Tidewater Traveler - June 2008

China Through Eastern Shore Eyes


George Sellers

   Most of my readers know that I am a native Eastern Shoreman who loves life on Delmarva and still believes it to be one of the greatest locations on the planet to live. The Eastern Shore of Maryland is the perfect place to return following a trip anywhere on the globe. There is so much to experience in the world; yet the more I see, the more I appreciate my Eastern Shore roots and home.
    Travel offers such marvelous opportunities to see unusual natural landforms and remarkable human accomplishments of the present and of the past. Like a good book, one savors and absorbs travel adventures, filtering them through the sieve of one’s own life experiences. As a country boy, I know that my perception of journeys and destinations differs from others who have the same travel experience; the level and nature of my appreciation is neither better nor worse than that of someone else, just different.
    In recent years, as I have traveled, the urge to write has surpassed my previous drive to photograph everything in sight. There are no major global revelations revealed in my pieces of writing. My articles are not intended to impress. Instead they serve to enhance my sense of personal discovery, excitement and satisfaction; if as a by-product some find them entertaining, that is a good thing. Some destinations evoke greater motivation than others to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to record my observations and impressions.
    Several journeys to the People’s Republic of China – some study-tours, some as a group escort – have inspired more writing projects than any other destination, domestic or international. As Iprepare for another jaunt to China (September 2009), I am reminded of some of the misconceptions I have encountered. Visiting China has been an exercise in the corrections of misconceptions for this country boy.
    Misconception #1: It’s a long way to China. When I was about four or five years old I enjoyed digging holes in the family garden. I’m not sure Dad liked the idea, but the excavation was tolerated as long as I filled in the hole after each session. (I filled them in most of the time).
    The goal of my digging was to be the first person from Dorchester County to reach China; someone had told me that if I dug deep enough I would come to China on the other side of the world. Now that I think about this, it may have been Mom’s way of keeping me occupied in the days before DVDs, computer games or public kindergarten. Once I thought I had reached China but it turned out to be a large oyster shell instead.
    The point of this childhood dream sequence is to demonstrate that, for me, China was a distant and unreachable destination.
    Four decades later, Northwest Airlines shattered my first misconception about China. As I was popping a ping-pong-ball-sized grape into my mouth, the captain announced that non-stop flying time for the trip from Detroit, Michigan, to Beijing, China, would be twelve hours and twenty minutes, or viewed another way – three movies, two meals and a few naps. For me, in-flight movies and naps are often simultaneous events.
    Northwest Airlines’ secret northern route is the key to this brief jaunt halfway around the globe. Apparently, a high-ranking official from the airline considered that the earth might be shaped more like a globe than a flat map - chubby at the equator and narrower as you near the polar region. So, a route was established from Detroit, northwest across Canada and northern Alaska, into Russian airspace (It’s okay now!), and then over China. From Detroit to Beijing takes about thirteen hours, and less time for the return trip.
    On a number of occasions I have driven for longer periods of time in one day to visit my favorite Mouse Kingdom in Florida. The flight from Detroit leaves mid-morning and chases the sun; the airplane remains in daylight for most of the journey. Darkness catches us just before arrival in Beijing.
    For the return trip the plane leaves Beijing in the morning, soon passes under the westbound sun, and then travels through night to reach Detroit on the same date and nearly the same hour as the Beijing departure. Yes, that’s right ... if you leave Beijing at 10 a.m. on Thursday, September 17, you arrive in Detroit at about 10:20 a.m. on Thursday, September 17. That is a really cool concept!
    Similar air routes and flight durations from other U.S. East Coast cities are also available. Consider this – a non-stop flight from San Francisco (West Coast, USA) to Beijing is only about an hour longer – go figure! To better understand this you may need to dig into the attic and look for that old globe. Our perception of the world is often based upon flat maps that can only offer a distorted image of a ball-shaped earth.
    Misconception #2: Chinese food! Will I be able to eat it? I have to admit that as a child growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s in Vienna, Maryland, there was not a lot of Chinese cuisine. A lot? Now that I think of it, I do not recall anything Oriental on the menu at home, at school, at church or anywhere else in the community.
    Prior to my first trip to Asia, I was a little concerned about this. My fear was that everything would be laced with bean-sprouts or skinny noodles. I detest worm-shaped food items. I did not really expect to starve, but I considered the first trip to China might be a good opportunity to lose a little weight.
    Wow! Was I wrong! There was remarkable variety and I ate like an Emperor (and a pig). There were all sorts of dishes available at every meal – some recognizable; some a little foreign (duh!) looking. For the person who is just not ready to try local and regional cuisine in China, every meal offers enough western-style choices to please most palates. The diversity of foods at practically every tourist venue grants excellent opportunities to try new things with the safety net of knowing there are familiar choices on the table as well.
    Breakfast at every hotel is an international smorgasbord – traditional Chinese breakfast items at one end of the buffet; another section with some of the best French toast, scrambled eggs and bacon ever eaten; or, if preferred, Rice Krispies, Cheerios or oatmeal. The only thing missing – scrapple! An opportunity to lose a few pounds – it didn’t happen!
    Some of my dear readers may consider the following to be “too much information,” but I know that others are wondering about this. Though I went prepared, I have been able to declare each of my trips to China to be an Imodium-free excursion.
    May all of your travels be happy and safe (and Imodium free)!

George Sellers is a Certified Travel Counselor and Accredited Cruise Counselor who operates the popular travel web site and travel planning service SellersTravel.com. Comments or suggestions about Tidewater Travel articles may be directed to George@SellersTravel.com.