On the Couch: China Adventures with Mr Su Zhi Wei

Mr Su
Mr Su

Mr Su is a part of World Expeditions history. He was there when we were the first company to operate cycling tours in China almost 40 years ago, a time when he couldn't have even thought to own a car. Now, with driving one of his favourite forms of travel, and feeling more optimistic about tourism in China post-Covid, he recounts some fun and key highlights during his time at World Expeditions.

Hello ‘Mr Su’. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. 

Hello! I live in Guangzhou, China where I run a travel company which operates both in-bound tourism and out-bound as well. I have a family of 3, my wife (who works in our company) and my daughter. My daughter lives in California with my 7 year old grandson, so we travel to the USA often to visit the.

I feel very fortunate that I chose a career that I could devote myself to it for my whole life, because I always love travel. I’d love to see the outside world since I was a child. And I love to bring people to see our own world and our people the outside. Besides travel, I love hiking, biking, fishing and driving. I love cars. For me, a car means freedom of travel.

I have worked for World Expeditions China tour program since 1986, when I was 25 years old. Now I am 63, and have helped the company with over 600 China adventure tours during my career. 

When did you first begin in the tourism industry in China? 

My first job after my graduation from college was arranged by the government. Those days in the 70s and 80s the government paid for our education and assigned us to work for them. 

It was not like now, where graduates find their own jobs. So, I was assigned to work in the ministry of foreign affairs in Beijing in 1982. 

But after 4 years I found this job didn’t suit me. I quit in 1986. I found a new job in my hometown, Guangzhou, in a travel company. My job was sales and marketing, and I also worked as a guide. 

Su Zhi Wei at Machu Picchu

What are the biggest changes you have noticed in China’s tourism industry during your time? 

I witness great changes of China in all aspects during the past 3-4 decades. When I was leading trips in the 80s, when China was booming with construction, some senior Americans told me your country is experiencing drastic changes. 

A Swiss journalist asked me what car I liked when all I had was a bicycle! A car was a dream for me and an apartment of our own was even more so. But in a matter of 10-ish years, we had our own apartment and our own car. We owe this success to our Reform and Open policy. The Western world embraced China. 

How did you first come to meet with World Expeditions? 

The travel company I first worked at ran bicycle tours for World Expeditions in the 1980’s. I was there in 1986 and I met the founders then later there was a man called Charles Stuart, a manager for China trips. 

Then we had Tian An Men Square event in 1989. China was boycotted. Those were difficult years for us all running China tours. 

I left the travel company I worked for and started to work for myself after a few years. 

What was the first World Expeditions tour you operated? Any ‘interesting’ memories? 

World Expeditions ran the first bicycle trip in China back in early 1980’s. I think before that time there were no other foreign tour company doing this type of trip. In the minds of Chinese, we thought this cycle tourism was insane. We assumed travel and tour should be comfortable with no physical challenge. 

Because I was a green-hand in 1986, I was not qualified to guide for World Expeditions. Instead, I was sent to work for a single young Aussie lady from another travel company, cycling one day from Guangzhou to Zhaoqing. 

I was a bit sorry for the lady. Those days hotels in rural China were government owned and in poor management. Ten minutes after we checked in, she knocked on my door bringing me to see a big black spider crawling out of her bed in her room. I tried to calm her down saying this was not a poisonous spider and quickly had front desk change her room. She was in tears till we returned to Guangzhou. 

Mr Su in Patagonia

In 1980’s, World Expeditions’ bike groups entered China from Macao and cycled through rural South Guangdong to Guangzhou. South Guangdong manufacturing industry was booming those years and attracted people from all over China to work there creating busy traffic year on year. 

Feedback came that the traffic was too busy. After learning this I developed a new bike route in North Guangdong. This new bike trip was very popular with World Expeditions travellers and we had full trips for a couple of years! But unfortunately, in 1989 we had a Tian An Men Square event and China was boycotted. 

In the 1990’s World Expeditions numbers were picking up. In 1996 I started to have my own business. The first trip was a cycling trip of North Guangdong. It was a group of 8 Australians. 

Those days World Expeditions sent their own tour leader, Stan Corney. I led quite a few trips with him. He was a strong man and had a great sense of humour. He brought a lot of laughter for the group and we built a strong friendship. After he retired I invited him for a bike ride around Taiwan Island and later another bike ride in Tibet. 

Those days in rural China things were not easy. You may have very poor hotels. Western food was a no. Most roads were gravel and unpaved. In rainy days the roads were so bad and muddy that our support vehicles were easily stranded. We had to hire local farmers to help out once! 

The World Expeditions travellers were very nice. They found all these challenges acceptable (no one had tried to do this tour before) and made no complaints. 

Discover the heart of China when you travel by bike |  <i>Scott Pinnegar</i>

What is the favourite trip you have designed for World Expeditions?

It used to be China by Bike, but it lost popularity. It looks like the older generations liked physical challenge but not younger generations. Now, it is the China Silk Road. 

This trip was quite popular and remained a best seller for many years. Silk Road is a great trip, but tricky to operate. 

