On the Yangzi

June 10, 2011

We've been on the boat since Sunday cruising west (up) the Yangzi River (yes, that is how it is spelled phonetically here), after our 2 hour flight inland to Yi Chang.  This is another city of about 1 million (do they have any with fewer?) that our guide proudly told us has been rebuilt in the last 25 years. He specifically mentioned how the hills used to come down to the riverside, but "we removed the hills to make more space for people to enjoy the water" (and) ".. to build apartments for the riches (sic) people".

Due to logistics, the flight gets in earlier than the boat is ready for boarding. So we were treated to one of Tauck's wonderful surprises! Most of you who know us and follow our travels know that Wayne is not particularly fond of boats...indeed this will be our first "cruise" (that is, staying overnight on a floating vessel). Many of you will also know that Wayne is not into self-indulgence. So this was to be a true red-letter day in his life! The surprise was an authentic Chinese foot massage!!! (And a significant body massage as well!).

The 24 of us pulled up to the massage parlor and were warmly greeted by the staff. We were led up to a large room with massage couches and instructed to remove our shoes and socks. Each person had their own masseuse..all at the same time! First, our feet were put in a boiling bucket of water with slimy tea leaves. While they soaked, we were given a hard neck, back, and shoulder massage. Many "ows" and "ouches" (mostly from Wayne) could be heard among the "oohs" and "aahs". The massesue ladies talked and giggled to each other...we can only imagine what they were saying! Then a vigorous foot and leg kneading. Joints were put into places they had never been before. This went on for about 90 minutes! There was one relaxed group of campers when it was all over.

Then we took the short ride to the boat, the Yangzi Explorer ( ) . This is billed (by Tauck) as the nicest boat on the river. It holds about 120 passengers (thought there are only 50+ on this cruise) and has a staff of 120! We have a wonderful cabin suite. The food (all you can eat!) and staff are excellent, and the ride is very smooth. We didn't actually begin moving until Monday morning (after Tai Chi on the deck--this writer has tried Tai Chi several times and just doesn't get it!)  when we began our tour through the Three Gorges (including an off-boat excursion to the Three Gorges Dam--a huge project which has inundated thousands of villages and towns and resulted in the displacement of at least 1 million people--but they have been generously resettled by the government). There has been a lot written, both pro and con, about this project. It was primarily done for flood control, as each year floods would wipe out crops and villages and often kill thousands of people. The second reason was for hydroelectric power; China's rapidly growing middle class is showing an increasing appetite for electricity. The third reason was for navigation, as the river was very treacherous and difficult to navigate through the gorges. In our short time aboard we have seen an almost constant flow of barges (most carrying coal or Fords!), so taming the river has had big benefits commercially.

We passed through the first of the three gorges (the Xiling; the others are the Wu and Qutang), and then had to go through the locks to get past the dam. There is a series of 5 locks which raises the boats over 100 meters! Each lock can hold up to 8 boats (think 2 rows of barges, 4 deep). It takes about 3 hours to go through the whole process as the boats enter the lock, the doors close, water from the dammed lake flows in (completely by gravity) and raises the boats 20 meters in 8 minutes. Then the door to the next lock opens and all move forward and the whole process repeats itself. Everyone was on the top deck as we did the first lock, then most went to their cabins to relax and get ready for dinner. It was very weird to look out our cabin window and see a wall of concrete less than a foot away moving by (as we went forward) and then, a few minutes later, see the wall moving "down" as the boats rose.

Shortly after embarking several of our group became ill. But not to worry, as the shipboard Chinese doctor gave each an antibiotic IV followed by a soothing stomach rub of ashes from a burned herb (which smelled suspiciously like marijuana). So instead of a group-identifying lanyard, our mates all have a gauze-bandaged wrist. So far the Rhodes' team is A-OK!

Though it hasn't stopped us from anything, the weather has continued to be gray, gray, gray and wet since we left Hong Kong. Especially here, where you have the moisture from the river and the high mountains on both sides, the water vapor / clouds are trapped. We have been lucky that, while we are out touring it has been just a mist, with the heavier rains while we've been inside. But it has made for some very interesting  photographic conditions.  Tuesday morning was an excursion down the Shemong Stream-- via ferry, then sampan, then ferry.  The Stream is a tributary of the Yangzi and the scenery was absolutely spectacular--only enhanced by the magical mist.  We saw several Hanging Coffins (circa 2,000 years ago), numerous waterfalls, primordial ferns, extraordinary tectonically-generated rock formations (as the Mediterranean got pushed to the west and the Himalayas emerged), and more.  A definite highlight (beyond the scenery) was the sampan ride.  Each sampan (pea-pod shaped and covered partially by a tarp to protect us from the mist/pounding rain combination) was rowed by four strong-armed men.  We took a detour to the shore where the men demonstrated how the boats were moved "in the day" by naked men pulling ropes alongside the river.  Over the past twenty years, as the tourism has ratched up considerably to this area, modesty has taken over and what was an attraction is no more.  Another highlight on the sampan was the sing-along of several Chinese folk songs.

