Shanghai took on a completely new look as the city transformed into a skyscraper-packed mega city. But Mok’s Westlake cruise trip was hit by smog. For the previous articles on the other destinations, please click - http://096.ca/news/657390
On this trip to China, we joined a “sponsored” shopping tour. This means that the cost of the trip is minimal once we paid for our plane tickets there. Of course, it would also mean that we have to make a certain amount of purchases at the various sponsored locations so that a certain percentage can go to the tour guides, the chartered coach, and also paying for the hotel accommodations. There was also a clause in our touring contract where our security deposit of $500 each will not be refunded if we left the tour group for any reason whatsoever.
We were told that we did not have to make mandatory purchases. As expected, until the “minimum” purchase amounts were reached by the group, the tour guides and the chartered coach were nowhere to be found. It would seem to us that the tour guide was in constant communication with the shop via cell phone and only showed up the minute when the quota was reached. We were fortunate to have a Taiwanese tourist amongst us who was very loose with his wallet. He made many purchases time and again to help us out so we can have our lunches and dinners on time!
Every morning, we got up at 6am to get our breakfast so we can leave by 7:15am. On average, we would visit 2 shopping locations and 2 tourist attractions (entry fees were paid by sponsors). By the time dinner was finished at 8pm, we would drag our tired bodies upstairs to the Hotel rooms.
We started out at Shanghai with a population of over 24 million people. Just to put it into perspective, the city of Toronto has a population of 2.8 million and the entire Canadian population is only 36.2 million. I last visited Shanghai in 2008 and I could hardly recognize it any more. I have to use the Chinese saying “coming up like spring asparagus after a rain” for the many skyscrapers filling up the landscape. The night scenes were spectacular with the many pictures and logos created by changing lights using an entire building as canvas.
We revisited the famous “West Lake”and went on a cruise there. There was less people than last time but there was smog around the lake in November and the water quality had not improved from eight years ago. While there were no visible beggars anywhere, we were approached by old ladies selling us small packages of tissues near some tourist attractions. Police were visible everywhere and one would feel safe as long as you stay close to the main streets with all their working CCTV cameras.
At the end of the six-day tour, we spent 3 days to meet up with wife's relatives in a small city with a population of about one million in the Zhejiang province. Again, this city has undergone rapid development with many new building and roads since our last visit. One thing I noticed was their effort to clean up the river there. Last time, there were no anglers but we saw a few of them this time with their decent catches. The water was less opaque and smelly now.
As I have mentioned earlier, maintenance programs are not getting a priority in China. Everywhere we went, we saw exposed concrete reinforcement bars on fairly new infrastructures and building. They could be inherent but repairs need to be made to prevent further deterioration.
In our conversations with relatives, they told us that tax rates have gone up, further eroding whatever small profit margins they have left in their manufacturing business. Therefore, many foreign companies are moving their operations to other less-developed countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Cambodia to maximize their profits.
In China, real estate speculations seemed to be the way to quick money these days. Since the RMB has been losing its value opposite the US dollars over the last year, they want to exchange them to US dollars and take their monies out of China now, but the government is taking steps to prevent them from doing so. They just need to “park” their money elsewhere out of China. This can explain the many recent stories for buying up real estate properties in other countries including Canada.
Next stop – Hong Kong (the one time “Pearl of the East”).
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