We’ve come a long way since 1985, when Israeli travelers I met in China had to hide their “real” passports from local authorities and most Chinese I met had never left their home province, let alone crossed a national border. The China Daily recently reported that, on September 25, Chinese tourists will visit Israel for the first time without special business visas.
I hope Israel’s new guests find friends around Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, which top their itinerary. I know I was never lonely during the year I spent roaming the People’s Republic with a manual typewriter and three changes of clothing. Besides billions of Chinese for company, I encountered a small army of other “foreign ghosts” traveling, like me, without tour guides or coach buses. In our dorm-style accommodations and in the streets, train stations and open-air markets, they were hard to miss.
Just a few of my fellow backpackers were Israelis. I was lucky enough in Lhasa, Tibet, to become fast friends with one of them, a dry-witted anthropologist from Netanya named Dina Heimann. Our decision to travel together after a planned rendez-vous with her brother, Eli, embroiled me in her life, and Israeli culture, in ways I never would have expected. Continue reading