China 2015 – Week 1

December 6th, 2015

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2015-10-30

October 29th and 30th, 2015 marks day 1 of our 2015 China vacation. Vicky and I both wake up early in our anticipation of our journey to China. While not looking forward to the long flights, we are looking forward to seeing Jason, visiting new exotic locations, and enjoying a couple of weeks of rest and relaxation. Getting to the Orlando airport early, we stopped by the currency exchange to convert some US dollars to Chinese Yuan. At the time of this trip, the exchange rate is roughly 6 Yuan to 1 US dollar. The exchange rate is not very good at the airport, but at least we have a little bit of cash in our pockets. We\'ll exchange more once we get to China.<br /><br /> Our flights take us from Orlando to Detroit (roughly 2.5 hours) and then from Detroit to Shanghai (roughly 14 hours). With the layover in Detroit, total travel time was about 20 hours - but then there is a 12 hour time zone change also. When all is said and done, we left Orlando around 11:00am on Thursday and arrived in Shanghai around 7:30pm on Friday.<br /><br /> Arriving at the Ritz Carlton hotel, we found that Jason had already been by the hotel looking for us that morning. During our communications with Jason, we failed to realize the impact of the international dateline and mixed up the dates. Jason said he would return to the hotel again the next morning.<br /><br /> Wearily rolling our bags we enter a really nice 5 star bedroom and eagerly look forward to laying down flat and getting some quality shuteye. Vicky rolls her bag across the room to the desk and turns on the little lamp as I enter the room letting the door close behind. I start flipping light switches but nothing happens. Vicky walks over to the bed and is trying to turn on bedside lamps and such, but again nothing happens. What the heck, this room is broken! I fumble my way back to the door where I can get light from the hallway and I see this little slot by the door. It appears to take the room key card so I stick it in and voila all the lights come on. Well, ok, that\'s cool. I can put my card in here when I enter and I know just where it is before I leave each time. Vicky is shutting the curtains and notices that instead of just meeting in the middle there are two rails such that the curtains overlap in the middle, fancy, fancy. Crawling into bed we soon find out that there is no sheet, just a mid-weight feather duvet. Hum, this could get a little warm tonight. Yep, all night it is covers on, covers partially on, covers on, sigh.<br /><br />

2015-10-31

October 31st - We had added the <a href=\"https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghai\">Shanghai</a> extension to our trip to give us some extra time to visit with Jason and also provide a couple more days to get acclimated to the time change. We meet our tour guide in the lobby after breakfast and inquire about adding Jason to the tour. The guide, Patrick, is agreeable and calls the home office (Viking River Cruises) to find out what the price is. When Jason arrives, we all set off on a bus trip to <a href=\"https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzhou\">Suzhou</a>, about 100km west-northwest of Shanghai, along with about 20 other people that added the Shanghai extension to their trip.