A Beijing Tour We Can Learn From

By: Jobers Reynes Bersales - CDN Digital | November 04,2019 - 09:18 AM

I am not sure if this is done here to foreign tourists in Cebu. But if not, it should be.

Over the weekend, I joined a small group of 25 well-heeled but budget-conscious Filipinos and Tsinoys on a tour of Beijing. I was there largely on the invitation of a dear friend, Dave Bryan Latonio, who also brought along his equally well-traveled mom, Azucena, and brother, Brixton, the latter a first-time traveler outside the country.

Beijing, the capital of the Peoples Republic of China, is without doubt one of the places that must be there on top of anyone’s bucket list of places to visit. And we were looking forward to three days of surprises and lots of fun.

True enough, the city’s ultramodern infrastructure, including highways and thoroughfares so like those one finds in some major European metropolis, did not disappoint, to say the least. It gave us a tantalizing glimpse of what the Philippines would be if only we stopped unplanned development coupled with private property rights that make even simple road widenings so cumbersome and litigious. (In China, most if not all lands are owned by the government such that when your house is standing in the way of a road widening or a tree park serving  as a highway buffer, it can be removed in a jiffy, but you have a new condo unit somewhere nearby in return.)

Beyond going through Beijing’s wide, tree-lined streets and avenues fringed with massive tree parks, however, tour we must. So, we went to the usual places to see: a section of the Great Wall; the Olympic Stadium (popularly, the Bird’s Nest); Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City; the Temple of Heaven; the Summer Palace and the Giant Pandas at the Beijing Zoo.

All in all we probably spent about 30 minutes at each site, except for the Great Wall (which took us over an hour of catching breaths while vainly attempting to scale a peak to get from one guard tower to the next) and the walk from Tiananmen Square to the Forbidden City (two hours, 8.7 kilometers of steps, 600 kilos of calories burned in 12-degree Celsius weather, according to my fitbit). All of these add up to something like a mere 5.5 hours of touring in three days.

Where then did we spend the rest of our time on those three days, other than traveling and eating lunch?

Simple: we spent more time listening to something akin to product launchings in different factories and showrooms where we were often prodded, gently or not, to buy, no matter if they cost in the tens of thousands of pesos.

At the cost of a mere 23,000 pesos for an entire four-day all-expense trip, I realize then that these were companies that may have had a hand in ensuring a very low price for our trip.

Imagine something like this: you bring tourists to Magellan’s Cross and ask them to linger there, take pictures and even dance with the candle sellers for all of 30 minutes. Then you bring everyone back to the tour bus to go through a 45-minute travel to, say, the ProFood Mango Showroom in Mandaue, where they then spend two hours getting to know about dried mangoes, complete with videos and powerpoint presentations in their language. Here they learn all about the mango, from the planting of the tree to the drying of fruit, etc. Then salesladies enter the room after the lecture and start offering dried mangoes in all its different versions and tastes, throwing in all kinds of discounts here and there if you buy this or that much.

The most telling was that the ones presenting were speaking in English or, in the case of an Indonesian tour group that followed us, in Bahasa Indonesia.

Calling it aggressive selling or whatnot, but the point is, our Beijing tour became a vehicle not just for seeing the sites but also for hard-selling Chinese products like high-end jade, oh-so expensive herbal medicines and, the darling of them all and one you least expect on a tour: negative ion pillows and mattresses, whatever that means.

We would have wanted to go to the National Museum of China, so tantalizingly within our reach at Tiananmen Square, but that was not part of our tour itinerary. In truth, all these product presentations were listed in the itinerary—so no need to complain if we found them boring. And, mind you, they actually were not.

All in all, however, I would rate our tour with a 6 in a scale of 10—and all because I was not able to get to even a single museum there!

But I learned so much from this package tour, my first time ever to join one in my quite long history of foreign travel, modesty aside.

The one that impressed me the most were the tour guides who, unlike in the Philippines, were all local Chinese, speaking in a cacophony of different languages: German, Spanish, English, Italian, French, Japanese, etc. etc. etc. Cebu boasts of a number of Japanese-speaking local tour guides but one still has to see the day when our local tour guides can speak Mandarin to a Chinese tour group, for example.

Whether we like it or not, we still have a lot to learn from China.

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