By Sue Rodman
My sides ached. The kind of ache you get when you’ve done abs for four straight hours and can’t move.
None of us knew each other before the trip. I mean, I’d met a few of the girls. We’d exchanged pleasantries. Followed each other on social media. Commented on a few Facebook posts. But this wasn’t online friendship. This was IRL. In-Real-Life. And my sides were splitting apart laughing.
Five Bloggers. 10 Days. 1000 Emotions. Hashtag BucketlistChina.
My assignment was to write the family travel perspective on a familiarization trip with tour operator Mandarin Journeys. There were four other women in the group, all from different parts of the country, all covering different angles.
Things started off slow. Shanghai was a bit overwhelming. We literally walked for hours on end. The French Concession was interesting with its tree-lined streets. Kids and adults would enjoy the motorcycle sidecar ride through the city. I fell in love with the Yu Gardens, a gift from a son to his ailing father; and envisioned spy stories amid the ancient Old City alleyways. But then the trip changed from a family travel familiarization tour, to a girlfriend getaway.
A Girlfriends Getaway in China with Mandarin Journeys
It began while grabbing a beer down a random alleyway, people watching at a random table in the corner. I’m not sure if it was the crazy Chinese fashions, or the paparazzi taking pictures of us (people took pictures of us EVERYWHERE), but we stopped being a random group of bloggers. For the next week, I traveled through China with four girlfriends, taking in the sites with our tour guide from Mandarin Journeys.
We marveled at Vera, who opted out of our hike through a tea plantation in rural Houzhou and managed to find her way, unaccompanied by a translator, to the local Starbucks, where she secured someone’s phone number through sign language in order to access the free Wi-Fi. Danielle kept us entertained with her booming Italian voice, infectious belly laughs and karaoke performance in an ancient teahouse at the Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou. Diana ‘WOWed” us with her amazing photos of the scenery and the food, and kept us laughing with her travel stories. And finally Jewish mama Dana who organized the trip, and was always prepared for any situation with energy bars, ginger candies, tissues and wine. Marc Mekki, our Mandarin Journey’s guide had planned quite an adventure for us, but I’m not sure he was prepared for his adventure WITH us.
We spent bus rides between locations talking shop and exchanging business tips and tricks. We queried each other on spouses, children, families and our past. We shared family stories. We laughed. We joked. We got serious. We teared up. We kept a 100 RBM note to get us out of any potential compromising positions in dark alleyways.
Blowing up WeChat (Chinese Facebook)
And we took lots of pictures with locals. LOTS.of.Pictures. In Shanghai it was here and there. Starting off as someone slyly trying to snap us in the background. At Tai Hu Lake, watching the lights on the donut shaped Sheraton Hotel, it turned into a full on celebrity frenzy. Foot traffic on the bridge came to a screeching halt as random Chinese lined up to have their picture taken. You’d have thought we were One Direction before Zayn Malik left. The bus ride back to the Tai Hu Home resort was like a sorority formal. Five giggly girls sandwiched together in the back row talking non-stop as our dates sat up front, awkward and speechless.
I went on the #BucketListChina adventure with Mandarin Journey’s because it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see China beyond the tourist attractions. My assignment was to write about it from a family travel perspective, which I will certainly do, but when I’m chatting with mom friends on the sidelines of the lacrosse field, I’ll be encouraging them to think about a Mandarin Journey’s trip to China as a girlfriends getaway too.
Thank you Dana Zucker, Moms Good Eats, Diana Rowe, Traveling in Heels, Danielle Herzog, Martinis and Minivans, and Vera Sweeny, Lady and the Blog. So glad to have met you IRL, and shared so many good memories. I can’t wait to see you again. And thank you to Marc Mekki of Mandarin Journeys for putting up with all of us, and showing us the real China.
Portions of this trip were paid for by Mandarin Journeys, as is common in the travel industry. However, all opinions are my own.