Last Friday Jie-jie and I went on a class field trip to the nearby Sun Flower Garden Park. It was a very interesting day.
At 8:30 a.m. we boarded the bus for the 1 hour drive to the park. I was surprised to see that many of the children that sit at Jie-jie’s table were not there. Furthermore, all the children had a parent or grandparent with them. It was definitely not the same model as the field trips I remember from my school days – a pack of kids managed with sporadic success by an anxious teacher and a parent or 2.
Once on the bus, I was hoping that Jie-jie and I would get a chance to relax and look out the window – we haven’t driven out of the city very often. I had a vision of arriving in a nature park with fields of flowers and quiet hiking paths. I imagined we might see some wildlife and hear some birds.
If I had applied what I’ve learned in the past, I would have known better. Chinese tend to travel in large groups (often arranged through work). Every tourist site we’ve visited here has teemed with Chinese tour groups 15 – 40 people following a tour guide with a little pennant on an extendable metal pointer and a portable speaker system. Chinese tourist sites are also set-up differently. The emphasis is not on conveying information, scenery that is naturally beautiful, the experience of “authentic” history or cultural difference which is more common in many of the tourist sites I’ve visited in the U.S. even if there are a great many exceptions that come to mind (e.g. Wall Drug, Vegas, the Corn Palace). Instead, tourist sites are designed primarily to offer photo ops.
So, I shouldn’t have been surprised when our group ended up with a tour guide who spoke for the first 15 minutes of the bus-ride and then spent the rest of the time giving the kids cheap prizes for singing (loudly) into the bus microphone. I shouldn’t have been disappointed when the Sun Flower Garden ended-up having only a few trampled flower gardens sporting heart-shaped arches bedecked with fake flowers, and a spattering of antique cars painted in bright pastels. Imagine my dismay when I realized I would be spending the entire day walking from photo opportunity to photo opportunity – a mini-mall full of dolls, action figures, and fake flowers in display cases; a room full of giant figurines from popular children’s cartoons; an area full of chicks walking through mazes; another filled with dogs; and a final area filled with piglets. I counted the minutes until we would board the bus for campus.