour cost us under $2000.  Value for money was fantastic.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m sure they can offer this so cheap by taking us to places that sponsor these trips.  I did get sick of going to places that wanted to sell us stuff for higher than local prices but in the grand scheme of things, there is no way we could have done the things we did on our own.  Also every shopping trip included some form of education, be it about pearls or silk or jade.  I found that side of things interesting.  I came away from the whole tour with a much deeper understanding and knowledge of China which was the whole point.

The tour guides work exceptionally hard and the local knowledge they offer is invaluable.  The added security of having someone who was available if you had any problems was a relief even though I never had to use it.  We had an information day about it just after we booked where we were given  booklets filled with invaluable information about China and what we’d need.  It included currency, temperature, customs etc.  It really was useful.

The downside was the awful organisation by the actual office of SNA.  I really started to feel that the whole thing was going to be a huge disaster.  We had to constantly resend stuff that they’d forgotten about or lost or just changed something on.  We had to keep on their back about stuff and at one stage I actually emailed Our Deals to see if there had been other complaints as I was sure I’d been ripped off.  Yes, that was really frustrating but once that was all sorted, the deal was more than good, it was brilliant.  To be a bit fair, since offering these deals, they have been inundated with the extra demands of people jumping at the cheap deals, so I guess it’s understandable that they have been struggling.

We didn’t ever get an itinerary for Xi’an which I found really frustrating.  We had no idea of when our internal flights would be so it all felt a bit up in the air, but the tour guides handled it all beautifully.  I didn’t like the hard sell at the retail stops we made, but I accept that it just part of the whole culture there and if putting up with a little bit of that got me the deal it did, then sell away.  I didn’t have to buy anything and that was pointed out at every stop we made.

Looking at their website, they also offer deals to Cambodia, Vietnam, India as well as China so I would certainly consider another tour to a different destination (probably India to see the Taj Mahal).  Next time I’d know more about how they operate and feel more in control handling it all.  As much as there were things that were negative about the whole trip, on the whole, the positives far outweighed the negatives.  This was a fantastic value for money trip.

No, I’m not being paid by them to write this.  I would just like to see other people keep their eyes open for these tours and feel secure purchasing one.  I would probably never have got to China if it hadn’t been for the Our Deals special so I’m really thrilled that I bought the deal and went on the trip.  I’d love to see other people have the same experience.  I’ve never been able to travel and this made it affordable for me to finally leave our beautiful shores and see another culture.  It was truly a remarkable experience. So I’ll leave you with some of the positives and negatives I took from the whole tour.

Ten things I hate about China

1. Being here when NSW is on fire.  
I hate knowing that Lachlan is at home holding the fort for me on the fire front while I swan around China.  Worried doesn’t begin to describe it.
2. Smoking in public places
Can you believe they still smoke everywhere here.  In restaurants, in hotels, in the street.  I think they said 90% of the population smokes so they have no intention of banning it.
3. Spitting in the street
OMG.. every second person here hoicks up a lurgy and spits it on the street as they walk along..One guy even did it in the Terracotta Museum building on a marble floor.  It sounds gross, it looks gross and it is gross.  It’s also great for spreading diseases
4. The traffic
I have never seen traffic like this and while I think I’m a pretty good driver, I would NEVER attempt to drive here.  People do more intertwining manoeuvrings than the Roulettes in one of their death defying stunts.  It’s scary.. End of story
5. Haggling
Give me a price and if it’s fair I’ll pay it.. Don’t start at some ridiculous price and expect me to beat you down.. Don’t wait till I walk away before you come back with a better price.. I hate the whole haggling thing. And get out of my personal space while you’re trying to sell me something. It seems that people are so used to living on top of each other that they just don’t have any concept of your personal space.  We are very spoiled for space.
6. Squat toilets
Actually I should clarify that. The squat toilets don’t bother me as much as I thought they would.. What DOES bother me in either squat or normal toilets, is the fact that in most you have to put your used toilet paper in open bins as it clogs up the toilets.. The toilets on the whole are very clean but they smell of urine and this is why.  Even if the bins had lids on it might be a bit better.
7. Hotel rooms air con
Seems people here must really feel the cold as all the rooms are heated way too high.  We have ours generally set somewhere between 18 and 22. There’s are generally on about 25.. I hate it.. I love walking outside to get some fresh air.
8. Opera singing tour guides
Yes you heard me.  The tour guides sing to us lol.  At first it’s okay but seriously, the microphones on buses make speaking grate on your ears.. what they do to singing (especially Chinese opera) should be made a crime against nature.
9. No milk in the fridge
No milk in any fridge makes a cup of tea really hard.. Most have powdered creamer which is better than nothing.. but not much.
10.How quick time flies
I’ve loved my time here.  I would love to spend more time here if I could but at the same time I’m so looking forward to getting home to see how things are.  The time here really has flown.

