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10 Days in the Peculiar Life of a Chinese Tourist

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"When the Chinese travel industry polls the public on its dream destinations, no place ranks higher than Europe," Evan Osnos of the New Yorker wrote recently.

Osnos took an escorted tour from Shanghai -- the "Classic European" -- that swept him and 37 Chinese vacationers through five countries in ten days. By bus. Though, if the itinerary hadn't listed their stops (Frankfurt, Paris, Milan, and other tourism stalwarts), he might have believed he wound up in the Twilight Zone.

Airfare, hotels, meals, insurance, and "assorted charges" cost roughly $2,200 -- payable in advance -- but "every Chinese member of the tour was required to put up a bond amounting to seventy-six hundred dollars -- more than two years’ salary for the average worker -- to prevent anyone from disappearing before the flight home."

Osnos was the "lone non-Chinese member of the group," and, as he points out, "with few exceptions, this was everybody’s first trip out of Asia."

First stop: a German town of 100,000 called Trier.

Apparently, Trier has become quite the destination for Chinese travelers. And no, it's not for the spaetzle.

"Though it’s not quite a household name for most first-time visitors to Europe, Trier has been unusually popular with Chinese tourists ever since Communist Party delegations began arriving, decades ago, to see the birthplace of Karl Marx," Osnos explains. "My Chinese guidebook, written by a retired diplomat, said it once was described as the Mecca of the Chinese people."

Osnos continues:

We got off the bus onto a tidy side street lined with peaked-roofed, pastel-colored buildings. The cobblestones were silvery with rain, and [tour guide Li Xingshun] donned a forest-green felt outback hat and pointed us ahead as he started at a brisk walk. We reached No. 10 Brückenstrasse, a handsome three-story white house with green shutters. “This is where Marx lived. Now it’s a museum,” Li said. We tried the door, but it was locked. Things were slow in the winter, and the museum wouldn’t be open for another hour and a half, so we’d be experiencing Marx’s house only from the outside. (“The sooner we finish here, the sooner we get to Paris,” Li had said.)

Li also doled out advice to his charges, covering a range of matters they would encounter on their whirlwind adventure.


“We have to get used to the fact that Europeans sometimes move slowly. “I’m not saying that they’re stupid. If they were, they wouldn’t have developed all this technology, which requires very subtle calculations. They just deal with math in a different way.”


“Can a place where workers go on strike every day grow economically? Certainly not. People here are strangely used to it. Their laws on public demonstrations are very mature. As long as you apply to the government, you have the right to protest on a predetermined route. You can be stuck at one spot for four hours because the streets are blocked. I hope that you all will never encounter a terrible situation like that.”


“Westerners’ skin will turn red and then quickly turn white again. After someone has turned red, he can go back and show others, and they will know that he’s been travelling on vacation.”

The influx of Chinese tourists has been a boon to retailers, as Chinese tourists abroad "spend nearly twice as much on shopping as they do on hotel rooms."

However popular Europe may be right now with the Chinese, some find the continent's most famous sights slightly less impressive than others.

“Other than different buildings, the Seine didn’t look all that different from the Huangpu,” one 19 year-old traveling with her mother told Osnos. “Subway? We have a subway. You name it, we’ve got it.”

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