<br /><br /> In Suzhou we take a tour of a silk factory, a boat trip on the waterways of the old city, and also visit the <a href=\"https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master_of_the_Nets_Garden\">Master of Nets Garden</a>. At the silk factory we learned about the life cycle of the silk worm and there veracious appetite for mulberry leaves. The silk worm produces a cocoon with a single thread of silk which is the source of the raw silk. The cocoons are gathered, sorted, and the processed to unwind that single thread of silk. The machine used to weave the fabrics reminds me of a printing press / punch card machine where the patterns are imprinted on cards. <br /><br /> The boat trip takes us through an old part of the city where we see ancient stairs that go right down to the water level. The city canals have given the city the name of the “Venice of China”. The canals joined with the Grand Canal which made it a major city for trade to move food and produce from southern China up to northern China.<br /><br /> Our local guide, Janet, thought Vicky and Jason were brother and sister. Vicky laughed and poked at Jason. Later, Janet realized that the actual relationship and stated, “Jason, you have a very young mother.” Vicky has been smiling since. On the walk from the boats back to the bus, we noticed a young women who spits on the wall along the sidewalk. Jason comments, “That is a very common sight.” Apparently the locals see no issue with spitting, regardless of location.<br /><br /> After lunch at a local restaurant, we visited the Garden of the Master of the Nets. During the Song Dynasty many well to do merchants and government officials had walled residences consisting of several buildings artistically arranged in a flowing garden. The entryway has a raised threshold which you must step over, and not upon, as evil spirits are said to be blocked by such thresholds. There is a building for the women of the house to practice arts such as painting and embroidery. During this time period female babies had their feet bound so that as an adult their foot size was about 3 inches. This made it impossible to walk normally and so women didn\'t leave the residence areas at all. Another building houses an opium lounge chair. During the Tang Dynasty the Chinese empire had many treasured exports such as high quality silk, but there was a huge trade imbalance as they didn\'t need to import anything. So traders decided to create a need by gifting opium to the merchants and officials. Needless to say they soon had a trade need and much of the higher class had a serious opium addiction. The owner of this residence was a Taoist and this was illustrated in the balances of natural components throughout the residence. For instance polished marble in which the grain seemed to form a gray mountain against a white sky was framed and prominently placed. Another open area had large rocks in which cavities had been worn away in flowing rivers, these were said to have very feminine energy and were a prized import from other regions of China.<br /><br /> After the tour we were on our own for dinner and Jason took us out to the <a href=\"http://shanghaibrewery.com/\">Shanghai Brewery</a> which is a popular hangout for westerners. It turns out that Halloween and Christmas are the most celebrated US type holidays and so there are a number of costumes. One waitress is dressed as a nurse with a big syringe in which she puts a reddish alcoholic concoction to dispense into a patrons mouth for a fee.<br /><br /> China Survival Lesson #1<br /> <ul> <li>Don\'t drink the water. We are staying in a beautiful 5 star hotel in Shanghai, and yet the transfer guide who had picked us up from the airport had told us to always drink bottled water. While the cities have running water most everywhere it still has bacterial contamination and must be boiled to make it safe. It still isn\'t exactly safe as there are heavy metals resulting from industrial pollutants, but I still had several cups of rich dark coffee at breakfast. All Chinese prefer to drink their water hot or warm after having been boiled, most likely with some tea leaves added, but the drinking water at the airport is also provided a bit warmer than body temperature. Anyway we always grab a couple of hotel provided bottles of water before we depart for the day.</li> </ul>

