Marija Bruce’s China Trip Report

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From divine dumplings to cruising the Yangtze, Chicagoans Marija Norusis and Bruce Stephenson reveled in the surprises of their largely self-guided trip to China. If you're interested in sharing your most recent travel experiences (and photos), drop us an email at

Why China?

We travel because nothing makes us feel as alive as experiencing different cultures, and their attendant sights, smells and tastes. China's rich history and its increasingly important role in world events were additional incentives for the trip.

What was your favorite part of the trip?

You're asking me to choose among wandering the Forbidden City, climbing (sort of) the Great Wall, chowing down on Beijing duck, admiring the terracotta warriors, gazing at the stone carvings in Dazu, cruising down the Yangtze, floating down the Li River surrounded by the fabled karst formations and eating freshly caught seafood in Hong Kong with my husband's college classmate of long ago. Sorry, picking just one can't be done!

What was the biggest flub of the trip?

That's an easy one. We should have gotten many more foot massages!

What surprised you?
I was amazed by how easy it was to travel in China on our own. The hotels in the major cities we stayed at were every bit the equal of comparable hotels in other parts of the world. The Peninsula in Beijing was also an incredible deal compared to Parisian hotels. The food was great; the people welcoming. Cabs are incredibly cheap and provided easy transport everywhere.

What would you do differently if you had to do it all again?
I would probably stay longer. This was a shorter trip (3 weeks) than we usually take. We were concerned that China might be difficult to handle, and we didn't want to take the chance that we would be counting the days until our return. I also regret not going to Tibet.

What advice do you have for someone going to China?

For starters, begin studying Mandarin in preschool. It's not something you pick up in your later years. We took a class in Mandarin before going, but the nature of the language makes it excruciatingly difficult. We read a lot about China before going. In particular we enjoyed books about the experiences of Westerners who went to teach in China.

If you're going on your own, develop a plan before you go. Research places to eat, stay and visit. You don't want to waste time trying to figure out what you're doing. Finally, don't be afraid to go on your own. China is a wonderful place to explore. If you have any sense of adventure you don't need a tour. It's so much more fun to be in control of what you see, when you see it and, of course, what you eat and where.

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