All Hail Bruce Northam!

Bruce Northam has been a friend since my earliest days in the travel business, we met at a conference in Niagara Falls in 2004. Since then, Bruce and I have traveled together to Tualatin Valley Oregon, Denver Colorado, and now, he’s the reason I’m here in China this week.
group shot
In his talk at the show, Bruce focused on telling his life story and sharing some insights about his tours to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where he has lived for decades.  He doesn’t like the blogging culture, refuses to use a mobile phone to post photos or get email, and generally rails with good reason about what our industry has become in this day of influencers, spoiled brat bloggers and others who fail to see the inherent goodness in real travel, and getting to know the people you visit around the world.

Street food vendors in Huitang, China.
Street food vendors in Shaoshan, China.

Last night, once again I saluted my old pal when he sent a quick email saying we should get out of this five-star resort with its gilded cage and see some of the real China, down in the village.

Of course, it would involve taxis, and blowing off the big fancy dinner, but YES, that’s what living is. That’s what Bruce is all about!

So we rounded up our guide Oscar and jumped into two cabs and drove a few miles but an entire world away into downtown Shaoshan, which is actually a part of the big city of Changsha, although it’s 90 minutes away from the city center.

We settled into a simple joint, with a squat toilet out back and photos of Mao and Li up on the wall, where the beers cost a buck and the vendors were grilling outside.  I ordered some of their tofu grilled with Hunan peppers and some squid on skewers, and the six of us sat at a round table and talked about China in 2019 with our guide, Oscar.   It was the first time I had gotten

Bruce Northam relaxing before taking the big stage at the WTE China conference in Hainan.

a chance to eat food that wasn’t prepared in a five-star or a fancy restaurant. It was regular people food, washed down with lots of regular beer, and it felt great to have escaped our huge crowd of 50 to savor what life is like in the real China.

It was all because of Bruce. It takes a leader to round people up and buck the trend.  I have Bruce to thank for that and for getting me on this trip, he goes back a long time and has made a lot of friends like tour operator and raconteur Paul Cohen and through his connections, I’ve gotten a chance to discover this wonderful country.

I’m sure there will be more adventures with Bruce, he’s a constant in my life, popping into my email with his latest missives and continuing to not take any bullshit from anyone.  I am lucky to have great friends who understand the meaning of real travel, and who keep taking me great places like this.