2015-11-01

A short walk down from our hotel is the beautiful Jing\'an Buddhist temple. In the center courtyard is an incense area where people make their prayers holding the smoking sticks above their forehead and bowing three time to each of the directions. It smells really nice, like sandalwood I think. There is also a large brass pagoda structure where you can make a wish and throw coins in, the higher the better of course, so we give this a few tries for good luck. Surrounding the courtyard are 3 main buildings with the monks living area in the back. One building has a huge golden Buddha highlighted with gifts from the worshippers laid out in front. There are areas of prayer ribbons suspended and another area where a huge bell is hung. Intricate wood carving decorate the walls showing leafy vines curling about and an ornate dragon peeking through. The edge of the ridge of the swooping roof has carved animals lined up looking forward to the corner but we can\'t tell exactly what these are. Another building has a beautiful Buddha completely carved of white jade, it stands well over 10 feet in height and has prayer cushions arranged in front. Outside of that building stands a large piece of green jade which is probably 5 feet high and 6 feet in length, we make a wish while touching this impressive rock as well. There are 4 religions practiced in China, Taoism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity with Buddhism probably being the most prevalent.<br /><br /> Taking the subway to our next destination one thing became very evident. The culture here does not enforce any sort of “queuing”. For example, we would typically wait for the elevator car to empty before we would get in. Here, as soon as the doors open, people start piling in. This is true on the subway as well. And the lines painted on the boarding platform are completely ignored. To top it all off, I was in the subway car when a 60 year old lady comes running across the platform to board the car before the doors close. I kept thinking she was going to slow down. Well, she did, only after a full body check against me and the person next to me.<br /><br /> Jason has a little studio apartment just across a courtyard from his office building. Housing is provided in China as an unfinished concrete cube where it is the owner\'s responsibility to plaster the walls, put flooring down and such. It is evident in Jason\'s apartment, as the plaster on the walls has a few cracks and the ceiling has recently been repaired, but still it is a nice little setup for him. His came with a shelving area for cooking, a bed, and a cabinet for clothes, but he says it was arranged horribly with the cooking area diagonal across one corner. I figure it was some sort of feng shui arrangement as the kitchen area would have been a focal point when entering the door of the apartment. But as everything is easily rearranged inside the cube, it is now setup in a more practical manner providing more free floor space in the middle.<br /><br /> Jason has a nice office area on a higher floor, seventh I think. His office mate is a Japanese lady to whom he has graciously given the window side. The bookshelves show an assortment of teas. The making and drinking of tea in China is something of an art form as the water is recommended to be a certain temperature for the different tea leaves, of course after reaching boiling to kill the water bacteria. There are many varieties of tea; white tea, green tea, black tea, oolong tea, and pu’er or fermented tea. <br /><br /> There is a huge 6 story mall, Grand Gateways Mall, near Jason\'s place where we go for lunch as there is a dumpling restaurant, Din Tai Fung, that he recommends. There is a short wait so we watch them hand-make the dumplings through the display glass. One lady takes a small ball of dough and rolls it out to a thin pancake shape using a chopstick and she deftly tosses it over to the next guy who pulls a ball of the stuffing in the middle. The final guy twists the top together and places it in a bamboo steamer basket where it will cook. There is a large variety of dumplings to choose from complete with pictures in the menu. Jason picks out several for us to all share including one stuffed with hairy crab which is currently in season. We have also seen dumplings on the breakfast buffet at the hotel which were stuffed with a chicken mixture and another favorite which is stuffed with a slightly sweet red bean paste.<br /><br /> We spend the rest of the day roaming around the Shanghai Film Museum as there is a light rain.<br /><br /> After having dinner at Cotton\'s, we went to the Old Town and The Bund. The Bund is a scenic spot that looks across the river to the financial district of Shanghai. Many of the buildings have a unique architecture and are illuminated with dancing lights. The pollution and humidity in the air where dispersing the light creating a photography challenge.<br /><br /> China Survival Lesson #2<br /> <ul> <li>Pedestrians do not have right of way. While here in the states you can assume that you can safely cross the street in a crosswalk when the green walk light is shown, this is not true here in China. Traffic is totally crazy with cars not exactly paying attention to lane markers and scooters, bicycles, and rickshaws all trying to dodge the cars. They have taken steps to keep the vehicles off the sidewalks, but this is also sometimes seen. So basically as a pedestrian you must always be looking around for vehicles coming for you and it is best to join a tight knit group when crossing the street. They have made provisions for blind pedestrians by having a path down the middle of each sidewalk that is rippled, then there is a series of raised dots whenever there is a decision point like to cross the street or go to a bus stop. I did not see any blind pedestrians however as anyone who had attempted to use these sidewalks has probably already been killed off. Shanghai does have a really nice subway system however. Apparently there are times when it gets extremely congested, think breathing room only in a small elevator, but the trip over to Jason\'s place from the hotel was not crowded as it was not during a peak travel time. They have nice little lines and arrows painted on the ground at the doors to the train to indicate letting people off the train before incoming passengers attempt to board, but again no one pays any attention to these and it is a free for all when the doors open.</li> </ul>

