By Wayne Chan
Look, I like saving money as much as the next guy. But sometimes, saving money shouldn’t always be the highest priority.
I sign up for discount programs. I look out for sales on Black Friday. I’m always on the lookout for particularly good bargains. With some purchases, though, the adage “you get what you pay for” comes into play.
Case in point — the trip to China with my brother Steve.
I love my little brother. I call him my little brother because he’s younger than me. But there’s nothing “little” about him. He’s about four or five inches taller than me, and I’m tall.
In my previous career as an import/export specialist, I had to go to Asia a lot, particularly China. My brother Steve, who has a law degree, never had the opportunity to travel to China.
A few years ago, when our mom was still with us, she mentioned to me that Steve had expressed interest in going to China and visiting all the normal things a tourist would see in China.
Not long after, Mom passed. We all miss her, even though we know it’s just a part of life.
But I remembered what my mom had told me about Steve, and I had a thought, which I shared with him. Why don’t we go to China together? Just you and I — two brothers, and we’ll go in honor of Mom. Steve thought it was a good idea as well.
So, Steve started researching the trip. After looking at the various option, he presented me with his top choice — two weeks in China, visiting Beijing and Shanghai. The whole trip, including airfare to and from the U.S. and within China, hotels, ground transportation and some meals would only cost $799.
I couldn’t believe he had found such a great deal. It was one of the most memorable trips of my life. Although I had been to many of the places before — the Bund in Shanghai, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City — there’s something so much more meaningful when you’re doing it with your brother, and for the very first time.
It was a terrific trip, and we saved money to boot!
Here’s where it gets interesting.
Not too long ago, back here at home, I went to have lunch with Steve. At one point, he told me that he had mentioned our trip together with one of his friends. His friend told Steve he thought it sounded fun and exciting and that he and Steve should go back to China together. Steve went back to do his regular research, and he came up with another option. But, Steve said, this trip was even, quote/unquote, “better”!
Two weeks in China to Shanghai and Beijing with airfare and hotels, ground transportation, day visits to the Great Wall and other tourist locations included — all for the bargain basement price of…$299.
Bear in mind, he shared this price with me with a big grin on his face.
I had some questions.
1. Does the plane use normal jet fuel? Or are they experimenting with reconstituted French fry oil grease?
2. Are seat belts included with the flight, or are they an extra safety add-on?
3. Does the plane actually land, or are we mandated to parachute out of the plane? If so, does that count as one of the included tourist excursions? How are we supposed to get our luggage, or do those come with parachutes, too?
4. When you go out to visit the Great Wall, are the tourists expected to patch up any parts of the wall that are in disrepair on their way down?
Seriously, though, the reason some of these tour packages are so affordable is because the Chinese government is subsidizing a large portion of the trip in order to encourage travelers to spend money once they’re there. For example, on the tour of the Great Wall, everyone usually makes a stop at a silk factory along the way to encourage tourists to buy some of their products.
I mentioned this to Steve, and the conversation went something like this:
Wayne: You know you’re going to have to sit through a stop at the silk factory for an hour or so before you end up at the wall, right?
Steve: I don’t care what they do or where they take me. I’m not going to buy anything.
Wayne: But that’s the whole problem — you’re on vacation, and you have to go to these stops every day before they take you anywhere you want to go!
Steve: I don’t care — they can put me through a timeshare presentation every day if that’s what they want. I won’t buy anything.
Wayne: Is Carol (Steve’s wife) going to go on this trip with you?
Steve: She said she’d love to go, but not for $299.
Carol is a wise woman.
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