China Trip During SARS

Written by Bob Martin.

John and Jay Bos and I went to China during the SARS problem. Why did you do that you ask? Well we had our plans and we wanted to see the Three Gorges project before they raised the water level so we went.

Our group deteriorated to just the three of us. Needless to say, we had a lot of room everywhere we went. Our flight from Detroit [14 hours] was long, but we did upgrade to Business Class and that helped a little. In Tokyo, we transferred right away to another three-hour flight to Shanghai. We arrived to a very quiet airport where they took our temperature and rushed us right through to our waiting local guide.

The first thing that we noticed was that the new “300 mile an hour” train to the city was not operating for lack of tourists. We went directly to our very nice Radisson Hotel where we were three of eight guests in the hotel. A full staff in “SARS” masks was on hand and the service superb.

Shanghai is a city of 33 million people and the same number of old bicycles. I would not drive there for any reason. However, the city is new [10/15 years] and quite modern and clean. We toured the Jade Buddha Temple, the Shanghai Museum, and the Acrobatic show. Had two very nice Chinese meals. We very much enjoyed our visit.

The next day we drove north about 80 miles to Suzhou. Did you ever wonder where they make all the “Made in China” stuff we buy? We passed factory after factory that made clothes, electronics, plumbing, etc., etc. These factories were surrounded as far as we could see with truck gardens and apartments [mostly brand new]. The people work in the factories and tend their gardens to make a living. It was easy to see why you get such fresh vegetables and fruits in China. They are building everywhere in China!

Suzhou is a city of formal gardens, we saw several. Went to an old city with hundreds of vendors that had no one to sell to but us! We ate alone in a huge restaurant, good but very traditional Chinese food, lots of food. Our Hotel Sheraton Towers was Five Star and we enjoyed it very much, good food! We met a Professor from Hanover College who was gathering his troops to go home but advised us to carry on “You won’t have any problems” and we did not.

Back to the “other airport” in Shanghai, two temperature checks, and off to Yichang in the interior of China before we take the bus to the Three Gorges Dam and the boat. Places to visit were generally closed so we got to the boat early and had a nice private visit with the staff. There would only be 36 on the boat that holds 150 or so with a full crew… we had great service.

The Dam and the 400-mile trip down the Yangtze River was the engineering marvel that it is purported to be. A huge Dam that has locks for boats both ways on the river, a lift for “smaller” boats. It will produce electricity for a huge portion of China and prevent dirty coal pollution.

The Yangtze River is the water I-75 0f China and for years and years, boats have been the lifeline of the people along the river. In the 10 years they have been working on the project, they have moved over a million and a half people and their homes from the rising water as a result of the dam. I would go back to see the finished product that is just now filling with water. Five days on the Victoria Cruise line was very pleasant and modern. Even satellite email, slow but it works.

We made two shore excursions that were very interesting and informative. The Three Gorges are beautiful and perhaps worth the trip in themselves.

We arrived in Chongqing where they announced that they would shut down the Boat until the SARS scare let tourists come back. Very sad as I doubt they are back working yet. We toured the city and caught an afternoon plane to Beijing. The guide announced that Xi’an and the Terra Cotta Warriors were closed due to no tourists but some Beijing venues were open. I think we had about six temperature checks on this trip, many done in an interesting fashion. No not that way but looking at a light that flashes when you pass, an instrument in your ear and something that blinked, we felt very secure.

In three days in Beijing we saw Tian An Men Square, The Forbidden Palace, The Summer Palace, Ming Tombs, and the Temple of Heaven. Then finally another highlight of China, The Great Wall. Let me explain. They get maybe 10,000 people per day to visit the wall. The three of us were the ONLY people there!!! Not a car, not a vendor. It was very strange but in a way very nice. We had this great “thing” to ourselves!

I have to finish with our Beijing Hotel, The Palace Hotel. A real five star. Now once again the three of us were there only guests, yet they had a full staff. They kept their very new and modern restaurant open for us. The Chef was from Australia and we thanked him for the great meal. He was very pleased that we came to his restaurant and called up to the desk to have us moved to the “NEW”, modern rooms on the eighth floor. Five bell boys and three managers moved us. We had a 45″ Plasma TV and also a smaller one in the bathroom. A Fax in the desk, buttons everywhere. It was a great place to stay.

Our guide announced that they had run out of open sights for us to see and we would be going home two days early, so we went to an empty airport “TURNED OUT THE LIGHTS IN CHINA” and came home. The only time we wore our masks was in the Lansing Airport when we got off the plane and where my wife in a mask and rubber gloves met us.

A great trip… we recommend a visit to China… perhaps when the scare of a health problem settles down. Maybe the Olympics?

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