2015-11-02

The tour group takes us back out to the Old Town which looks very different during the day compared to the previous night. Patrick’s group is gathered around and a group of locals approached me wanting to take a picture. At first I thought they wanted me to take their picture, but we soon figured out that they want a picture with me (and my blonde hair). After a few pictures and a chat, I had a moment of panic and quickly checked my pocket for my wallet. Patrick had warned us of pick-pockets in the area I had an image flash in front of me that the whole photo-op was simply a distraction. I was relieved to find my wallet was right where it was supposed to be.<br /><br /> The group takes a walk through the Yu Gardens. This is a huge garden area much like the gardens we visited in Suzhou, but built much later during the Ming Dynasty. There are small pagodas and buildings with the characteristic swooping roofs overlooking ponds or rock gardens. Walls topped by dragons separate the different areas. The area had been abused by the British army during it\'s occupation following the first opium war, and by the Japanese in their occupation during World War II, but has since been rebuilt. As mentioned earlier the British had underhandly created a \"need\" for opium in China, but by the Qing Dynasty the Chinese wise to the effects of the drug attempted to outlaw its usage. They confiscated a large shipment of the drug, and this initiated the first Opium war, which the Chinese lost. The settlement was to hand over Hong Kong and several key trade cities to the British, one of which was Shanghai. Kind of like the Boston Tea Party, but with a different outcome.<br /><br /> After the trip through the gardens the delicious smells of the street food vendors wafts through the air and I realize I am a bit hungry even after the huge breakfast I had. We have been warned however that the street food probably will not settle to well with us, so we head over to a silk shop. We see displays outlining the lifecycle of the silk worms and then enter a large shop exhibiting the silk comforters like we had seen over in Suzhou. Somehow the prices have jumped markedly during the transport from Suzhou to this shop, and several in our group were happy they had already made this purchase.<br /><br /> Vicky and I made the mistake of walking into one of the other nearby the shops. Neither one of us are real big on shopping, but thought it would be neat to look around. We were immediately barraged by the retailors wanting us to buy this, that, and the other thing. Moving to the next display counter was more of the same. Saying that they are aggressive would be an understatement. We could not get out of the store fast enough!<br /><br /> We decided to just rest in the shade next to a pond. A bridge zig-zags across this pond giving entry to an old tea house. It is quite a relaxing view, but this is a tourist area so there are quite a number of people. It is said that evil spirits can\'t handle quick turns so this is why the bridge was built in this fashion.<br /><br /> On the walk back to the bus our group is buzzed by a swarm of young people on shoe skates. They hold up the flashing skates to us as they try to make a sale. Repeatedly we say, no, no, no, as the line of young marketers ask us one after the other. You would think that after saying no to the first one the others wouldn\'t try, but that is false thinking. We turn a corner and here they come again! Later on the bus we learn that \"Boo-wha\", means I don\'t want any. I\'ll have to remember that one.<br /><br /> Lunch is a Mongolian BBQ. Here we go through a buffet picking out meats like lamb, beef, or chicken, then vegetables, like the baby bok choi, tomatoes, and such. Then we take our bowls over to a window where the cook throws it on a piece of hot metal. It is shuffled about and hit with cooking sticks until it is done and handed back to us, much reduced in size, as it is now spattered on the cooks and about the floor in there, but ok. So yes, China was ruled by the Mongols after the Song Dynasty when Kublai Khan took over and established the Yuan Dynasty. This method of cook is said to originate from the Mongol soldiers who would cook their meals on their shields.<br /><br /> So you may be wondering about the order of the Dynasties. The Qin Dynasty was established by a young 13 year old boy who was able to end the rivalry of the Warring States and unify the states. This first emperor established Xian as the capital city and had the Terra Cotta army built, but more about him later. The next dynasty was the Han Dynasty and even today a lot of the Chinese refer to themselves as Han people. It was during the Han Dynasty that the Silk Road was first established. Next came a period of rule under separate kingdoms until united again by the Sui Dynasty. After this came the powerful Tang Dynasty and a period of arts and prosperity for the Chinese people. Following this came the Song Dynasty, where opium became a problem and foreign invaders entered the land. The Great Wall started during the Qin Dynasty by the First Emperor and improved by successive Dynasties had fallen into disrepair. This allowed the Mongols to invade and conquer the Song Dynasty and establish the Yuan Dynasty. This was finally overthrown by the Ming Dynasty which was another artistic period especially emphasizing fine porcelain artworks. The Manchus replaced the Ming Dynasty and established the final Qing Dynasty.<br /><br /> Vicky and I walked through the Cultural History Museum where we browse ancient pieces of jade and marvel at the intricate carving from thousands of years ago. We visit a coin exhibit next. Here we see this \"coin\" which is shaped somewhat like a small spade and is probably a couple inches across, apparently the first coins had their value simply by the worth of the metal. Later editions were round with square holes in the middle representing the circle of heaven surrounding the square earth.<br /><br /> We have a little rest time back at the hotel before going out to dinner. Jason is able to get away from work early enough to join us for our last night in town. Dinner is server via a giant lazy Susan in the middle of the table. As always there are leftovers on the table. LouLou is a grandmotherly type who insists on Jason taking the leftovers home so he won\'t go hungry. The staff brings out take away boxes to a slightly embarrassed Jason.<br /><br /> After dinner we get to watch a Chinese Acrobat show. Unfortunately no pictures are allowed as they do not want anybody using flash photography as some of the stunts are dangerous. One of the stunts required the acrobat to stack wooden chairs while balancing on the top most chair. This was reminiscent of something Chris had done at the rock climbing gym using milk crates. The grand finale was a circular cage that several motorcycles enter and roar around in. The centrifugal force allows them to go around the sides and over the top of the cage, while all the time avoiding the other riders. It was quite a show.<br /><br /> China Survival Lesson #3<br /> <ul> <li>Don\'t eat the street food. In many tourist areas there are vendors who setup woks cooking delicious smelling stir-fry’s or other food items on display. While the locals are probably well adjusted to the bacteria present in the foods, we are not, and unless you want to spend a couple miserable days near a bathroom, street food should be avoided. The lack of clean running water and refrigeration make this a Russian roulette for tourists.</li> </ul>

