Cruising on the Yangtze

Sunday, September 21, 2008

This morning we sailed through the Qutang Gorge, the first, shortest and most narrow of the three gorges.  We then boarded a smaller boat to cruise the Daning River to see the Lesser Three Gorges that are named the Dragon Boat, Misty and Emerald Gorges.  This trip started at the town of Wushan.  Grace, one of the local guides on this boat, lives in the town and told us that the old town is now 70 meters underwater. The river was raised that much in 2003. and will be raised another 30 meters until the river is 175 meters above sea level.  About 40,000 people from the old town plus 40,000 from rural areas live in the new town of Wushan.  In all about 1.3 million people had to be relocated because of the Three Gorges Dam project.  One of the highlights of the lesser gorges was the Ba hanging caskets.  The Ba people 2000 years ago thought it was good to be closer to heaven when you die, so they hung the caskets high on the cliffs of the gorges.  We had a  barbeque picnic lunch along the river that included ribs, sausages and chicken wings.  We returned to the Century Sun late in the afternoon and cruised through the Wu Gorge, the second of the three large gorges.  Tonight we had an excellent Chinese dinner with numerous tasty dishes.  They will serve two Chinese dinners over the course of the cruise and the rest of the time they serve Western-style foods.  At about 9:00 pm our ship entered the first lock of the Three Gorges Dam.  It wasn’t well lit, so we didn’t get any good pictures.  There are five locks, only four of which are now in use because of the low water level.  It took several hours to pass through all the locks, and Barbara was the only one of our group who watched the ship go through the second lock.

Monday, September 22, 2008

After going through the locks, our ship docked at the small town of Sandouping.  At 9:00 am we disembarked for our tour of the Three Gorges Dam.  The air was sauna-like and visibility was very poor.  We had a good view of the locks but couldn’t see much of the dam.  It is the world’s largest dam at 1.3 miles long.  The project was begun in 1993 and will be completed in 2012.  The project has five goals:  flood control, power generation, improved river navigation, aid to the fishing industry and lastly,  tourism.  The negative aspects are the loss of landscape, the loss of rare river species and water quality.  The Yangtze is a very dirty river. The last phase of the project, the ship elevator, will be able to lift or lower ships  that weigh less than 3,000 tons.  The ship lift will take about 45 minutes instead of the hours it takes to go through the locks.  The total cost of the dam is 200 billion rmb or $30 billion U.S.  After the tour we returned to the ship for lunch and then had a free afternoon and evening.  Gayle and Jerry attended the second Chinese lesson, while the rest of us have thrown in the towel.  There was also a vegetable carving demonstration and a documentary film on Mao.  Dinner was Western-style and not nearly as good as the Chinese dinner the night before.  The bridge players have been finding time for some cards most days on the cruise.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

This morning we visited a typical Chinese school in Jingzhou that is sponsored by Viking River Cruises.  The town was very depressing, but visiting the school, about a 40 minute bus drive away, was an incredible experience.  There were about 700 students in the school and they greeted us as very special visitors, singing and dancing and inviting us on stage to dance with them to “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”  They sang it in English, but their version is a little different than ours.  We visited a 4th grade classroom and had a chance to meet and talk to some of the dear children.  Although they start studying English in the 3rd grade, verbal communication was difficult.  They are very well-behaved, but Yang told us that at home they are quite spoiled.  With the one child per couple rule, most children live with parents and two sets of grandparents who do everything for the child. We saw a Catholic church in Jingzhou, the first Christian church we have seen so far in China.  On the inside it looked just like many Catholic churches in the U.S..  While we were having our shore excursion in Jinzhou, Jay was having his own adventure.  He was feeling under the weather, so he didn’t go to the school.  He was told there was an internet cafe just ten minutes from the ship, and as the computers on the ship rarely make connections, he decided to go out to send the email about our “back-blog” to all of you.  The people at the front desk on the ship gave him directions and written Chinese characters to show to people to help him find his way there and back.  He didn’t find it walking, so took a cab and finally found a different cafe.  On the way back, the first cab driver drove for a while and then decided he didn’t know where Jay wanted to go so he was let out on the street corner.  Jay wandered the streets and back alleys for a while heading more or less in the direction of the ship.  He found another cab and was able to point where the driver should go to get to the ship.    The three cab rides cost a total of about $1 U.S.  After lunch on board the ship some of us attended a lecture on China today, a demonstration on making dumplings and lessons on playing MahJong.  During the lecture on China, the program director shared his life story of growing up in China.  Earlier on the bus ride back from the school, our guide Yang also told us about his life during Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which lasted from 1966 to 1976.  Life was extremely difficult, and most people did not have enough food.  Earlier, from 1959 to 1961, about 40 million Chinese people died in the Three Year Famine that was caused by a drought.  What a contrast to all the food available on this cruise.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The weather today was windy and cool, and our shore excursion was delayed an hour because of it.  We took a bus through part of the city of Yueyang, which is the second largest city in the Hunan province.  Chairman Mao was born and raised in this province.  The city of Yueyang has a population of 5.4 million, which is a medium-sized city in China, although it has more people than the entire state of Minnesota.  Our destination was the Yueyang Tower on Dongting Lake, the second largest lake in China.  The original tower was erected in 716 A.D., but the current tower was built in 1985.  The tower is famous because the poet Fan Zhongyan wrote a poem about it in 1045 A.D.  We visited a tea garden near the tower and were served an unusual green tea whose long leaves rise and fall in the hot water.  We had a lot of fun tonight at dinner talking about our signs of the Chinese zodiac.  There are two tables for ten in the ship’s only restaurant and we have been able to get one at the back of the dining room for our meals.  We are enjoying everyones company and are getting to know Paul’s friend Jack, who’s a great guy.  Tonight we did a little dancing in the Observation Lounge.

Note from Paul to Joan:  Hello (Ni hao) and Go Obama!