Ten things I love about China. 

1.  The history
This place reeks of history (and cigarettes and urine).  Everywhere you look there are buildings and relics that are hundreds if not thousands of years old.  It is mind blowing when you think about the age of stuff. I’m in awe of the things I’m seeing.
2.  The architecture
It seems that everything I look at is either very old or very new.  The very old is amazing but the very new is simply stunning.  At times it defies gravity.  It seems the Chinese have decided to outdo every building in the world and they’ve done a pretty good job of it. The building has shades of New York, Las Vegas, Paris, Dubai and any other city of beautiful architecture.
3.  The food
I really wondered how I’d go eating here but a lot of the restaurants cater very much for Western diets.  Even the Chinese food is made to be much more like what we get at home.  I think this is a pity really.  The places we’ve gone to that have just gone with their own traditions and those have been, in my opinion, the better dishes. But fresh food, fresh fruit and a shared plate rather than individual serves can’t be beaten.  Loving it.
4.  The people
The people here are friendly and try very hard to make themselves understood.  Of course there are the bad ones too.  There’s always good and bad in every society.  But most people go out of their way to speak English and are amazingly polite.
5.  The traffic
Yes I know that is one of the things I hate but I’m also fascinated by the split second precision with which these people drive and ride.  There seem to be no rules on the road … only “suggestions’ lol.
6.  The bling
Everything here lights up like a christmas tree.  There are lights and sparkles on everything.  If you stand still for long enough I think you’d find some fairy lights  wrapped around you.. and I love it.  Bright colored lights are their favorite decorations.  Mine too.
7.  The national pride
Before I came here, I had the notion that people didn’t speak up about the government because they were scared to.  That doesn’t seem to be the case.  Everyone we have spoken to havs a real sense of pride in their country and appreciate the government for the massive changes they’ve made.  People here are well looked after.  They retire at 55.  They have hospitals that are affordable for everyone.  There is welfare for those who need it and generally people are happy with their lot here. They admit there is corruption and bribes to get your way higher up the waiting list or school system but on the whole, the people are well looked after.
8.  The shopping
Now don’t get me wrong.. I hate the haggling but the shopping is great.  whatever you can imagine is sold here.  It’s incredible.  It’s like one huge $2 shop.
9.  The trees
Thankfully even the busiest city has a plethora of trees. Thank goodness for the Chinese following the rules of Feng Shui.  They believe in balance or Yin and Yang so while there is lots of concrete and glass, there’s also lots of trees to balance it out.
10. The rules about parents
Well, my favorite thing that I learned here was that in China, it is a child’s responsibility to care for their parents.  If a child moves away from the district and doesn’t get in touch, their parents can phone the police and have them charged.. go the parents lol

I have to say… the things I love far outweigh the things I hate.. I’m so very lucky to have had the opportunity to   be here.   🙂 If you get a chance to go.. do it.. I’m sure you’ll love it.

Happy travels.. Livvy 🙂