I recently held a million dollars’ worth of gold in my hands.
This was not my own gold, obviously. This gold belonged to a company that extracts gold from the rocks under the earth and processes it. I was fortunate enough to be taken on a tour of both their processing plant and their corporate headquarters. It was in the latter that I encountered this glittering, 25kg block of the purest wealth. Pictures were taken. Jokes were made. The security guard never smiled.
This tour was just part of the incredible week I spent traveling during China’s National Day break. My wife and I were invited to go on a trip to the coast of northeast China. We were not the guests of honour. We were actually just tag-alongs by virtue of a family connection. Still, we gratefully accepted the hospitality of our hosts as we spent five days touring through spectacular scenes of rocky, salt-washed shorelines, verdant mountains, exquisite Buddhist shrines and monuments, elegant vineyard chateaux, human-swamped tourist attractions, and of course, gold mines.
Having influential hosts made the journey so much easier and more convenient than my usual method of travel. At every attraction we stopped at, our host would simply make a phone call, and a few minutes later a personal guide would meet us at the gate. The guide would take us past all the line-ups and give us a personalized tour of the attraction. We were often taken through “staff only” areas to make our tour more convenient.
Our host seemed able to influence more than just tour guides, however. At one point, when we were stuck in an impossible clot of gridlocked traffic, he got out of the bus and started talking to the drivers of all the cars around us. After a few minutes, the drivers all managed to manoeuver their cars out of the way and we were able to make a u-turn, avoiding the jam.
Of course, this type of trip was really defined by the food, or more correctly, the dining experience. I conservatively estimate that we spent at least four hours of each day sitting around the dining table. Although I was only a stowaway on this trip, I was still asked to sit in the “second honoured guest” seat, at the host’s left hand. Most of the meals were at the finest restaurants in each city we visited, many of which were owned by the host’s family. As well, because we were near the ocean and our because our host’s family also happened to own cattle ranches, our meals consisted of the finest, freshest seafood and most delicate cuts of beef. Each meal consisted of at least twenty different dishes, sometimes more. Of course, because there were many guests at the table, there were many toasts. Most meals we stuck to beer and wine, but a few times we got into the Moutai. As I didn’t understand most of the conversation, my role seemed to be to eat, drink and smile.
Life is back to normal now, and I think my body has recovered from the overabundance of the good life. I am grateful for my hosts’ warm hospitality and for all the experiences they provided, but I think I can only handle small doses of this type of lifestyle. Still, when someone hands you the gold, you have to take it.