Sue and I went out for a meal tonight at a nearby Chinese restaurant where the food was a little spicier than what we’ve been experiencing over the last couple of days. I like spicy food, I like challenging food, I like to try new things. In contrast, the food in the last few days has been a little mainstream, a little same-same for my liking. That said, the menu’s obviously been designed with the tour group in mind: people who aren’t, perhaps, as adventurous as I am. At lunchtime, today, for example, there was a level of surprise and unsurity in the group about the flavours and the individual preparation of Peking Duck.

Going on a tour group is, by its very nature, about individual compromise. You need to go on a tour accepting there will be some things you will enjoy, some things you won’t, some people you will like, and some people you won’t. Life is about compromise. Sue and I were discussing this on the bus this afternoon, noting we would have found it difficult to have done so many of the things we have done over the last few days if we had travelled by ourselves. “We could have hired a driver for the day”, I said to Sue, but balanced that by noting it would have been more expensive to have done so, and then on top of that, there would have been all of the additional costs (including entry prices, accommodation and flights) which are all covered as part of this tour.

Today’s activities included a couple of things which I really loved (The Great Wall and The Summer Palace) and some things I wasn’t terribly excited about (a visit to a jade factory, and a visit to a factory where they make enamel-covered copper pots and ornaments). “I might have been born with the gay gene”, I joked to Sue, “but I was born with a damn big straight one as well”. I swear every man in the group (including myself) felt as though these visits looking at jewellery and ornaments were on par with Chinese water torture. I did enjoy the look behind the scenes at the manufacturing at both factories, even if I did find the final products a little uninspiring. But there again, you make compromises. For example, the part of the wall we visited was good but not as great as the spot I visited when I came here in 2010. I really loved The Summer Palace: a really beautiful spot on a lake.

The dynamics (and the pros and cons) of being on a tour group are fascinating to participate in and observe. There’s one couple in the group, for example, who seem to want to dominate proceedings, in some ways want to run the tour themselves. Hopefully, by the end of the tour, this particular couple might have learned a few lessons about the compromises inherent in travelling in a group, and maybe accepting the guides have done the tour before and maybe know a little more than you.

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