President Clinton is scheduled to make a state visit to China later this month, arriving during a peak season that is also popular for unofficial visits by an increasing number of American tourists. But you'd be smarter, in my view, to skip the kind of heat and humidity the president will occasionally encounter (it gets worse in July and August) and plan now for a visit to China in the best month of all--the occasionally balmy, often brisk November, when both air fares and hotel rates are very reasonable.
TBI Tours, telephone (800) 223-0266--part of a large, long-established tour-operating giant called General Tours--has recently announced a series of eight-day tours to Beijing in November, costing the remarkable sum of only $899 per person, including round-trip air fare from any of 90 different U.S. cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. The air carrier is Northwest Airlines, and the hotel for the six nights spent in Beijing is the decent, tourist-class Tian Tan.
The price includes a full-day tour of Beijing and a half-day tour to the Great Wall. It's no wonder that the tour operator has proudly called its offering "the world's best travel bargain."
Roughly similar rates for low-priced quick trips to Beijing are offered by other tour operators, and some charge even lower prices for stays extending into the much colder winter months.
Pacific Delight Tours, tel. (800) 221-7179 or (212) 684-7707, probably the largest tour operator to China, charges $899 per person (double occupancy) from Oct. 1 to Nov. 15, but drops the rate to $769 from Nov. 16 to Dec. 12. Again the stay is for six nights, this time at the Traders Hotel, but from the West Coast and Detroit only.
The smaller Silkway Tours, tel. (800) 945-7960 or (212) 679-6888, charges $999 for round-trip air fare and a six-night stay from mid-September to mid-November, but drops the price to $769 from Nov. 16 to Dec. 11.
If a six-night stay is too short for you, how about a year?
The official student travel agency of the United States, the Council on International Educational Exchange, is taking applications for a program in which English speakers spend an academic year (or sometimes a portion of one) in China teaching their language on a high-school or university level. They receive a small salary (enough for a spartan room, board and an occasional short trip through China) in the process.
Now in its second year, the "Teach in China" program has attracted recent college graduates, retired teachers and older people interested in a midlife breather. No knowledge of the Chinese languages is required.
Considering the amount of time you're spending in the country, costs are minimal--a program administration fee of $445, plus $750 for a training and orientation program, including full room and board (the cost can be waived for the unusually well-qualified) and your air fare (which you're free to book on your own, although CIEE can generally arrange an excellent price).
Because the demand for English is sky-high in China, anyone admitted into the program, I'm told, can pretty much be assured that he or she will be placed at a learning institution before going through the orientation and training process (which takes place in China).
For application procedures, or more information, call toll free at (888) COUNCIL, or visit http://www.counciltravel.com.