China hol­i­day strikes a bad note

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - CHRIS MAG­ILL

TOWNSVILLE, QUEENS­LAND THE driver stopped his taxi and screwed up his face. ‘‘You give me bad money,’’ he said and off­loaded us on the side of the road. Af­ter a long flight to Bei­jing con­tem­plat­ing shop­ping and sight­see­ing, this was not the warm hol­i­day wel­come we had ex­pected.

Later, our guide dropped us at the Silk Street Mar­ket in the Chaoyang Dis­trict. Welooked up at a multi-storey build­ing, won­der­ing how to en­ter — the doors were hid­den be­hind padded, hang­ing blan­kets to keep out the 5C chills. We fol­lowed three guys into the folds of the blan­kets to a shop­ping won­der­land with floors of small shops sell­ing al­most ev­ery­thing imag­in­able. Ag­gres­sive sales­women shouted to us from door­ways.

While tour­ing Bei­jing, Shang­hai and Xian, we were re­peat­edly told we were of­fer­ing coun­ter­feit Chi­nese yuan and quickly learned it was a wide­spread prob­lem. We dis­cov­ered we faced be­ing ar­rested for pass­ing bad notes so we tried to keep our fake money aside but the crisp, new bills still looked gen­uine — un­til we were aler- ted that some had iden­ti­cal se­rial num­bers. We soon found the money ex­change ATMs in the lob­bies of good ho­tels were safe to dis­pense cash.

The win­ter land­scape was daz­zling; we climbed the Great Wall, walked across frozen lakes, cruised through misty gorges on the Yangtze River and sailed Shang­hai’s Huangpu River at sun­set, gasp­ing at the city’s psychedelic light show.

The Shang­hai Ac­ro­batic Troupe charmed and as­tounded us — a cou­ple waltzed with great grace and ease above our heads and eight mo­tor­bike rid­ers raced in­side a huge, mesh globe in a death-de­fy­ing act that re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion.

We tried tang bao, soup-filled steamed buns with a golden crunchy base. We sat on a long bench with lo­cals, not sure how to po­litely drink the soup through a straw in the mid­dle of each bun.

Re­turn­ing on a full China East­ern Air­lines flight, the pas­sen­ger in the seat be­hind me hoicked re­peat­edly into a plas­tic bag. I no longer felt so em­bar­rassed about the of­fended woman who had got up and moved away from us on the restau­rant bench as we loudly slurped the tang bao. At least she had had a choice. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@ theaus­ Colum­nists re­ceive a kit (to­tal value, $107.85) of OSABrands Uni­ver­sal Travel Adap­tor with two USB ports ($44.95), OSABrands Dig­i­tal Lug­gage Scales ($32.95) and Ta­tonka RFID Pro­tected Pass­port Pouch ($29.95). More:

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