OPINION: More Than Two Year Later, My Memories of Visiting China Remain Golden

It was more than two years ago, as I stopped by at an exhibition on Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Outcomes – near my office that an extraordinary journey into my distant past began. A call from a senior official, in early January 2018, who said “Hey! Tha, you have been selected to attend a week-long programme called “Disseminating co-operation of China-ASEAN tourism”.

I answered, “Thanks, I am ready to visit the native country of my mom’s ancestors who sailed from China and landed on a Cambodian beach about 250 years ago.”

Those warm, golden memories of that journey will always remain a part of me.

China Radio International, in collaboration with Beijing’s tourism office invited 20 people from the ten-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to visit the superpower to see what China’s officials described as part of “disseminating of cooperation of China-ASEAN tourism” to boost tourism. The group divided into two teams, with one touring the north and the other visiting the south of China.

Seeing is believing as China gives the ASEAN press a trip to boost tourism.

Zhang Xilong, Director General of the China National Tourism Administration, says that, “ASEAN is the main tourist market for China. We pay great attention to that and we strongly promote two-way tourism, as well as other sectors.”

The tourism sector continues to grow, thanks to the great joint efforts of China-ASEAN co-operation. More than 30 million tourists travelled in 2016, Xilong told journalists at a news conference at his Beijing office on January 8, 2018.

In 2016, tourist arrivals from ASEAN to China were more than 10.32 million, an increase of 57 percent from 2015. Chinese visitors to ASEAN reached 20 million in 2016, a 30 percent increase from 2015.

Xilong predicts that number will increase in 2017 by 20 percent compared to 2016, although the official numbers are expected to be higher when released early this year, thanks to greater co-operation of China-ASEAN tourism.

“China pays great attention to exchange of tourism and much more in the future, given it is more than just the exchange of tourism of China-ASEAN and will also help improve mutual understanding between people to people, deeper co-operation, humanitarian assistance, and ultimately bring about greater tourism co-operation and friendship.”

“In this respect, we hope that media can play an important role in promoting tourism,” Xilong told the press delegation.

“There are more tourists from ASEAN who want to visit northern China, where they want to experience snowfall. They are interested in snow and that we will do more tourism promotion on that,” Xilong says.

China-ASEAN held meetings in the Philippines in early 2017 on tourism co-operation. Xilong’s office also held separate tourism forums in Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam, which are members of ASEAN, aimed at boosting two-way tourism, and followed by a China tourism forum in November 2017 in Yunnan province, to which officials from ASEAN were invited.

GREATER COOPERATION IN TOURISM WITH ASEAN, OTHERS

China looks to increase cooperation with ASEAN on two-way traffic that would further boost the sector through events and activities as part of promotional campaigns.

Xilong says: “Both China and ASEAN are neighbours and have similar cultures that help to increase cooperation in the tourism field.”

“The more they visit, the better they will understand each other’s values, and this will help to build deeper cooperation.”

“In the future, we will set up China tourism branches in Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore to facilitate greater cooperation,” he says.

There is an estimated 3,000 direct flights every week between China and ASEAN. 

The total number of tourist arrivals in 2016 from China to ASEAN was 19.8 million, an increase of 6.4 percent compared to 2015.

The China National Tourism Administration’s report predicts that the number of visits by Chinese travellers in China will increase 10 percent year-on-year, reaching 4.88 billion and generating 4.4 trillion Yuan (US$635 billion) in revenue, an increase of 12.5 percent.

Xilong visited Cambodia twice in 2017, from which he learned that the Kingdom of Wonder has a lot of tourism potential, such the Angkor Temple complex, listed as a World Heritage Site.

“We are pleased with Cambodia’s services. We also ask the Kingdom to have more tourist guides speaking Chinese to meet the growing demand of Chinese visitors.”

An estimated 1 million Chinese visited Cambodia in 2017, while 50,000 Cambodians travelled to China, Xilong says, adding that tourists from both sides will increase as the two Asian nations marked their 60th anniversary this year.

Cambodia expects to receive 2 million Chinese tourists by 2023 thanks to wide-ranging cooperation with China.

“The Chinese government pushes more Chinese companies to invest in Cambodia, in hotels and restaurants, to support the growing demand. At the same time, we welcome Cambodia and ASEAN countries to invest in China for mutual interest,” Xilong says.

“At the same time, we are improving our service to attract more tourists.”

There has been quite a lot of development in the tourism sector in recent years, he says. China itself has invested 2.86 billion Yuan (more than US$440 million) in tourism in 2017 to improve services and meet the growing demands of the sector.

For instance, over the last three years, China has built another 70,000 toilets, important for a better visitor experience. China’s tourism authority co-operates with foreign partners, including Japan, to build more public toilets along with renovations to existing ones.

“We know that China’s tourist environment, maybe, is not as good as the developed world but we are improving it. We will make China the clean and healthy tourist area in the next three years,” assures Xilong.