The rest of the day was spent eating, sleeping, going to lectures, eating, sleeping, and seeing a show--a typical cruise itinerary.  Wednesday started with yoga (for Wendy) and then breakfast. Though the skies were overcast, the predicted high was 90 and there was no threat of rain. We had cruised all night and were tied up at the old city of Fengdu. This was one of the major areas for relocation. The city was only on one side of the river; the other was all farms. Beginning in 1997, about 75,000 people were relocated to the other side and an entire new city was built. All of the houses and buildings were demolished (but much was saved for reuse, such as door frames, windows, bricks, etc.). So we were given a guided tour of the old city (the part that is above the flood line and is still inhabited. We had to walk up about 150 stairs from the dock; our guide said that that part is underwater in the flood season. Then on a small bus into town. We walked around a bustling area (including a mah jongg parlor!) and through a market with pig parts (snouts, feet, tongues), many beautiful vegetables, chickens and beef.....and many flies.

It reminded us of places in India and Viet Nam. Then back on the bus into another section of town. We were taken to a new home of a relocated family. The downstairs is their small grocery (and where their kitchen is located), and the living quarters is upstairs. It was a central "living room" (about 10 x 12) with four bedrooms coming off of it. Through our guide interpreter the grandmother who lived there told us that she and her husband share one room, their son has another, 2 of their grandchildren are in the third, and the fourth is a guest room (used by the woman's granddaughter during the summer). Her other son and his wife own a nearby restaurant and earn 200,000 Yuan a year, which is very good. Her husband is a builder and built their house using some materials from their former house. She said she was very happy with her new home and hoped to live out her days there. Then we walked a few blocks to a family that did not want to relocate. They are farmers and live in a mud house that was built 40 years ago. The man is in his 80's and was happy to show us around, though we did not understand a word he said. The house was very similar to the mayor's house in the village we visited in Viet Nam. There were chickens running all around, the rooms were dark with only a few simple chairs and a table and a bed (and of course a TV). Quite a contrast to the newer home.

You'll note no special food commentary on the cruise,  Just use your imagination!  The food has been delicious and plentiful--exceeding our expectations.  No worries... we're sure there will be more memorable meals to come.

Tomorrow morning we leave the boat for Guilan.

Before we leave you for now... some random thoughts.  Some of them rather basic--but were eye-opening for us.  This is 2011.  If you haven't been to China, perhaps you will be as surprised as we were. Yes, China is a communist country; but only small percentage of Chinese are actually party members.  We had assumed that people were either actively recruited for membership or that it was a mandatory thing, but such is not the case. Moving on... clearly, there is no Capitalism in China. Instead, they have a 'Socialistic Market Economy'. It costs a minimum of $8,000US to buy a license plate for a car. There are no nurses in Chinese hospitals. Instead, the family is responsible for caring for the patient including bringing in the food and washing and changing the linens! Family is important to the Chinese, so their names are 'last name, then given names'. As a sign of friendship, the second given name is often repeated. So our Shanghai guide is called 'Fun Fun'. So we are now officially 'Way Way' and 'Wen Wen'! Shanghai has a somewhat independent attitude (a la Saigon). There are no statues or pictures of Mao anywhere, because (per our guide) the people don't like him. They much prefer his successor, Deng Shao Ping, who encouraged development. Our Shangainese guide also told us that Shanghai and Beijing are quite different in their sensibilities.  Beijing is a government town (like D.C.) and is "conservative."  Shanghai is a business/cosmopolitan (she said like NY, but we don't necessarily agree).  All of our guides are quick to point out a particular item as "the biggest", "the fastest", "the tallest" the world. We got the sense that there was some indoctrination mixed in with the legitimate national pride. Per our guide, the three most famous Chinese in the world: 1. Mao.  2. Confucius  3. Bruce Lee. There are several hundred ethnic groups in China, although the largest makes up about 95% of the population. here is a one-child policy but it does not apply to the minorities because the government wants them to maintain their culture. For the rest of the people, if you do have a child after the first, that child(ren) can not get a citizen ID card. So they get no benefits, can not attend the public school, can probably not get a job. More cultural potpourri to come.

wen wen and way way

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