2015-11-03

Today, November 3rd, is a travel day from Shanghai to Wuhan where we will board the Viking Emerald Cruise boat. The boat accommodates 256 guests and we have 253 in our whole group of 7 buses and 7 separate guides. We have our bags out by the hotel door and provide our passports to Patrick as Viking will handle the complete transfer of our bags from this hotel to our stateroom on the boat. This has got to be quite the logistics maneuver to get all the people and all the bags to the right places at the right time depending of several different porter groups and the airlines personnel.<br /><br /> After breakfast we board Patrick\'s bus to start our day with a tour on the Bund, then a drive to the airport. The Bund area has quite a different vibe in the daytime. In the evening there is the lightshow of the buildings across the river and couples holding hands and smooching as they walk along, whereas the morning brings a different set of tourists. The futuristic skyline of new Shanghai stands before us while the colonial buildings of the British (and French) occupation stand behind us. Soon we notice a group of 20-30 something preschoolers walking in a line singing the 6 Little Ducks song quack, quack, quack. The leader of the group seems to be an American and there are 2 additional adults that are keeping the order. They are so totally cute!<br /><br /> We learn that this is probably quite an expensive preschool as there is an American teacher and they are being taught in English. There are three levels of preschool available. The most affordable is for the native Shanghainese who can pay as little as about $80 per month, however to get in this one you have to be native to Shanghai, have room in the class, and get accepted (belong to the communist party). The second level is for those who could not get into the government supported ones and is quite a bit more expensive at about $250 per month. The third level is a school with English speaking teachers and these cost about $650 per month for half days and $950 for full days.<br /><br /> School in China is intensely competitive. Kids will work 12 to 13 hours per day on school work from kindergarten to high school, all to prepare for the Chinese SAT where they hope to get to attend the best Universities, or at least get into one. Jason had mentioned that families will hire young Americans his age to come and just talk with their child for a couple hours a day. They will get paid a ridiculous amount of money just to talk. The rules have just changed and couples can have two children, but previously all bets would be placed on the one child to succeed and carry forth the family name. How\'s that for intense.<br /><br /> The next stop is the airport where we get our seating assignments and our box lunch. Ah bummer, we are not seated together. It appears that an earlier flight took about 5 buses of our group and this flight will take the remaining 2, of course mixed in with the normal travelers. Our flight appears to be delayed for a bit so we roam around the shops and decide to take our chances on what looks to be a lemonade type drink. Other foods range from normal looking, like beef jerky, to rather strange jars of things that resemble very small oysters with eyes. I think I\'ll pass.<br /><br /> Flight in China is strictly controlled, with only small flight lanes provided to the commercial carriers. Most of the airspace is allocated to the government, so this can sometimes cause a lot of congestion in those lanes and flight delay is somewhat a normal circumstance.<br /><br /> After we arrive in Wuhan we deplane down a set of metal stairs to load onto a waiting bus. This bus is jammed packed and Vicky and I squeeze in, but they still wait for more people to board, are you kidding me? Finally they start moving. Vicky is holding her backpack down knee level and is twisted next to the door and the rod that opens and closes the door. We think that the driver is taking a tour of the airport as the ride continues to jostle us about for at least 10 minutes, finally we come to a stop and explode out of the opened doorway, whew.<br /><br /> After identifying our bags, we are on the Viking tour bus with a local guide who is telling us about this part of the country. We have a seat close to the front and notice that she is dramatically speaking to someone on her cell phone. Patrick has explained that many times it may look like Chinese people are speaking angrily with much expression and volume to their voice, but we do think there is an issue here. Perhaps the flight delay has caused us to be too late for the museum? However, we make it to the Hubei Provincial Museum and are ushered into a small auditorium. Here a group of performers in period dress play upon a replica of the Bianzhong bells. This set of 65 bronze bells were found in the tomb of a ruler named Zeng who died about 430 BC. They are uniquely shaped in an oval so that multiple tones can ring from the same bell according to how you strike it. The larger bells are struck with a larger ramming staff and emit quite a deep gong, while the smaller chimes to the side are actually made of stone shaped like a double axe head and emit a much higher pitch. After the performance we do a very rushed tour of the museum itself. As we thought we are way behind schedule. <br /><br /> The gangway to our boat is guarded by a dancing dragon as drums are playing and we are shown to our Cabin 402. This is a very nice room next to the door which leads to the captain\'s wheelhouse at the front of the boat. There is a veranda outside of a sliding glass door where we can watch the banks of the Yangtze flow past. Attuned to local custom, I now know that the room card gets inserted into the slot by the door to control the lights. Interestingly we note that a little light is shown outside the door when the key is in place. I guess this lets the room attendants know if we are in the room or not. Now for dinner in the ships dining room and a good night\'s sleep as the ships leaves the port of Wuhan.<br /><br />

