Published on April 10th, 2013


Random Photo Memory: Remembering China of Old…

I’ve been thinking about China lately both because I have a chum that I’m cookin’ up a new adventure with, who happens to be presently traveling there, as well as nostalgically, as the tales she’s telling of present-day China (even in the countryside) seem so far removed (read: bigger/much more modern) from the uniformly quaint China that I visited back in the early 90’s.

At the time, I was lucky that – as an international tour operator, I was among the first few travel agents admitted to China following the crack down after the Tiananmen tragedy.   Reopening its borders to foreigners, China was anxious to demonstrate how very (ahem) modern it was in its technology, and (triple ahem) how kindly it was with regard to civil rights.

Our small group was tightly controlled most every minute, and the entire itinerary played pretty much like a propaganda movie.  Still, they took us behind the scenes to see things a normal tourist would otherwise never be allowed to see (even today).


One can only hope that China’s medical facilities at least, have improved in 20+ years.

We toured a “typical” commune (though clearly the residents were hand-picked with the most prim abodes), a hospital (with scenes like the room below, along with a pharmacy brimming with all manner of lizards and other natural potions, and we were even allowed to crowd – utterly unsterile – into a tiny operating room lit by but a single bare light bulb – with a patient in mid-operation!)

Perhaps even more astounding – a PRISON was on the itinerary, where we toured the cells, the courtyard (filled wall-to-wall with cabbages), the prison kitchen, and even the “visiting” area where inmates were “happily” chatting with their families.

In short, the Chinese were determined to show us how very “modern” China was, but in reality, they proved the complete opposite.  This was 20+ years ago of course.  And from all indication it seems China is indeed “modernizing” by leaps and bounds these days.

Still…  I’m hesitant to revisit 21st century China, but rather – simply remember it as it was in the days of old…

About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!

8 Responses to Random Photo Memory: Remembering China of Old…

  1. Glenys says:

    Hi. Loving your blogs!

    Glad I’m Australian. Only AU$60 for us (3mth tourist visa). I’ve spent quite a bit of time in China too. Not as long ago as your 1st visit, but before & after the Olympics, and I was devastated at the changes to Beijing (post-Olympics). Absolutely devastated. Elsewhere (further south – west of Shanghai) wasn’t changed (ruined, in my eyes) as much though, thank goodness. Still lots of concrete apartment blocks & rubbish filled canals in places, but in other areas, just gorgeous.

    My last trip (Oct 2010), I finally got to the proper south, and spent a beautiful and fabulous week outside (not IN) Yangshou in Guangxi Province (fly in & out of Guilin).

    I was “used” to yellow skies, bad air, dirty water & gazillions of people everywhere, so it was a huge relief to discover clear blue skies, water so clean & clear you could swim in it (& we did), clean air & no people!!!! China’s a part of my life now, and I’ll always visit when I can. It IS hard to comprehend the “modernisation”, but waddya do? The other bits are still as amazing as they were, and the people…. those crazy amazing people… are just as wonderful as always 🙂

    • TravelnLass says:

      Yes Glenys, visa costs vary widely depending on your native land, and it seems we Americans get gouged quite smartly (probably ‘cuz we’re all so very rich, yes?) 😉 Apparently Germans only pay $30 to travel in China, so doesn’t seem to be much in the way of rhyme nor reason to it.

      And yes, (much like Bali, etc.) I think perhaps if I stick to the more rural areas, even today I may still find the charm of that “China of old” that I so fondly remember. Thanks for tip – Guangxi Province is now on my radar!

  2. James says:

    I really liked China but at USD130 for a visa (for an American), it deserves at least a couple of weeks if not more.

    • TravelnLass says:

      Hmmm… (only) $130 you say? Last I checked (when I’d hoped to take the Trans-Mongolian train from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar last August) a visa for an American was running $180. This, even just to transit from the airport to the train station, so I opted to fly instead.

      But interestingly, since, China apparently just recently has tweaked its transit regs and now you can get a 24 hr. transit visa (I believe for free) when flying in. That would have been PERFECT back when I merely wanted to skip from airport to train station to catch the Trans Mongolian.

  3. It must have been fascinating to have visited before the present rapid development, though the control issue sounds like the accounts I’ve read of people visiting present-day North Korea… Were you able to take photos freely?

    Though rustic, the hospital actually looks more private (and peaceful) than a modern-day Vietnamese hospital! But I’m pretty sure they have closed theatres even here. Poor guy/gal!

    • TravelnLass says:

      Yes, I was able to take photos pretty much freely (leastwise nobody confiscated my camera!) And bear in mind that it was a f.i.l.m. camera way back then in the pre-digital Dark Ages.

      And yes, the poor woman on the operating table – blessedly she was out cold, but still… I actually have a pic of her there, but out of respect, I don’t think it appropriate to post the pic online.

  4. Paul says:

    How big was that commune? Was it part of a larger town, or was it self-contained?

    I’m looking forward to your impressions of modern China.

    • TravelnLass says:

      Sad to say, my fickle memory doesn’t include just where (though I believe it was somewhere on the outskirts of Shanghai) the commune was located (my wood pulp journal from those long ago days alas, went missing – an excellent reminder why we should all jot at least a modicum of notes in a digital blog as we travel). But I vividly remember that hospital and prison, et al. And the commune as I recall was quite extensive and self-contained.

      And as I said – I’m not sure I’ll be visiting the “new” China anytime soon. You never know, but a part of me hesitates to spoil the lovely visions I have of the “China of Old”.

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