“We welcome resources both from local and foreign contributions to preserve and develop all tourist areas. China’s tourism industry develops fast, so joint efforts are vital to our development.”

The ‘One-Belt One-Road initiative by President Xi Jinping in 2013 also plays part in tourism sector.

Foreign tourists visited China in 2016 was more than 28.5 million, an increase 8 percent compared to 2015, with South Korean tourists with the lion’s share.

More Chinese people will visit North America, Australia, Brazil, and Africa in the future, predicts Xilong.

CHINA, THE MOST U.N. LISTED WORLD HERITAGE SITES

Xinlong says that, China so far has 52 sites listed as world heritage site — including 26 cultural, 12 natural, and 4 cultural and natural sites, giving the country the most UNESCO listed sites.

Italy ranks second with 51 sites.

As of this year, there is a total of 1,073 sites, out of which 832 are Cultural sites, 206 are Natural sites and 35 are mixed sites. In Asia, it is China and India that house the most heritage sites.

Xilong says that along the Silk Road alone, China has 22 World Heritage listed sites. The Silk Roads, listed as a world heritage site in June 2014, is an ancient network of trade routes, which formed in the second century and remained in use until the 16th century, connecting the West and the East that stretched from the Korean peninsula and Japan to the Mediterranean Sea.

The ASEAN delegation press trip also visited a number of tourist sites in the North and South of China, experiencing the 300 km/h high-speed train, visiting historic sites, and commercial towns in Hangzhou and Shanghai.

“We have high-speed trains operational nationwide,” says Xilong, “more highways, and more roads that reach all big cities. We can do one-day visiting.”

After 5 and half hours by high-speed train on 1,591 km from Beijing, the group arrived in Hangzhou on January 9, 2018.

In Hangzhou province the West Lake Scenic area, locally known as Xi Hu, covers 6.5 square kilometres (2.5 square miles) with an average depth of 2.3 metres (7.5 feet). The site is from the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 to 1279) and was declared a World Heritage Site in 2011.

The touring of Lingyin Temple built during the Eastern Jing Dynasty (317CE to 420 CE) where inside of the temple wall are many renowned and protected Buddhist artefacts of 24.8 height meters (82 feet) in Hangzhou.

After dark, the group watched a must-see, brilliant performance of “Romantic Show” from the Songcheng dynasty, one of the three most famous shows in the world.

The next morning, the delegation toured the Wensli silk culture museum, where the display includes Emperor Qianlong’s impressive imperial robe, the peacock-featured fabric worn by Jia Baoyu, a character in The Dream of the Red Mansion. A delegation from the G20 Hangzhou Summit visited the museum in 2016.

On January 10, 2018, we visited another U.N. listed site: Xixi wetland, which covers 11.5 square kilometres (26,000 acres). It was established during the Han-jin dynasties around 476 BC. It is the first and only national wetland park, with 70 percent water fed by six rivers, in the western part of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province. It has a history of more than 1,800 years and an abundant cultural heritage.

A boat driver in his 50s, who toured the group at the park, as he navigated his boat and fished: “Visitors who come here have no need to bring any food with them, they can get fish from the river and prepare their own meals. We have plenty of fish.”

As an economic power, China makes sure that the ASEAN delegation will not miss how China supports start-up companies and educated people who have big dream to achieve their goals by setting up the Dream Town in 2014 on 3 square kilometres. Here, more than 11,000 projects engage more than 10,000 people.

However, China does not forget its old days and how they survived by making their living on the Grand Canal, the world’s longest man-made canal. We were shown the handicraft centre, seeing the traditional tools, such as knives used by the Chinese thousands of years ago. It is one of the greatest hydraulic projects in human history, stretching 1,794 kilometres. As an artery connecting northern and southern China, it has long contributed to the nation’s prosperity. It was added to the World Heritage List in June 2014.

The next day, January 11, 2018, we got in another high-speed train from Hangzhou to Shanghai with an hour-long journey of 300 kilometres.

A tourist guide in his 40s raised a travel guide, saying: “Knowing Shanghai starts from the oriental pearl tower” of more than 400 metres hits -3 C in winter.

Friday January 12, 2018 was the last day of our visit to old Shanghai, the Bund & Oriental Pearl Tower at the Yu Garden, on 2-hectare of land built during the reign of Ming Emperor Jiajing in 1559. World leaders, including Prince Norodom Sihanouk and his wife, visited and enjoyed their meals at the Old city where they visited the well-protected garden with its cultural relics showing the best of China’s tradition.

A Chinese interpreter, as she pointed to the picture of then the Prince on the wall of the restaurant in the old city of Shanghai, said: “Your Prince Norodom Sihanouk is quite well-known to Chinese people. Everyone has heard of Sihanouk in China.”

Source: Agency Kampuchea Press