2015-11-04

Overnight we had traveled about 142 kilometers southwest on the Yangtze River to the city of Yueyang. Here the road conditions are in a state of disrepair. Our bus travelling one 10km/hour over sections where the potholes tossed the bus’s passengers around like rag dolls. After 30 minutes or so we arrive at one of the local elementary schools.<br /><br /> The school is sponsored in part by Viking River Cruises to help foster a relationship and good will with the local community. To say that the children were excited to see us would be an understatement. As we walk off the bus, we are greeted by a deafening drum ensemble. We are escorted to the courtyard were the children put on a performance. We unknowingly stood a little too close to the speaker as my ears were ringing afterwards.<br /><br /> After the performance we joined a 2nd grade classroom where the energy of the students was amplified by the fact that there are 60 students in a room that we would expect to be occupied by 30. How the teachers are able to maintain control is beyond me… The children recited a poem and sang a song. The members of the tour group responded with a rendition of “Row, row, row your boat.” The children seemed to enjoy it, but singing in rounds was probably a bit much given the language barrier.<br /><br /> At the conclusion of the singing, we had opportunity to chat with the children – which was interesting because I didn’t know what they were saying – and vice versa. But when I started to take a few pictures, their eyes just lit up and smiles from ear to ear. Everybody wanted their picture taken and then to see their picture on the camera monitor.<br /><br /> After returning to the boat, we continue north along the Yangtze River. Near the town of Jianli where the wreckage of China’s Eastern Star river cruise ship remains on the river bank. The Eastern Star, not that different than ship we are on now, had sunk on June 1st during a storm. Following that disaster, new regulations require the ship passengers to go through mustering drills on the first day of their cruise. The ship has been left on the river bank as a reminder to captains.<br /><br /> After a relaxing afternoon, we got dressed up to join the captain and crew for the Captain’s Toast and Formal Dinner. Following the dinner the crew presented a costume show. Song and dance highlighted the traditional costumes of some of the regions in China. One young lady of the Dai ethnic minority performed a peacock dance in a bright green dress with blue highlights. Another dance staged the dress of the Tibetan ethnic group with white dresses trimmed in bright color strips. The final dance portrayed an emperor of the Tang Dynasty representing the early Han people. About ninety percent of the Chinese people are of the Han ethnic group. The show was extremely well done as these were not professional actors, but indeed the same kids who had just served us dinner. <br /><br />

