Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Things We Might've Done Differently
- We might've arranged to take the train from Guangzhou back to Hong Kong to save $400. As it stands, not knowing how the train is setup and all, we had our adoption agency arrange to fly us from CAN to HKG. The plus side of this arrangement is simplicity once we get to Hong Kong, not having to transfer ourselves and our luggage from the Kowloon Hung Hom train station over to the airport.
- We would've stayed on Shamian Island, probably at the White Swan hotel. The China Hotel by Marriott, while a nice hotel, is in the middle of a business district and provides virtually zero options for tourism or shopping within walking distance. The White Swan, on the other hand, is right across the street from dozens of stores and services catering to adoptive families as well as numerous dining options.
UPDATE: According to a phone conversation I had with AWAA's travel coordinator, Anna, they previously situated adoptive families at the White Swan and moved to China Hotel because: (1) the cost was much less negotiable, because the White Swan has such an ideal location (2) it was also much harder to deal with them when trying to book reservations for large groups (3) the rooms are probably about 1/3 smaller than those at the China Hotel. That being said, if we ever do this again, I might look for other locations anyway.
- While our guides have been very knowledgeable, if we were to come again, we might go by ourselves or with a different in-country agency. The price of our in-country package through America World was about 50% more than we'd anticipated, and other families in our group agreed with that assessment based on what they paid respectively. We were not given any warning of the amount of the package nor was there enough time to choose alternatives when it was provided (with a few weeks remaining before travel). Not only was AWAA unable to give us a breakdown of the in-country package price (how did they come up with it then?!?!?!), but taking into account an educated guess for the airfare and hotel and food costs as well as travel costs, I still find myself thinking that we overpaid by about 25% at least.
- Related to the previous point, rather than being taken by our guides to the outrageously expensive Friendship Store as well as several other expensive "tourist trap" locations, we would've cut our trip shorter by several days: one week instead of the week and half that we have stayed in Guangzhou. We wish our guides had taken us to the more moderately priced Carrefour for grocery shopping as a group, rather than the Friendship Store. Instead, we had to discover that option by ourselves.
UPDATE: Again, AWAA suggests that given the constraints of paper processing first with Chinese authorities and then with the U.S. Consulate, that the 1.5 weeks for travel is really the shortest practical timeframe. I'll take their word for it, though even a day fewer on the front or back end would've made it seem more bearable.
- We would've gotten more savvy more early as to dining options. For the first week here in Guangzhou, we ate McDonald's, hotel restaurants and room service. It was only on Sunday that we accidentally discovered the "Delicatessen Corner" in the hotel here. Instead of the average 70RMB for a meal that most restaurants charged, we could get lunchboxes of home-style Chinese food for a mere 10RMB (that's $1.25 USD!). This is where all the locals and businessmen in the hotel attending meetings grab a bite to eat, understandably. And again, why wasn't this suggested as an option by our guides? Instead, they loosely coordinated group dinners at the various expensive hotel restaurants. Either they think we're rich, or don't really care that we aren't!
- One of the downsides of traveling with a large group—AWAA had about 50 families here—is that the schedule and communication is somewhat rigid. When we missed a couple of the outings, we also inadvertently missed a number of announcements. A number of families expressed similar thoughts. We'd rather have been provided more insight on daily/weekly activities. Instead, we were only ever given at most 12 hours notice on most activities and meeting times. Again, while well-run, we talked with other families who agreed that it seemed like we were treated like incompetent babies at times rather than adults. But again, on the other hand, I can appreciate that trying to manage a large group in a foreign land; one sometimes has to cater to the least experienced travelers rather than those who are more experienced.
All of the above notwithstanding, the most important thing is not lost on me. We have our daughter, and money and inconveniences are but a small price to pay to have her.
UPDATE: One family who adopted through AWAA in the last year has shared with us via email very similar experiences and agreement with all of the above points. For those of you considering using AWAA or who are already doing so and anticipating travel, please consider the above accordingly as NOT isolated incidents.