Monday, March 24, 2008

CITS = ?

Well really, CITS stands for China International Tourist Service, and is essentially the PRC’s government tourist agency. In a country like China, having a government-affiliated tour guide could prove to be useful, for securing train tickets and getting problems sorted out.

But this could also complicate things. In every city, the CITS bureau has a list of endorsed souvenir shops. The tour guides receive a commission on all purchases made by their group there, and thus naturally will shepherd their tourists into such shops. This may not sound too bad, and it probably isn’t, but from my experience, one of the defining things in China is being able to wander down a little backstreet and stumble upon fantastic little flea markets where Cultural Revolution era Little Red Books can still be had.

Usually, these little knooks and crannies are not officially endorsed, meaning that you are less likely to be led towards them. Whilst in places such as Fuzimiao in Nanjing or YuYuan in Shanghai, flea markets are neigh unavoidable; they can be hard to find in other cities.

Still, this is not to say that all CITS guides are so heavily inclined to build up commission. For all I know, Mr Ciao will reveal these little curios to us, and most likely it is simply luck of the draw, and this rant isn’t even aimed at the tour guides themselves. This policy just seems a little on the archaic side of things.

And the cause of this indignation? Well this is my first real tour, and to date I have explored China without restriction in the most basic sense of the word. Whilst I’m looking forward to seeing from a slightly different slant, I’m praying those few degress don’t affect my impression of what is without a doubt one of my favourite countries on this planet.

With about 40 minutes to go before landing in Beijing, we’ll see.

UPDATE 14:44 Chinese Time: If my first impressions are correct, then Mr Ciao will help, not hinder us.

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