I'm a generalist.
I have a degree in history but my studies didn't touch on China. I've been self-employed my entire life — my practical knowledge is small business. Consequently, my frame of reference for understanding the nuances of Chinese society is relatively small.
Fortunately, I have been traveling with a guide and a group. Each has enlarged that frame and added great value to my travels. Everyone's curiosity chases different paths which results in insights I would not likely have gained on my own. Some members have specialized knowledge not related to China but that helps us better understand what we're seeing.
This, I have learned, is a benefit of group travel. Our collective knowledge really is greater than the sum of its parts.
Meet Alex, Our Tour Guide
First among those with specialized knowledge is, of course, our tour guide who has been with us the entire trip. He is Chinese which is important. But also important is his knowledge of North America. Without understanding our culture he could not adequately explain his culture – hitting on the points that really have meaning for us. Alex does an excellent job of this. He has been to the U.S. and is studious about our questions with a desire to understand why we ask them. His are the first eyes through which we see China.
Visiting a Village School
I'm traveling with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT). This company has a history of taking their small groups off the beaten path into the homes of locals and to the places that locals go.
A week ago we visited a rural school supported by OAT's Grand Circle Foundation. We have several teachers in our group. They were great models for how to interact with the children we met, despite the language difference.
But there's more. One of our members now volunteers in a classroom of 8-year-olds in the U.S. She did a unit on China with these children before she left and brought the Chinese students notes from their American counterparts. Favorite books were brought and stories were shared in translation. It was a very rich experience.
Understanding the Farms
The idea of many small farms worked on a collective basis is quite different for us, but we saw this in action. In addition, outside the farmers' homes we saw corn from last season drying. It would be taken to a factory for making corn starch. We saw kitchen gardens with the staples of the local diet. All this would have been pleasant to look at but we got much more appreciation of it thanks to one of our group's members who has a background in farming. He was able to identify crops in the field and explain such things as how canola oil is made from the plant. He has been equally interesting during our market visits.
Buildings and Other Structures through the Eyes of an Architect
When I first overheard the questions one of our members was asking our local guide at the Forbidden City in Beijing, I hadn't yet tuned in to the fact that he is an architect. (In addition to our tour guide, we have a city guide for each place we go.) But, once I did, when buildings, bridges or other structures were our focus, I paid special attention to his comments and questions. I really look forward to going through the Three Gorges Dam with him.
Care from a Physiotherapist
Oh yes, I'm not going to tell you this story in its entirety yet. But I have to mention it within the theme of a group offering multiple perspectives and knowledge because the support that Don, a physiotherapist in the group gave me, cannot be overlooked. I'll get to this story (which includes a trip to an acupuncturist at a Chinese Traditional Medicine Hospital) next week.
I have learned from every member of this group. Each is interested in learning and each is interesting in the perspectives they offer and the questions they ask. Solo travel in China turned out to be great as part of a group.
My thanks to Overseas Adventure Travel. Their generosity has made this trip possible.