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Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Chinese Bus Tour Day 1

I'm at the Holiday Inn Select in downtown Boston. Today was day one of a four day Chinese Bus Tour (henceforth known as CBT) and I am feeling more than a bit road-wary after a 10 hour bus ride from Toronto.

Before I go on any further, let me attempt to give an overview of a CBT. Chinese people -- those older than 45, anyways -- like to travel with efficiency in mind. The goal of the Chinese traveller is to see as many places in as little time (and as cheaply) as possible, and this is where the CBT comes in. A typical CBT itinery is freakishly long and rivals that of a presidential candidate campaigning for the election of his life. CBTs do not actually offer tourists a chance to really visit any of these attractions, sometimes stopping for only 15 minutes, but it does allow them to get those all important photos of themselves in front of famous landmarks to prove to their friends and family that they have "been there". In that sense, you can think of the CBT as a roundtrip greyhound ticket with free hotel stays and picture stops thrown in for good measure.

This morning I woke up at 5:30AM and got to the strip mall in Scarborough at 6:00AM to meet up with the rest of my group. I'm the type of person who would be reluctant to get out of bed this early in the morning for the birth of his own children, so this was a big deal for me. I haven't seen the sun rise since last winter (when the sun rose at a more civilized hour) and if I wasn't delirious with fatigue I would have taken a picture of this serene morning scene (something about seeing the sun rise above a stripmall makes me all misty-eyed). Instead, I met up with the stocky tour guide and boarded the bus to take an early morning nap.

At 6:30AM we left Scarborourgh and started for Markham, Chinatown and finally Missassaga to pick up the rest of the group of 55 tourists. At around 8:15AM, we left Missassaga and officially started the trip. The tour guide, Alan, introduced himself and his tag-team partner/driver Greg. Like all the other CBTs that I've been on (this is my 5th time) Greg, the driver, is white -- I won't comment on this since any discussion about Chinese people and driving will inevitably detereorating into a dangerous minefield that cannot be easily nor safely navigated.

After crossing the border at Niagra falls, Alan turned on his best canto-mandarine hybrid and told us the itinary for this trip: Today, we'll be going to Boston; Tomorrow we'll head to New York; Thursday it's on to Philadelphia and Washington; And Friday we'll be visiting some caves in Pennsylvania and the Corning Glass Musuem before heading back to Toronto. This message was repeated in fluent Cantonese (obviously Alan's native dialect) and followed in Canto-English for the benefit of the four Korean tourists who must have mistakenly boarded the wrong bus and were now part of our group.

I spent the next 8 hours son the bus travelling at excessively high speeds on the I-90 blazing across the state of New York to Boston. The scenery is really nothing to write home (or blog) about...lots of trees, some hills and fairly green: Nice to look at but not really impressive. It turns out, Alan had just returned from guiding a tour the previous night and was more tired than the rest of us, and so he didn't say much during the 8 ride. Instead, he showed us a series of movies: A Singaporean film called "I not stupid" that I highly recommend; Pirates of the Caribean, that I wouldn't recommend to anyone; And a part of X-men 2, a movie that I am ambivalent about.

At 6:30PM we arrived at Boston and went to our first attraction of the trip: Harvard. The problem with a place like Harvard is that it's so famous that on a summer day, there are more tourists there than students or professors. I was hoping to see grey-haired, pipe-smoking men in a heavy suits engaged in heated debate about the meaning of life with heavy New England accents. Instead, I saw slouching, khaki-clad, American Eagle-wearing types in their mid-twenties talking amonst themselves (probably about how to get a keg through their narror frathouse door.

I watched with some amusement as the throng of tourists, most of them from our group, lined up to take pictures with the statue of "John Harvard", some rubbing his left boot for luck as they posed for pictures. I guess none of them knew that the nickname for this statue is the "The statue of Three Lies" because the inscription on this hunk of bronze, "John Harvard, Founder, 1638," is not true three times over: No picture of John Harvard exists so the statue is not really of him, and if it was, John Harvard was not the founder of Harvard, which was founded in 1636, not 1638. After everyone had their picture with "John", Alan finally told them the truth about the lies and everyone (except those who had just elbowed someone for a shot of the statue) had a good laugh. I'm starting to like this guy already.

After Harvard, the bus drove past MIT for a quick glimpse of its campus. I recall passing what looked like a factory compound before Alan told us that we had just passed MIT. Ironically, the archetecture of one of the world's best architecture colleges is quite...well, lame. I'm sure they do great science though, so Miss Marpole, you'll have to send me some real pictures of MIT when you get settled in so I can see the nicer side of your new school =)

At 7:20PM we checked into the Holiday Inn Select on Blossum St. and 15 minutes later the group met at the lobby and walked over to the Quincy Market for dinner. Orinally built in the 1800s, Quincy Market is one of those convert-abandoned-brick-buildings-into-modern-entertainment-complex type of tourist traps that you can find in almost any moderately sized city in North America. Apparently, Quincy Market is one of Boston's most visited tourist attractions but for the life of me I can't figure out why. It may be true that the food court is housed in a building steeped in rich American history, but it's still just a food court. And the stores --Abercrombie & Fitch, Brookstone (no complaints, I love that store) and Godiva -- can be found in almost any mall.

I just got back from the market and a few minutes ago I tried taking a shower to wash away the bus-grim. Sadly, the drains are clogged and the towels have an unhealthy shade of brown that suggests I should maybe skip the shower tonight and just wipe myself down with a wet piece of paper towel. Come to think of it, everything in this room has a grungy look to it. I think this might be one of the worst Holiday Inn's I've ever stayed at.

Judging from the 3.5 hours that I've stayed at Boston, I think I can say with some authority that this is a pretty nice city. For a city of it's size, it's amazing how quaint it feels. Anyways, tomorrow's wakeup call is at 6:15 and we are heading out for the Big Apple, so I better go get rested up.

Your Favorite Jerk


At Wednesday, September 01, 2004 12:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I won't comment on this since any discussion about Chinese people and driving will inevitably detereorating into a dangerous minefield that cannot be easily nor safely navigated."

Hmmm... cannot be easily or safely navigated sounds like number 3 road during Chinese New Year, or Dundas and Spadina.

As for the "grey-haired, pipe-smoking men in a heavy suits engaged in heated debate about the meaning of life with heavy New England accents."

try reading Moby Dick, or visiting Maine or something.


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