There was one year when one group happened to cross the border during our national day holiday. The Chinese border control let the group go. The group travelled over the no-man zone and came to the Kyrgyzstan border where they were told they were closed during the Chinese holiday. The group returned back to the China side but could not enter China anymore with their visas void! They stayed overnight at the army barracks of China. Our partners in Kyrgyzstan ran to their rescue the next day. 

Preparations at Ta'er Monastery |  <i>Peter Walton</i>

The pandemic. How did you survive?

The government locked down the whole country for 3 years from January 2020 till March 2023. Because we specialized in in-bound tours, there was little room for us to get a bite from domestic Chinese market. To survive we tried to reduce all costs as much as possible and all staff paid half salary. 

Now is far from pre-pandemic level. But 2025 likely will be much better than this year. We estimate 2025 will be much better than 2024 according to the inquiries we receive so far, but not yet to the level pre-pandemic. In 2019 there were 380 flights weekly between China and USA, now is only 100 flights. 

Benefits of travelling to China now?

If I had never been to China, now is a great time to come. Very few foreign tourists now. In the old days there were so many Europeans in big cities, now we don’t see any. 

Any final comments you'd like to share? 

As common people, I can assure you that Chinese people are a friendly one. We always welcome all westerners to come visiting our country. China gave free visa to quite a few Asian countries. Now free visa to 6 European countries, ie Germany, Italy, France, Holland, Spain and Belgium. I wish same will apply to Aussies, Kiwis and other countries in the near future. We seem to be back in normal with Australia relation again with trade ban lifted.

View all China Adventures
China, On the Couch

Comment (0)

Your comment will be visible after the administrator's approval.

b i u quote

Save Comment
Join Newsletter
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/ADS.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Adventures South"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Adventure South</div>
Adventure South NZ is unrivalled in their geographic coverage, originality and overall quality of adventures holidays in New Zealand. Choose from walking, cycling, winter or multi-activity holidays, on either the North or South Island.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/AWH.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Australian Walking Holidays"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Australian Walking Holidays</div>
Australian Walking Holidays specialises in small group guided walking adventures. Since 1982 we have been guiding small groups of travellers on Australia's finest walks across our tropical, coastal or red centre landscapes.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/GCT.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Great Canadian Trails"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Great Canadian Trails</div>
Great Canadian Trails specialises in active holidays in Canada. With both guided and supported self-guided options available, our unique itineraries draw upon some of Canada's most inspiring parks, trails and landscapes from coast to coast.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/HUM.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Humac Challenge"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Huma Charity Challenge</div>
Huma enables those with adventurous spirits to challenge themselves and make a difference for a cause close to their heart. Travel, fundraise and meet life-long friends on one of Huma's meaningful and unique challenges around the world.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/WB.jpg?v2' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Walkers’ Britain"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Walkers' Britain</div>
Walkers' Britain (formerly Sherpa Expeditions) have specialised in walking and cycling trips in the United Kingdom and Europe since 1973. Explore iconic trails and destinations on a self guided or small group active holiday with Walkers' Britain.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/WB.jpg?v2' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Walkers’ Britain"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Walkers' Britain</div>
Walkers' Britain (formerly Sherpa Expeditions) have specialised in walking and cycling trips in the United Kingdom and Europe since 1973. Explore iconic trails and destinations on a self guided or small group active holiday with Walkers' Britain.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/TAS.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Tasmania Expeditions"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Tasmanian Expeditions</div>
Tasmanian Expeditions is the most experienced operator of treks and adventure travel holidays in Tasmania. We own and operate the most comprehensive range of adventure holidays available across Tasmania's varied landscapes.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/UTX-new.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Utracks"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>UTracks</div>
UTracks are the active European holiday specialists. Whether you prefer cycling or walking, 2-star or 4-star, small groups or self guided, land, river or sea – UTracks can help you to explore Europe exactly the way you want.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/WYA.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="World Expeditions Schools"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>World Expeditions Schools</div>
World Expeditions Schools is our specialist division dedicated to organising tailor made overseas school group adventures. Specialists in Service Learning projects, choose from more destinations than any other school group provider.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/YOM.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Yomads"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Yomads</div>
Yomads offers adventures for the 20s and 30s on six continents. Designed as a way to bring young and likeminded travellers together, Yomads caters to those interested in lightly structured and active trips that allow freedom to roam and explore.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/ACT.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Australian Cycle Tours"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Australian Cycle Tours</div>
Australian Cycle Tours specialises in high quality self guided and guided cycling experiences in a selection of the most beautiful regions in Australia.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/WEX.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="World Expeditions"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>World Expeditions</div>
The pioneers of original, worldwide adventure travel holidays since 1975
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/TJX.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Trail Journeys"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Trail Journeys</div>
Self-guided cycling experts on New Zealand's Otago Rail Trail and more
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/BMAC.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Blue Mountains Adventure Company"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Blue Mountains Adventure Company</div>
The original Blue Mountains canyoning, hiking, climbing and abseiling experts
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/GWNZ.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Great Walks of New Zealand"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Great Walks of New Zealand</div>
Explore New Zealand's most spectacular wilderness regions with the self-guided hiking experts
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/NAA.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="North America Active"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>North America Active</div>
USA Canada hiking & cycling tour specialists, choose from self-guided or guided trips