2015-11-05

Thursday, November 5th, the ship passed through the Gezhouba Dam ship lock on the western edge of Yichang City. This lock was a bit of a trial construction for the much larger set of locks of the Three Gorges Dam. Pulling up to the lock was a bit of excitement for us as we had never been on a ship that had navigated through locks before. As we approach we see what look like a couple statues on a flat area before the wall of the lock entryway. One appears in a pink gown and another in blue. Thinking back to our time in Austria where difficult passages often had statues of the Mother Mary, Vicky says oh they must be Buddhist statues for protection. However as we draw nearer, we see that they are actually cloths that are tied onto a couple of large values. We laugh and laugh at our misinterpretations. Soon the huge doors of the lock open and we motor into the lock area. We are so close to the walls of the lock that we can reach out from the deck and touch the sides; it must only be a matter of inches on each side. Now that is piloting skills. The huge doors close behind us and the water flows in underneath the boat raising up in about 17 minutes.<br /><br /> Later in the day, the group took a tour of the Three Gorges Dam near the town of Sandouping. As the dam was being constructed, over one million people had to be relocated as the reservoir would flood 13 cities, 140 towns, and 1350 villages. Completed in 2012, in terms of capacity, the Three Gorges Dam is the world’s largest power station. Our tour group went to see a model of the dam which provided some information about the project, then to an overlook area. Due to the low light of the evening, and the relentless pollution, we were not able to actually see much of the dam. There was a large book/statue along one of the pathways here commemorating the proposal for the dam in 1919 by the First President of the Republic of China, Dr. Sun Yat-sen. They couldn’t have a statue of Dr. Yat-sen as he was on the losing side of the civil war which resulted in the rise of communism and the reign of Chairman Mao.<br /><br /> There are a total of five ship locks to move ships from one side of the dam to the other. As the whole process will take many hours, Vicky and I watch the captain maneuver the ship through the first lock and then retired to the cabin.<br /><br /> One notable event from dinner… As an appetizer the servers offered a piece of sushi with a dab of fresh wasabi on the side. We eat sushi regularly and are familiar with wasabi. Thinking nothing of it, Vicky took the wasabi and spread it on the sushi. The expressions that followed are difficult to describe. I was not sure if the sushi was going to be sprayed across the table or if Vicky was going to choke. But she was unable to speak, eyes were immediately tearing up, face turning red. She wanted to warn me and was waving her hand side to side. Well I had already spread the wasabi on my sushi, hum. Rather than just popping the whole piece in my mouth, I just took a nibble and that was enough to set my mouth on fire. Nobody else at the table attempted the wasabi after our reactions. I believe the appetizer should have included a hazardous material data sheet.<br /><br />

2015-11-06

Friday, November 6th. Today, near the city of Wushan, our shore excursion takes us on a small boat trip up the Daning River to an area known as The Lesser Three Gorges. The three gorges are “Dragon-Gate Gorge”, “Misty Gorge”, and “Emerald Gorge”. Here we find clear waters and giant cliffs creating the narrow gorges. Many of the cliffs have caves, one of which is visible from the water. Our guide explains that in ancient times, coffins would be suspended in the caves. These hanging coffins would prevent the bodies from being taken by beasts and bless the soul eternally. Before the building of the dam this river was a small stream with small terraced farms and fishing as their livelihood. Some men worked as boat trackers pulling boats of heavy cargo through the shallow rapids. This was grueling work which the men usually performed naked as wet clothes hampered the process. They are said to have invented Chinese Hot Pot as they would wait along the river, they would heat up the soup and quickly eat, but they could easily set it aside in order to pull another boat through.<br /><br /> The dam building project required a mass relocation of about 1 million people initially, and followed by a second mass relocation of about 2 million people some 20 years later. This was a massive effort involving the building of roads and infrastructure in the steep mountains to allow people to move to the new relocation cities. Cities in the Chongqing area absorbed hundreds of thousands of people who had to learn a new livelihood and this has caused economic hardships in those areas.<br /><br /> Today along the Goddess Stream of the Daning River we still see a few houses perched on the hillside, a garden area, with a few small mausoleums interspersed, and a small boat for the community to use. In this area a Feng Shui master would determine the proper location and time of burial of the dead. The angle of burial and placement to bring a harmony with nature was of great importance and sometimes this would coexist with the family garden area. Other areas show sheer cliffs to the water where only the most valiant bushes curl their roots around the rocks. We are a bit early but in a few weeks the foliage of this stream will turn brilliant colors of red as the leaves change. Nearing the point of the river where we will turn around to head back to the cruise ship, we look upon the heights of the mountains and see the outline of a pregnant woman lying prone with her face to the sky.<br /><br /> Getting underway again on the Yangtze after our excursion we look upon the Goddess Peak of the Wu Gorge. This unique peak is said to be a beautiful maiden who first greets the sun every day. Near this peak we see winding steps leading up from the water\'s edge with a small pagoda peeking through the foliage. This is merely a resting place for those who adventure up to a small temple near the mountain top. It is said from this point the Goddess and the Emperor would control the floods of the river in ancient times.<br /><br /> After dinner the ship’s crew entertained the guests with a Cabaret Show. One of our waiters, Stan, performed an incredible mask changing dance. This 300 year old traditional dance began with the Chinese Sichuan opera performances during the reign of the Qing Dynasty. Magically Stan would quickly change from one brightly colored mask of a certain expression to another, it was seamlessly done and sometimes my brain would question the face I had just seen or did I see it? At the end of the show the performers gathered people from the audience and both Vicky and I got on the stage to dance the Macarena, but I quickly left when it came to Dance Gangnam Style so I could get a couple pictures.<br /><br />

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